October 23, 2014

Where is the utility in mobile apps for B2B?

Mitch Joel has a nice post on HBR this week about bringing utility to marketing and social media.

As is often the case, his advice pertains more to B2C than B2B, as I point out in a comment:

“Utility” is a clear, succinct way of putting it. I am concerned about the B2B side of things, though, for complex technology solutions in particular. For customers in this realm, I think utility has long meant access to their peers and to expert advice during the purchasing and post-sales processes. The utility would be in making that easier to do than it is now (going to vendors for customer references, calling up their networks of peers for recommendations and advice, sifting through analyst reports and trade magazines, going to trade association events). Social media hasn’t taken off for B2B because it doesn’t provide any more utility for making those things happen (except perhaps for finding old colleagues on LinkedIn). Online communities try to offer it all in a box, but I don’t see much utility there except for technical people looking for solutions to specific software and hardware problems. For the real customers of complex technology solutions, it doesn’t seen like utility will ever come through an app, unless that app links to a much deeper, rich experience that combines all of the things mentioned above. Perhaps we need to wait for the second coming of Second Life for that. ;-)

Awhile back, I tried to get at this concept, though much less elegantly than Joel, in terms of how B2B could make use of mobile apps. I wonder if anything has changed since I wrote it. I’m not seeing the killer app for B2B utility emerging yet. Are you?

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Is “social media campaign” an oxymoron?

If you had asked me a few years ago whether the traditional marketing campaign had any place in social media I would have scoffed. Just more evidence of marketing’s old-fashioned, ADHD-driven, love-’em-and-leave-’em approach.

I would have had only slightly less disdain for the audience for these campaigns. Fly-by-night opportunists hoping to win your Facebook sweepstakes. Win or lose, after the contest is over, they’d ditch you as quickly as a toddler dispatching a fistful of broccoli.

After all, “engaging” is one of the four components of social media management. If all you do is run contests and campaigns on Facebook, how can you expect to hold onto prospects over the long term?

But then I see something like HP Technology Services (HPTS)’ “Where’s the Humanity in Your Technology” campaign, or Hitachi Data Services (HDS)’ Social Media Buzz campaign. These campaigns were the winners of this year’s ITSMA Marketing Excellence Awards. (You can read synopses of the programs here and here.) The campaigns used two methods that play well to Facebook users:

  • Let them play games. You’ve heard of Farmville, right? Facebook is the fun social network. HP questioned Facebookers about their work styles and matched them to an “IT personality.” Then HP did something cool. It drove them to a microsite featuring a hand-picked group of HP experts (such as these HP cloud experts) with the same “personality.” Visitors could click on the experts to learn more about them and connect directly with them.
  • Appeal to their sense of charity. Many people feel less silly engaging in games and contests if it is part of doing a good deed. Companies are having success pulling in fans by linking to charitable cases. In HP’s case, it was CARE, the aid relief organization.
  • Let them win stuff. Contests, giveaways, and sweepstakes do really well on Facebook. Indeed, HDS initially started publicizing its contest across Twitter, LinkedIn, Google AdWords, and with media partners as well as Facebook, but soon shifted most of the budget to Facebook because response was so much better there. HDS also did something cool. It segmented its offers to get to the audience it really wanted: After running people through a qualification form, the target high-level executives got a chance to win a free IT storage assessment. Non-targets could win Hitachi consumer products and went to a separate database. The strong results from campaign show that C-levels actually are on Facebook and are just as vulnerable to contests as the rest of us.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Koch, you slut. You’re just warming up to social media campaigns because you work for ITSMA and these are the companies who won your contest.

I’m not a slut, I’m a snob
Actually, I’m not a slut. I’m more of a snob. I’m a content guy and I think thought leadership is the best way to build nurturing relationships with contacts in B2B marketing. I still believe that. But my monism was shaken not just by our social media award winners but by something else I saw this week. Marketing automation vendor Eloqua released a SlideShare entitled 10 ways to “solve” Facebook for B2B.

The presentation mostly hypes Eloqua’s Facebook campaign, but a couple of things stood out for me. One was that a sweepstakes drove 43% of the traffic to Eloqua’s Facebook page, far more than other sources.

Plan for the loss of likes
Then came the real epiphany. They actually planned the campaign with the expectation that many of the “Likes” would disappear after the sweepstakes. They planned for it and tried to stanch the bleeding with a steady stream of relevant content to try to hang onto the minority who came for the contest but also had some level of interest in and need for marketing automation.

This is your funnel on Facebook
So maybe this is your funnel on Facebook: Build spikes in traffic with contests and giveaways and then try to slow the losses with content so that the overall pipeline grows somewhat after the giveaways have settled.

What do you think? Can campaigns coexist comfortably with a thought leadership lead nurturing strategy? Or will the campaigns just distract us from the need to do the hard work of a consistent relationship building strategy?

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Is Twitter “social?”

Majority opinion seems to be that Twitter isn’t really a social platform it’s a broadcast medium. A study by Yahoo Research found that 50% of tweets are generated by an “elite” group of 20k users and that those users tend to follow one another rather than branching out—what many refer to as the social media echo chamber.
For these reasons, pundits say that Twitter isn’t much use for reaching B2B customers. But I treasure this “eliteness,” and while older, high-level executive technology buyers are not on Twitter, the younger ones (and those that wannabe C-level executives) are. And in many years of interviewing this audience and blogging to it, they all tell me that they get online to learn, not socialize (even the older ones use online search like crazy.
Twitter isn’t for conversation, it’s for learning.
These days, my audience is B2B marketers and my goal is to help you learn. I have a search column in TweetDeck for “B2B.” I try to check it every day to see what people are sharing. 99% of the time, they’re sharing links to content—blogs, research papers, news stories, etc.—that they think is relevant. I browse through the tweets and look for things that interest me. Then I click through to see if the content is something that I think B2B marketers might learn from. If it is, I re-tweet it or rewrite the tweet if I think there’s a better point to be made about the content than what the original tweeter said.
If I disagree with the content I’ll say so and ask others what they think. Rarely do I see people who believe that the tweet alone is content to be learned from (except those annoying people who think quotes from famous people are worth tweeting). So I treat Twitter like a reporter rather than a cocktail party host.
Learning is social, isn’t it?
The best truly “social” interactions I see on Twitter are organized chats. I’ve been both a featured “guest star” and an attendee and I always learn something. But again, chats as I’ve experienced them have always been about sharing and learning rather than getting to know one another. What am I doing wrong? Am I wrong to believe that B2B audiences will gradually come to social media channels like Twitter to learn?
Many say that marketers are a different breed than “customers,” and what works for marketers won’t translate to the B2B world in general. I don’t think they’re so different. Sure, marketers like to participate in social media more, but that’s because they are the ones charged with making social media happen in their organizations. But just like their audiences, marketers are smart, educated people who like to learn. But I’m left wondering, is sharing content being social?

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3 factors in winning the social media horse race

Seems everyone has an opinion about Google’s G+. And as usual in a situation where little data exists (yet) to support fact-based opinions, most of them are extreme. Some say G+ is dead in the water because it hasn’t generated the mad rush that Facebook did and that growth and use is already starting to slow. Others say that G+ will rule because of its integration with Google’s other tools like Android, Gmail, Docs, and its media properties like YouTube and Google Music—in other words, the colossus effect that we’ve been waiting (for so long) to take effect.

It’s way too early to make a call, so I’m not going to presume to know G+’s prospects for success (especially when it hasn’t even been officially launched), but there are a few things that the rise of a possible new giant in social networking points out:

  • Social networks are porous. One writer claims that the attraction of G+ is the opportunity to start over in social networking. The argument is essentially that we’ve screwed up everything in Facebook and G+ is our social media morning after pill. But as even the worst one-night stand movie comedy will tell you, starting over is tough to do. Erasing or simply stopping our lives on a social network is possible, but it’s much easier to just start sharing across many at once. For example, just when I was lamenting having to do over all the work I’ve done to build up a Twitter community with some true interaction and conversation in G+, along comes a browser extension called SGPlus that lets you post on G+ and share it across Twitter and Facebook at the same time. When and if Google releases an application programming interface for G+, no doubt one of the social dashboards such as Tweetdeck will build G+ in. It’s easier for tweets to flow across all the various social networks because of their short nature and the fact that they usually contain links to longer content that can show up on Facebook and G+.
  • There are only two types of relationships in social networking. G+ is touted as something new, but it’s really a combination of two elements that I’ve talked about here before: Permission-based and viral-based relationships. G+ combines the viral model pioneered by Twitter, in which you can follow someone you don’t know and hear what they have to say, and Facebook and LinkedIn’s permission-based models, in which you can only engage in relationships with those you know. All the social networks we’ve seen so far are based on one or both of these models. G+’s relationship model mix of the two is a little bit complicated. So much so that it takes a PhD. to explain it.
  • There are only two types of content in social media. Short or long. That’s it. One of the reasons that Twitter is compelling is because its content is so short. You have to come up with something really pithy and link to the deeper thinking. Twitter kills the long-winded entry about nothing. The reason that blogs are so popular (and the cornerstone for social media in B2B social media marketing) is that they are long. They satisfy our need for stories with a beginning, middle, and end, and give us room to support our arguments with facts and proof (the cornerstones of thought leadership). Gone are those annoying blogs from the early days that just posted links to other stuff. Twitter killed them all. G+ tries to split the difference. Most of the posts I’ve seen on G+ have been twitter posts that go on for too long—140 words instead of characters, with little in the way of deep thinking or factual evidence to justify the wordiness. In this sense, G+ looks more like the blogging platform Tumblr. And we all know how Tumblr has taken off, right?
  • Commenters rarely engage in conversation. All the social networks allow for various kinds of real-time, texting style conversation, but when it comes to commenting on content, there’s little true conversation. It’s rare to see threaded conversations (unless the discussion is political, in which case the conversation usually happens at the shouting level). G+ and Facebook allow comments to specific entries that are pretty easy to follow. Twitter has the re-tweet button, @replies, and hashtags. I don’t think any of them have a particular advantage in the conversation department, but I think that G+ is at a bit of a disadvantage here. Those 140-word entries don’t have much depth to them, which means that many of the comments are inane. There’s just not much to say about something that didn’t have much substance to begin with. I also think there’s a piling on factor in G+. Maybe I’m being too cynical, but when I read posts by the A-list bloggers, there are tons of people who seem to think that saying something—anything, even “So true, so true”—is good for their street cred and exposure. I just don’t want to wade through it all. I think longer blog posts inspire more thought and better comments, even if they don’t rise to the level of conversation.

What do you think?

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The crisis of buyer information in B2B and how to fix it

cooling

Image by roboppy via Flickr

The other day, I kept getting calls on my cell phone from the same number. Never left a voice mail, (which my gut was telling me should have been a signal), but the number was local. Could it really be that someone I knew was trying to get hold of me?

So, like a fool, I finally called back (the iPhone makes it so easy to do!). With the kind of maddening irony that makes me flash on doing capital punishment-inducing physical harm to a fellow human, I heard a recorded voice say, “Thanks for calling back. If you would like us to stop calling you press…”

Too bad you can’t slam an iPhone.

Pushing the easy button
The episode reminded me of the sheer desperation, sociopathic lack of empathy, and .0000000000000000001% response rate it takes to do direct commercial marketing via the telephone these days. Some of you may not even be old enough to recall what it was like before the National Do Not Call Registry came along. Don’t ask. You think Wall Street and the banks are evil now? You should have seen what they did to doddering seniors’ life savings via the telephone.

It got me thinking, what if a similar easy button comes along for online marketing? We keep hearing that at some point web users may truly be able to stop you from learning anything about them. The “voluntary policing” being done by the ad industry today online is at best an uneasy truce with an internet public not yet bothered enough, too lazy, or too uniformed to do anything about shutting off the cookie oven for good. Certainly, you know that the kinds of douche bags who practice the aforementioned cell phone marketing are no doubt out there somewhere hatching an internet cookie scheme that will so outrage the American public that the little old ladies (and men) will finally rise up and demand relief, just as they did with telephone marketing.

Obviously, this is less of an issue in B2B than B2C. Cookies help us learn more about our website visitors, but you won’t learn nearly as much about the spending patterns of B2B executives through web cookies as you do with B2C buyers.

Privacy is a concern in B2B, too
Yet even in B2B, we have a growing concern over privacy in lead management. Anecdotally, we hear that content gets exponentially more clicks when there’s no registration form attached to it. And people’s B2C experiences have a habit of leaking over to their B2B behavior. Generally I think we can say that the trend and sentiment among B2B buyers is to hand over less information over time rather than more.

So how to stave off this impending crisis of buyer information? It may seem facile, but social media are the answer. Rather than trading information for value or simply stealing it through invisible cookies, what if we actually did it the way people do in real life: through a personal relationship?

Buyers click more on pages with people
Buyers want to get to know your subject matter experts. They really do. I saw a terrific interview recently with Ethan McCarty of IBM, who talked about how IBM is working to get its employees involved in internal knowledge sharing through social mechanisms. You should read the whole thing, but one bit jumped out at me as great data for proving why we need to get more personal with buyers:

“Through A/B testing we have found that pages with IBMers on them perform significantly better than those that do not have IBMers on them. For example, if we have a web page that is designed to get visitors to click deeper into our site, the presence of IBM experts on the page improves both the performance and the overall feedback we get about the page. It’s kind of no surprise—when we are transparent, people trust us and feel better about the experience. What was interesting to me is that this is even the case when they don’t interact directly with the IBMer on the page.”

Marketers who let their subject matter experts get more personal with buyers will win in the end.

What do you think? Are you making plans for a post-buyer information age? If so, how?

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4 Reasons Why Facebook Stinks for B2B Marketing

Recently, I was preparing a workshop on social media for an ITSMA client. The marketer in charge of the company’s social media effort gave me a clear edict: “Look, I don’t want you focusing on Facebook, okay? We don’t see the value of it for B2B and we want it off the table. Every time we talk about it, we have an endless argument that leads nowhere.”

Seemed a bit harsh, but I had to admit that I had been harboring my own doubts about the value of Facebook for B2B for a long time. I’m not saying that B2B companies shouldn’t be on Facebook. I think every company should be on Facebook. There are just too many people passing through those turnstiles not to put up a sign somewhere. So I think B2B businesses should have a Facebook page that shares whatever content the company is already producing. Why not? It’s yet another channel for reaching customers and the effort required to set up a Facebook page and create RSS feeds of your content to update it is pretty small.

But let’s put this all in context. What is B2B marketing all about? Relationships, right? And I just don’t see what’s good about Facebook for creating relationships in B2B. Much of what works on Facebook seems to fall into two camps:

  • Charity. I see many brands launching altruistic campaigns on Facebook to get attention and burnish their reputations.
  • Contests/giveaways/games. Much as people at trade shows will do just about anything for a t-shirt, it seems pretty easy to get people to click the like button if they can get free swag or get a chance to win something. EMC, Cisco and Intel have had success with this kind of focus for some time now.

But I notice a few things about B2B efforts on Facebook that leave me skeptical:

  • Engagement is campaign focused and temporary. I see brands investing effort in campaigns around a particular event or contest, but what about the space in between? If the only way to get people interested in your content is by giving them stuff instead of wisdom, how are you supposed to sustain that connection over the long term?
  • Conversation is banal or non-existent. The B2B pages I’ve seen on Facebook are broadcast focused. Lots of big graphics and calls to action around the above mentioned swag and charitable causes, but I’ve never seen anything in the way of substantive discussion that anyone would mistake for thought leadership, as you would on say, a good blog post by a subject matter expert.
  • The like button is a blunt instrument. There’s no denying the power of Facebook as a platform. Its sheer numbers mean that brands get tons of likes. But click on that like button and X,Y,Z Company is in your Facebook stream forever (with no clear way to get rid of it) along with the stuff you really want to read from your BFFs. That’s gotta get old pretty quickly. Research shows that people unlike brands on Facebook nearly as often as they shut off other channels and for all the same reasons: “too frequent, irrelevant or boring communications.”
  • The perception of Facebook as a consumer platform persists. I keep waiting for Facebook to buy LinkedIn or Twitter and just put an end to the business vs. consumer distinction. But until they do, it seems that the perception will persist. Is it any wonder that B2C marketing techniques dominate? Facebook just doesn’t seem like a good source for B2B thought leadership.

Again, I’m not saying Facebook shouldn’t be part of a B2B social media strategy, but its utility as a platform for building a deeper relationship with B2B buyers still seems limited. What do you think?

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How to get employees involved in social media: focus on ideas

Many marketers involved in social media management tell me that they struggle to get their subject matter experts engaged in social media. But focusing solely on engagement is the wrong goal. What we should be talking about instead is getting those experts involved in creating ideas.

In an interview this week with Stephanie Tilton (thanks, Stephanie!) on the Savvy B2B Marketing Blog entitled How to Gain Real Traction with Thought Leadership, I talk about how marketers need to create an idea network within their organizations to spur their subject matter experts to start thinking.
Create an idea network as the basis for social media
Marketers need to facilitate a process for internal development of ideas and for external feedback. The combination of internal and external creation and feedback creates friction and competition. Experts need to defend their ideas, get input and collaboration from others, and compete for attention. Here are some examples of how this can work:

Internal

  • Knowledge share sessions
  • Awards programs
  • Primary and secondary research
  • Competitive intelligence

External:

  • Customer councils
  • Collaboration with academics and analysts
  • Partnership with trade associations

Creating an idea network helps demonstrate the importance of ideas to the organization. Many companies take it a step farther by making idea development part of employees’ annual goals. The high-end consulting firms like McKinsey have done this for years. Ideas are baked into the culture. To rise in the firm, consultants know they need to come up with good ideas and try to get them published.

Marketers need to help create that culture in the company by facilitating the idea process. Companies need to create a platform—and an expectation—that enables subject matter experts to be thinking all the time.

When ideas are an expectation, social media participation is easier
When employees know that they are expected to be thinking—and getting that thinking out into the market—engagement in social media participation becomes easier. They have something to talk about! Social media becomes a great test bed for testing ideas and getting feedback. It also becomes a way to slice up big ideas into more consumable pieces.

What do you think? How are you getting subject matter experts to engage in social media?

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Social media’s Hallmark Moment: the Twitter Auto DM

I take a perverse pleasure in reading my Twitter DMs, 99% of which are of the automated variety, looking for the heartfelt sentiment that goes out to me and thousands of other close personal friends every day from people I’ve started following.

I try to imagine the impulses that motivate the writers behind these parsimonious hanging chads of fake individualized attention. Technology is wonderful isn’t it? It allows us to divide the equivalent of a single “Have a nice day” into thousands of infinitesimally smaller investments of effort and goodwill. Automated DMs are like giving a new acquaintance a sliced off sliver of a single piece of mini-Chiclets gum and saying, “There you go. I hope you enjoy that.”

Since I think that automated DMs are about as useful as egg on sand, I like to parse them into snarky categories (these are all actual auto DMs I’ve received). See if you agree with mine. Perhaps you can add some yourself. (No doubt I’ll have fewer readers after this post—“Gosh, what’s his problem?! I’m just trying to spread a little good cheer!”—so I can use all the help I can get.)

The “You’re lucky to know me” category:

  • “@ me to follow you if I haven’t already.” Yes, I’ll look into that right away.
  • “What do you do?” Okay, so you want to automate the fact that you can’t be bothered learning anything about the people who follow you?
  • “If you miss my tweets, you can catch a summary in my monthly newsletter here.” So good you need to send them twice. Thanks.
  • “[            ] uses TrueTwit validation service. To validate click here:” Will I need two forms of ID for that?

The “I’m genuinely interested in knowing you more—no really I am” category:

  • “Let me know if I can help you in any way.” This is what salespeople say to me at stores. Except I’m usually standing amid consumer electronics or racks of clothing when they say it, so it makes sense. But now I’m on Twitter and I’ve just met you, so what kind of help are we talking about here? Oops, I’ve just invested more attention than he did writing the auto DM. I feel so used.
  • “Look forward to learning about your interests.” And yours, and yours, and yours…

The “I’m totally desperate to get some freakin’ cash out of you or anybody else—can you help with that?” category:

  • “I’m using this to make money on Twitter, I hope you find it useful.” Thanks a bunch. If I wanted fake Viagra pills I would have stuck to email.
  • Looking forward to chatting. Download a free value calculator.” Wow, king of the transition sentence, aren’t we?
  • “Here are links to my book, my blog, my company.” Gives new meaning to the phrase “cut to the chase.”

The “I just wanted to let you know that I’m trying to game my follower count” category:

  • “Plz help spread the word about me! I wana rise to the top!” Yes, spamming is such a competitive field these days.

The “I’m going to redundantly echo the empty sentiment of the act of sending Auto DMs by repeating that empty sentiment in my message to you” category:

  • “Have an awesome day!” But what about tomorrow, and the day after that? I feel so lost.

The “I’m trying to sound humble” category:

  • “I clearly see I’m going to learn a great deal from YOU!” Not if you’re auto DMing me.
  • “We will do our very best to keep you informed and entertained.” Why do I think this person has won an “excellent attendance” award in the past?
  • “Will try to keep it interesting.” Will try? Way to lower those expectations. What about doing your very best—every day! Hey, that’d make a catchy auto DM, don’t you think?

The “I often creep people out” category:

  • “I got my eye on you. Thanks for the follow!! If your on Facebook too hit me up!” Cause hitting peeple up on Facebook is what me like to do.
  • “Smile, you only have one today!” Cringing, not smiling. And what, I’m only allowed one smile today? I guess when you’re auto DMing smiles you have to ration them carefully.
  • “Glad to have you in my Twitstream.” I suddenly get this feeling that I should be ahead of a Twitstream rather than following one.
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The prerequisite to effective social media: the idea organization

At the first of ITSMA’s series of road shows this week in Silicon Valley this week (there’s still time to sign up for New York and Boston next week!) I confirmed something I’ve been hearing in my research on idea marketing over the past month: idea marketing requires a deep commitment not just from marketing but from the entire organization.

Eric Wittlake makes this point in a blog post this week and I heartily agree.

But then this got me to thinking, without a commitment to ideas throughout the organization, all these dollars we’re starting to spend on social media will be wasted.

In other words, unless we become idea organizations, we’re not going to have much to say to customers, prospects, and influencers in social media.

What do I mean by an idea organization? Let’s look at some attributes I’m seeing I’m my research:

  • Show commitment to idea development from the top. Some management consulting companies have the commitment to ideas baked into the culture—you simply will not survive as a consultant if you do not create ideas that lead to new IP. For everyone else, a visible commitment from the CEO and other top leaders signals that ideas, not just offerings, are part of all subject matter experts’ jobs.
  • Appeal to their egos. Recognition from peers means a lot to subject matter experts. Some companies get pretty formal about this, creating invitation-only SME councils with entry requirements. For example, one company required that its council members hold at least one patent before they’d be invited.
  • Make ideas part of individual expectations. I’m hearing B2B companies tell me that they are starting to make idea development part of the yearly goals of their subject matter experts. Few go so far as to specify the number of ideas or idea-based content that these people are expected to produce each year, but they have made idea development a part of the yearly review discussion.
  • Give them the tools to think. We’re seeing some companies develop some creative tools for fostering idea development. One company has created an internal portal where project members submit ideas that are vetted and voted on by the project customers. The winning ideas are implemented.
  • Make it competitive. Some companies have companywide competitions for the best ideas or the best white paper. This process is usually facilitated by marketing.
  • Make it visible. You’ll never create an idea organization if ideas are developed in secret. Think about it: if employees aren’t comfortable sharing their ideas with each other, how will they ever be comfortable talking about them in social media? Collaboration—both internally and externally—will help embed idea development into the culture.

Can you start to see that by creating these idea development processes, it becomes much easier for companies to engage in social media conversations that will impress customers and influencers?

What do you think? How are you creating an idea organization?

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15 things marketers should stop doing and thinking in 2011

Here’s a list of things I wish we would stop doing and thinking as of December 31st:

Social media

  • Social media cause people to waste time at work. Companies have a long and pointless history of resisting new forms of communication. From Facebook to email to putting telephones on employees’ desks (remember, the telephone started as a “consumer” communication technology, too), companies think that every new wave is going to lead to gajillions in lost productivity. Dude, this stuff isn’t heroin, okay? The problem is not with employees or with the communications technologies, it’s with the premise that employees come into work determined to waste time. Guess what companies, people wasted time at work long before Facebook came along. If the company is well managed, people who waste time will get fired. People who sell your trade secrets on the internet will go to jail. Stop wasting money on pointless, ineffective efforts to block this stuff and start finding ways to make these channels pay.
  • Social media relationships are shallow and meaningless. We all know twitter can’t start revolutions or substitute for gazing meaningfully into someone’s eyes over dinner, but what I don’t understand is why the critics can’t see a link between the bonds that we form on social media and the deeper links that we forge offline. For example, the viral relationship model of Twitter adds a new dimension to relationships, it doesn’t subtract. You meet tons more people than you would in more traditional permission-based environments and some of those relationships will wind up becoming the kinds of deeper, more meaningful exchanges that the critics say we are losing through social media. I’ve formed a handful of excellent business relationships on Twitter this year—we know each other on sight and (gasp) we’ve even spoken to one another. Now, are a handful of real relationships a good return considering that I have 1400 followers on Twitter? Yes, because these relationships would not have happened otherwise. Shallow relationships don’t have to remain that way and existing relationships don’t have to go all shallow just because you start interacting in social media.
  • Interactions substitute for relationships. Many seemingly logical, intelligent people send me automated direct messages (DMs) when I follow them on Twitter, making them seem like robot spammers rather than people. They think that by throwing that extra interaction in there that it is somehow going to deepen our relationship. Soon, we’ll be able to automate our social media relationships through bots that can judge sentiment. The theory is that social media powered by humans doesn’t scale well. It’s nothing new; authors automated their interactions with readers centuries ago with the printing press. Just don’t go believing that these interactions can ever be substitutes for a human relationship.
  • Filtered conversation reduces risk. The ultimate risk in business is that your customers stop buying from you because they don’t trust you. Preventing employees from speaking to customers because they might make a mistake ignores this much bigger risk—which existed long before social media came along. Customers want to speak to the people they will be working with. That’s why employees and subject matter experts should be on the front lines of social media rather than marketers or PR people.
  • External social media marketing is more important than internal social media collaboration. We did some case studies at ITSMA this year that showed that companies could easily blow up half their offices and do away with most of their administrative and bureaucratic structures without a single customer noticing. The technology for virtual collaboration is finally catching up to the promise of internal knowledge management that we’ve been hearing about for years. Plus, it can make both employees and customers happier than they are now.
  • More volume creates more influence. In traditional media, influence comes from sheer numbers—the more subscribers to your newspaper, the better. But influence in social media isn’t purely a numbers game (though numbers can certainly help). It’s also about the degree of interconnectedness. There’s a scary analogy here, to viruses. Viruses ultimately benefit more from infecting 100 people who travel widely across the world than from infecting 10,000 people in one place. The most influential people in social media will be those who can combine large followings with diverse groups of followers who themselves also have many diverse followers.
  • Social media has ROI. Unless you are selling products, and inexpensive ones at that, it is impossible to track a tweet or a blog post directly to a sale. For expensive, complex B2B products and services, social media can improve relationships with customers and increase awareness. Do you call that ROI? I don’t. ROI should be measured on a higher level—as in the ROI of all of marketing to the business.

Mobile

General Marketing

  • Analytics can wait. We need to close the loop on what buyers do with our content and use that insight to predict what they will do next. Buying marketing automation tools or social media analysis tools aren’t enough. You need people who know how to create analytical processes and algorithms and all that stuff. Wall Street is already trying to make sense of the massive river of online conversation for business purposes. We need people who can do it, too.
  • We must measure the ROI of social media (or any other individual marketing tactic). CEOs don’t care about individual tactics; they want to know whether marketing in general reduces the time to revenue and improves the productivity of sales. We need to start measuring the larger impact of marketing rather than measuring activity or individual tactics.
  • Publish it and they will come. We have a crisis in marketing channels. All year, marketers have been telling me that they are having a harder and harder time getting noticed in traditional channels like white papers, email newsletters, and events. This is a typical comment: “I’ve got plenty of content. It’s getting people to pay attention to it that’s the problem!” We need to mashup some new channels out of combinations of new and old to stand out and be heard now. A few examples of things that ITSMA clients did this year:
  • Describing what you do is thought leadership. Creating compelling offers and descriptions of products and services is an art, it really is. But it ain’t thought leadership. Customers want ideas for fixing their problems and proof that they can trust you. Most companies still try to sell what they have rather than figuring out what customers need.
  • Sales support is marketing’s primary role. Many companies think that they are maximizing their investment in marketing by limiting it to sales support. What they don’t realize is that buyers have removed salespeople from the earliest stages of the buying process by doing their own research with colleagues, peers, on the web, and in social media. Marketing is most effective at this stage, when buyers want nothing to do with salespeople. Marketing organizations that don’t break out of the sales support role will be trapped in a Catch-22 of increasingly poor performance and waning confidence from the business side.
  • Email will always be cool. Hey, we’re humans. We resist change and we have irrational hope for the future. So we keep doing stuff we’re comfortable doing for longer than we probably should rather than embracing new stuff. Email is inconvenient, impersonal, slow, rife with spam, and not particularly intelligent. But we’re used to it. The kids have already dumped it in favor of texting and social networking. Email won’t go away tomorrow but it will gradually be starved of all meaningful human interaction until it becomes a graveyard of official business communications and, wait for it, marketing. We should probably start planning for email’s funeral now so we don’t miss it.

What things do you wish we would stop doing and saying in 2011?

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