September 16, 2014

Why salespeople should sell ideas: an FAQ

We all know the increasing importance of ideas in B2B marketing. But idea marketing doesn’t start and stop with marketers. For the program to be successful, those ideas must find their way into the hands of salespeople. And I’m not sure that salespeople share the same passion for ideas as we do. I think they need to be convinced. Please tell me if you think the following does the job:

  • Relationships are what matter in selling. Why should I start selling ideas instead?
    Relationship selling skills matter more than ever. Idea selling isn’t a replacement for any current selling skills. It is an additional tool.
  • But why are ideas so important now?
    Buyers are spending much more time online than they used to. A (fairly old) study by Forbes and Google found that 80% of C-level executives perform at least three web searches per day. That was in 2009. No doubt that number has continued to go up—especially with the rise of mobile and social media.
  • What does online search have to do with selling?
    As buyers do more searching, they are stretching the buying process earlier and earlier, to the point where they may not have a specific product or service in mind when they search. They are looking for inspiration and guidance on the business problems they face. Increasingly, they are going to the internet for that guidance before they speak with salespeople.
  • So you’re saying there’s a part of the buying process that doesn’t involve salespeople?
    No. I’m saying there’s a new part of the buying process that comes before buyers have decided what they want to do. They assume that salespeople can’t help them at that point. And for the most part, they’re right. Most salespeople are still focused on selling specific products and services.
  • C’mon, nobody goes in pitching anymore. I ask them about their pain points and work with them to resolve them.
    Well, ask buyers and they’ll tell you that you should know their pain points before you even walk in the door. They want to start the conversation with their pain points and work forward from there—without talking about what you have to offer them. They are looking for good ideas, facts, and data about how to solve their specific business problems. That’s what they’re looking for on the internet—why shouldn’t they expect it from their providers, too?
  • But I don’t have access to that kind of information.
    Maybe not, but someone inside your organization does. Every B2B company has subject matter experts (SMEs) who are working with customers to solve problems and have deep backgrounds in customers’ processes, industries, and functions. The trick is to discover those sources of ideas in your organization and capture their wisdom for wider distribution.
  • How do we find and tap into those sources of ideas inside the organization?
    Sales and marketing need to work together to develop an idea network—a group of internal and external SMEs that can help develop and vet new ideas and put them into the hands of salespeople. The big strategy consulting firms have been doing this for decades. But it’s only since the rise of search that buyers have begun to expect this kind of original thinking from all their providers. In a recent ITSMA survey, 88% of B2B buyers said that ideas are important or critical for providers that want to make it to their short lists.
  • How do I get these ideas in a form I can use with customers?
    Besides creating idea networks, B2B companies also have to become publishers. With the decline of B2B trade publishing, B2B providers have to pick up the slack. But it can’t be with warmed over brochures. Traditional forms of marketing are still incredibly value later on in the sales cycle, but at the early stages, companies must produce articles and surveys that can compete with what the journalists used to provide. The management consulting companies have built small publishing engines—with dedicated editors, writers, and other publishing experts—inside their four walls. B2B companies that are serious about idea selling need to do the same thing.
  • Great, so you want me to dump a bunch of whitepapers on my customers?
    No, you have to work with marketing to get those ideas translated into a form you can use with customers—whether that be idea salescards, demos, etc. Sales and marketing need to work together to figure that out. This is where many marketing groups fall down; they stop short of translating the ideas into usuable sales materials. Companies need to become as good at idea sales enablement as they are at idea publishing.

Does this look like a realistic list? What have I left out?

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Does integrity make you a social media loser?

In three plus years of tweeting, I’ve picked up what I perceive to be the general etiquette for engaging on Twitter. I’ve also done research asking B2B marketers how they engage and how they educate their employees and SMEs to engage. I’ve rolled all that up into an approach that I doubt constantly.

I don’t seem to be alone. Lots of people seem to be having Twitter identity crises these days. Social media a-lister Chris Brogan, who had a policy of following back everyone who followed him, deleted everybody before finally settling on a few hundred people to follow and shifting his attention to the new social network on the block, G+. Another popular blogger, Mitch Joel, worries that he sucks at Twitter because he doesn’t follow everyone back.

Meanwhile, we have opportunist sites like Triberr that let you “grow your reach” by automatically tweeting things that people in your “tribes” write about, as explained (exposed really), by Neicole Crepeau in this excellent post. What a ridiculous notion, that someone’s content is worth tweeting every time. I don’t know anyone whose content I would recommend to my followers every time (and I have 135 feeds I follow in Google reader). Do you?

It’s always been clear that the people who invented Twitter don’t really know what to do with it, but up to now, it seemed like the users did. Now I wonder. I’ve invested hundreds, maybe thousands of hours into Twitter and I’m starting to feel like a loser. Integrity is one of my few talents and I’m afraid it’s wasted on Twitter.

Here’s my list of what seem like the right things to do on Twitter so that I feel like I’m being a good member of the B2B marketing guild—i.e., helping my followers learn and discover new people who have smart things to say about marketing. Can you add your recommendations to this list or tell me why I’m wrong? If you feel strongly about this, maybe we can turn it into a Twitter pledge and share it.

  • I read everything I link to in my tweets and everything I re-tweet
  • I don’t tweet my blog posts multiple times unless there have been comments that I want to alert people to
  • I do automatically schedule tweets but I don’t auto-tweet stuff I haven’t read
  • I tweet links to content, not quotes from famous people
  • Follower counts don’t enter into my decision whether to follow someone
  • I tweet at least 5:1 ratio of other people’s content to my own
  • I tweet thank yous to people who mention me in their tweets

That’s my list. What’s yours?

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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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What the slow death of B2B publishing means for marketers

Marketers always struggle with what to do next. There so many channels out there and so little time. But if you step back and think about where the real opportunity is for B2B marketers, it is idea marketing. Start with a good idea and the channel questions will resolve themselves.

B2B buyers are tired of marketing, but they’re not tired of ideas. In fact, buyers are hungrier than ever for good ideas presented in an objective way that target their specific needs. The people who used to do that, B2B journalists, aren’t doing it so much anymore.

This cartoon making the rounds online captures the frustrations of trade journalists--and reveals the opportunity for B2B marketers.

The business model is broken
It’s not that the journalists have gotten lazy; it’s a problem with the business model for B2B publishing. The business side of these organizations is trying to maintain profitability by slashing staff and by maximizing online traffic to make up for lost print ad revenue (and other desiccated revenue streams like events).

But unlike the old print subscription models, where publishers qualified their audiences by setting minimum requirements for things like role in the organization and buying power (which allowed them to justify high prices for advertising), online traffic is essentially random. Today, publishers must substitute traffic quantity for quality of subscribers to get advertisers to buy. That drives publishers to produce a lot of short content designed to reach the broadest possible audience (at least one online story about Apple per day for a technology pub, for example).

Half your ad dollars wasted? Try all of them.
Meanwhile, B2B buyers still hunger for good, specific content just as they always have. But because advertisers don’t believe in print anymore, the economics aren’t there for publishers to provide it. We keep hearing that quote from John Wanamaker about how half of his print advertising dollars were wasted. Trouble is, with online that figure is closer to 100%. Advertisers have abandoned print display advertising that at least had some degree of targeting for online display ads that have no targeting at all.

It’s a no win for everybody except the ad agencies. Publishers are left with a trickle of revenue and B2B companies discover just how uninterested a generic online audience is in their products and services. Meanwhile, Google, which has become the biggest ad agency of them all, gets rich by presenting hungry content seekers with links to JC Penney.

From the ashes of trade journalism, an opportunity for marketers
However, the tragedy that has become trade journalism is an opportunity for B2B marketers.

Providers have the opportunity to fill the content gap themselves. Too bad more of them aren’t doing it. Though most respondents in our How Customers Choose research said the quality of their providers’ thought leadership was pretty good, nearly 40% said it could be better. The number one suggestion for improvement: Focus more specifically on buyers’ particular business segment and needs (which B2B print publications used to be measured on each year in reader surveys).

This longing for personalization isn’t just heard in the context of thought leadership, however. When asked to name the number one factor in choosing a provider, variations on the “know me” theme came through 42% of the time.

Measure relevance, not output
But most marketing organizations don’t measure relevance; they measure output—whether it’s in leads or downloads. Marketers need to invest their money where B2B publications used to invest it—in constantly researching their target audiences and identifying the trends and ideas that are most relevant to them. Then marketers need to provide that relevant content.

When they do, they win business. In our recent survey, How Customers Choose Solution Providers, 2010: The New Buyer Paradox (free summary available), nearly 60% of respondents said that idea-based content plays an important or critical role in determining which providers make it onto their shortlists. But if providers go farther and use thought leadership to help companies clarify their business needs and suggest solutions, 30% of respondents said they are more likely to choose those providers. Even better, more than 50% of this group said they would consider sole-sourcing the deal. And this potential windfall isn’t limited to new prospects. Existing customers are also looking for new ideas. There’s no reason you can’t explore the epiphany stage with them more than once.

Does that help clarify what to do next?

What do you think?

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Why Lead Management Automation Really Matters

We should care more about lead management automation in B2B marketing. Maybe we don’t care enough because we’re focusing on the wrong reasons for doing it.

It isn’t because the software for automating this stuff has improved, or because it’s available through the cloud so you don’t have to deal with those people over in IT.

No, there’s something bigger going on here. And that is a huge change in the buying process.

In part it is being driven by social media. ITSMA’s annual survey of IT buyers found that this year, for the first time, a majority of buyers in the US—and 75% when you include other countries—are using social media in the purchasing process—especially the younger ones.

In our research we’ve also seen consistently over the past few years that two-thirds of buyers prefer to research their buying options themselves rather than waiting for vendors to contact them. Indeed, research by Forbes and Google found that 80% of C-level executives perform at least three web searches per day.

And finally, the trade press and general business media are dying. We have fewer and fewer outlets to do the heavy lifting of thought leadership for us by featuring our subject matter experts in in-depth analytical articles. Yet buyers are hungrier than ever for this kind of information and insight.

Buyers are removing salespeople from the buying process
What this all means is that buyers are really trying to remove salespeople from the earliest stages of the buying process. They want to become as informed as possible about current trends and their buying options before they ever speak to a salesperson.

This is where we as marketers need to provide more content—but not sales content. This content must be like what the press used to provide, objective, idea-based, and educational—not selling. Put another way, we have to use content to establish a relationship with buyers where our salespeople can’t. And we have to continue to build that relationship over time until those buyers are ready to talk to us.

That’s why lead management automation is important. It’s too difficult to track that relationship and know when someone is ready to do more than just read your white papers unless you have a process for lead management and can automate it. You have to be able to connect content with behavior with action. That’s not possible manually. It just won’t scale.

What do you think? What is stopping your company from creating an automated lead management process?

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Where is your mobile marketing center of gravity?

For marketers considering creating mobile device apps, the bar has been set very high. I mean, c’mon, a free app that gives you voice directions to your destination? An app (also free) that lets you convert your spoken words into written emails?

These are hard acts to follow. (I’m sure you have others; tell me about them in the comments—I’m an iPhone geek in my spare time.)

iPhone Geocaching Toolkit
Image by TahoeSunsets via Flickr

So how are we as marketers supposed to compete with apps like these? I’m going to be moderating a panel on this question (among others) at next week’s MarketingProfs’ B2B Forum in Boston.

From phones to computers
Mobile is going to become an important part of our marketing, whether we like it or not. The number of smartphones continues to explode. More important, the way that people use these phones is changing. According to a recent survey by ABI Research, 28% of respondents said that they access web sites from their phones at least once per day—up 75% in a year. And while 3G makes the download speeds bearable, the price of the handsets continues to drop—making them really cheap and increasingly functional computers.

Our customers and prospects—especially the younger ones—will be looking at smartphones as one of their primary computing platforms—if not the primary platform. I always take analysts’ forecasts with a grain of salt, but ABI’s prediction that mobile marketing (ads on mobile phones) will be a $4 billion business by 2014 makes you stop and think.

How do we compete?
I’m sure that there will be opportunities and reasons for B2B to advertise on these things eventually, but that’s the easy part. The hard part is finding a way to get and keep people’s attention by carving out a spot on the phones next to the magic voice and directional applications.

Seems impossible, doesn’t it? On the surface, yes. But the reason that these applications are so impressive is not because they were developed as standalone mobile applications but because they take advantage of a deep reservoir of thinking and intellectual property developed over many years—elsewhere. Dragon has been perfecting its voice-to-text abilities for decades through its PC software and MapQuest (I still prefer it to the Google Maps gorilla) has been honing its route guidance for many years.

Good mobile apps start somewhere else
Their mobile apps are like tender shoots that emerge from the trunk of the tree; with that supply of DNA, food, and protection, they have a much better chance of survival than a seed dropped on the ground.

I think that’s how we have to view mobile apps for B2B marketing. While it may be possible to build an outstanding standalone app that wows your audience, I think the chances are pretty similar to an individual seed’s chances of surviving to become a mature oak—really slim.

And Mother Nature doesn’t seem to mind having lots of oak trees that all look pretty much the same. Your audience will mind. And frankly, they are really, really jaded.

We have to think about how mobile can be like the tender shoot that sprouts from the well-established tree if we’re going to be able to compete effectively.

But first, we need to establish the reason for going mobile. We can’t simply create an application that links to static website content, for example. Mobile doesn’t magically make static content exciting.

There has to be a purpose behind adding mobile. At ITSMA, we’re seeing four main reasons for doing it:

  • Help. The classic B2B mobile applications have been internally focused, giving maintenance people access to service information while they are out in the field. Is there a reason for you to offer whatever help you give to customers through mobile? Could your salespeople benefit from mobile access to a sales enablement application giving them advice in the field for helping customers?
  • Location. The addition of GPS chips to smartphones makes it possible to use people’s location as a driving force behind the mobile application. Right now Foursquare is the Twitter of location. People like it, but they’re not quite sure what to do with it or how it can be used for marketing (and making money). One possibility is to use location at your events so that attendees can find each other or share schedules and information. But Twitter and Foursquare already do that, so again, you need something more behind the app than just the location feature.
  • Continuity. Do you have situations where customers and prospects feel they might miss something by being disconnected from you even for a short while? An example of this is user groups. I could see techies catching up on technical issues while they have some down time at an airport, for example.
  • Timeliness. Of course, the Blackberry is the quintessential timeliness mobile app. Is there any aspect of what you do that customers would want to be alerted about the moment it happens?

B2B mobile marketing case studies
At the MarketingProfs event next week, I’ll have two panelists who have sprouted shoots from the tree. (Both are winners of the 2009 ITSMA Marketing Excellence Awards—the 2010 Awards deadline is June and anyone can enter).

Xerox Global Services (XGS) built a mobile application as part of its internal sales tool called Competipedia. It’s a wiki-based tool where salespeople can go to find and share competitive intelligence. The mobile app that hooks into Competipedia is justified because XGS’ salespeople often need information while on the road (help) and can use competitive information as soon as it is available (timeliness).

Consulting firm CSC meanwhile, built a tree trunk called WikonnecT that is a B2B online community for the insurance industry. CSC added a mobile shoot to WikonnecT because its community is essentially a user group on steroids. CSC has been building the complex software that runs the processes of big insurance companies for decades—a kind of ERP for insurance. By making its software development processes transparent within WikonnecT—e.g., people can argue about and lobby for new features at any time and CSC responds within the community—there is a vitality to the conversation that satisfies the timeliness and continuity requirements for mobile.

As you can see, both Competipedia and WikonnecT’s success in mobile depends on having the center of gravity for the applications be outside the mobile apps themselves.

What do you think? Is this the way B2B marketers should approach building all mobile apps?

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Why the volume and quality of interactions with customers has to pass for social media ROI

Google Analytics - Number Nerd
Image by LollyKnit via Flickr

I wish I could say that social media leads to sales. I really do. But I can’t. And I haven’t encountered anyone else who can either, have you? So when we think about social media ROI, we need to make a leap of faith. We need to believe that more engagement between our companies and the people we want to reach is a good thing that ultimately leads to sales—but down a long, narrow, winding path with a few jumps between cliffs thrown in there.

To make ourselves feel a little more comfortable with this idea, we may need to categorize social media with something whose hazy ROI we’re more familiar and comfortable with: PR.

There have been research attempts made to uncover and evaluate methods for measuring the ROI of PR. But you’re not going to like them.

Jumping through ROI hoops
Techniques include measuring the:

  • Value of impressions. We track the marketing mix (including PR) over time against trends in sales. Lots of variables there.
  • Return on media impact. This is the number of articles or blog posts that mention the product or service measured against the trend in sales. Again, tough to isolate PR’s role.
  • Value of earned media. This is what it would cost to place an ad in a magazine vs. the cost of getting the story placement. The PR cost is usually less and the value is usually larger, but by how much? Old beliefs about the relative value of earned media vs. advertising are all over the map—and probably need to be revised in the age of social media.

But ROI has to be there, right?
Still, we know in our bones that positive word of mouth has a positive effect on sales. We just have a hard time proving it. The only effective argument I’ve heard recently is that we embed calls to action in social media that drive readers to a landing page where we capture their information and start nurturing them as leads. But without good systems for tracking those leads from social media all the way through a sale, it’s difficult and expensive to do. And it leads back to the problem we have with PR. Did the social media impression really lead to the sale?

As with PR, perhaps all we can do is establish that social media was at least a guidepost along that narrow rocky path to a sale.

Volume and quality of interactions
So if you buy that leap of logic, let’s say that blogs are another channel, like PR, in a marketing mix designed to familiarize customers and prospects with our companies and us. And if that’s true, then we should try to increase the volume and quality of interactions with have with customers and prospects through social media, no?

That’s when things start to get easier. We can more easily measure engagement in social media. Especially on blogs.

For this reason, I think we need to think about blogs as the center point of a social media strategy. Aside from the corporate, a blog is the mother ship of social media interaction and content. And blogs are really measurable. In fact, we can do a lot of it for free. Here are some metrics, mostly for blogs, that help build engagement with customers and prospects. Please tell me what I should add or take away. And if you have the magic sauce for social media ROI, please douse us with it!

(For much more on the social media ROI topic, see this terrific list of resources compiled by Robin Broitman at Interactive Insights Group called the Social Media Metrics Superlist.)

  • Connect to your most important keywords. SEO is really a fancy term for constructing your sentences carefully—especially your headlines. If the intention of your blog is to drive traffic to your main website for lead generation, then you should be using the keywords on your blog that matter most on your website. To oversimplify it, if you want to sell more ERP software, you should use keywords like “enterprise software,” a lot on your blog so that Google associates your blog with your company’s area of expertise.
  • Grow the number of influential referral sites. “Owning” a keyword term in Google searches is nice, but building traffic to your blog through references on other blogs and websites is the key to sustained, long-term growth. Obviously, the more influential the referral site the better. But we’re not talking just sheer numbers here. For example, being listed on the blogroll of a highly respected blogger, analyst, or journalist not only generates traffic; it also establishes you as an authority among the people who care most about the subject you’re blogging about. That authority begins to have exponential effects over time. You and your posts are referred to more often as the network of referrals grows. The growth in traffic then confers its own authority—you get lots of visits so you must be smart. It becomes a virtuous cycle.
  • Don’t forget the outbound links. We all tend to obsess over the number of mentions with get in blog rolls or our influence rank in Technorati. But we often don’t stop to think about whether we’re linking to anyone else’s blog. One of the cornerstones of social media is sharing. Be generous with links to other blogs and websites and others will return the favor and build your traffic for you.
  • Understand the location of your audience. In Google analytics, you can drill down by country—even by city—to see where your traffic comes from. Comparing the geographical distribution of your blog to your company’s website should give you a sense of whether your blog is hitting with the same areas of the world as your website. It could also reveal potential new areas of focus for your salespeople.
  • Measure endurance. Good blogs hold people to the page they’re viewing. So time spent is metric to track to see if people spend more time reading over time. Bounce rate is a good metric for websites because it helps show whether people are finding what they’re looking for. But it’s not so good for blogs because blogs generally only have one or two pages—a page for the posts and a page for “about me” or “contact me—so the bounce rate is going to be higher for blogs by default. You read the post, you leave. Google analytics also has a metric for loyalty—the numbers of repeat visits over time—that shows whether people are sticking with you.
  • Find and nurture your VIPs. It’s hard to measure the number of people who care about and are really influenced by your blog. So I apply the old subscription model. If people care enough to want to know when your next post comes out, they are engaged. If they also comment on your blog, they are friends. Make a list of the people who subscribe to your blog through RSS and e-mail and match them up to your comments. Those who both subscribe and comment regularly are your VIPs. RSS+comments=VIP. These are the people who matter; they should receive responses to all their comments and an e-mail thanking them for being such a valuable collaborator. If they happen to also be customers, then all the better. But just don’t try to sell them. They know where to find you.
  • Use Twitter for blog PR. If Twitter isn’t one of your highest-ranking referral sites, you’re not using it properly. Twitter is the logical front end to a blog post. It’s where you distill the post down to a nugget and put a link next to it. There are even tools like Tweet This, that can be set up to send a tweet based on the title of your post automatically. Or a tweet can be the inspiration for a blog post later on. Regardless, blogs and Twitter accounts should be joined at the hip, because Twitter is a powerful traffic builder to blogs.
  • Use URL shorteners to gauge subject interest. By using a URL shortener like bit.ly within a Tweet, you can track how many people click on the content link you offer in your tweets. Sure, the language of your tweet counts in building interest, but if you link to content that is directly related to your tweet, it’s a good gauge of how popular the subject is among your followers.
  • Use social networks as water coolers and newsstands. LinkedIn and Facebook have groups where you can post elements of your blog post as a question, or post the entire thing as a news item. Track the number of comments and views to the things you post. The numbers aren’t too big here generally, as the group tools on these sites are crude and many group leaders don’t spend much time filtering out the self-promoting jerks that litter these things with spam. But it’s a way to expose your blog to new faces and engage in dialog away from the blog.
  • Build cross-referencing across social media tools. No social media tool is an island. All should cross-reference each other at every opportunity. So for example, your blog comments on other’s blogs should contain your Twitter handle and a link to your blog. The communities you belong to should all Your LinkedIn profile should display your most recent posts and tweets, and your blog should display all of the above. There’s no real way to measure all this from what I can tell, but it isn’t hard and it can’t hurt.
  • Embed and measure calls to action. If we can get people to a landing page, we should. Social media offer plenty of opportunities for doing that. And sometimes social media becomes the end in itself. For example, the landing page could be for a LinkedIn group you manage rather than the traditional white paper, newsletter, or Webinar. Social media gives us ways to build relationships with customers that white papers or newsletters can’t.

What do you think?

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Eight reasons to monitor social media and a list of tools for doing it

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I think that monitoring social media is one of four key aspects of a social media engagement strategy.

Social media monitoring is a way to figure out what’s being said about your brand and reveals opportunities for engaging in conversations with customers and influencers. At its most basic, social media monitoring starts with what is known as the “vanity search.” Through one of the popular search engines, you set up a recurring search on key terms that will alert you to relevant online discussions of your brand, your competitors, and influencers.

But things can quickly get complicated from there. For example, what if your brand or offering uses a generic term like “Service Oriented Architecture”? How do you separate the specific discussions about your offering from the general conversation?

Furthermore, a vanity search cannot distinguish whether what’s being said about your brand is coming from a blogger with 2000 readers that include your most important customers or from a grad student whose RSS feed goes to his Mom.

The good news is that online conversation is captured forever within the bowels of a server somewhere, just waiting to be analyzed to death. The bad news is that gaining real insight from that data is difficult—though a horde of software developers is working on it.

Social media monitoring software is a fast-growing category of tools designed to slice up online conversations to try to determine things like where conversations about your brand occur most often, or how much you are being talked about versus your competitors.

Since many of the monitoring tools are new, most are available as Software as a Service (SaaS) over the internet, which makes it easy for marketers to try them out. Yet this same newness means that few are integrated with the software that marketers already have, such as CRM.

Here are some of the ways that these tools give marketers more insight into online conversations:

  • Determine tone and sentiment. Some developers are using algorithms and analysis to determine whether conversations are positive or negative and whether the individuals within the conversation are supporters or detractors. But the developers acknowledge that using computers to determine the tone of human conversation is still a work in progress at this point. For example, the tools can’t distinguish between tongue-in-cheek sarcasm and criticism.
  • Assign a response. Some of the tools let you define the types of comments or conversations that deserve a response, flag them, and route them to a designated person for action.
  • See the distribution of conversation. Most of the tools let you segment the different types of social media to determine where conversations are happening—such as blogs vs. Facebook.
  • Trend the conversation. Some of the tools let you analyze the direction and popularity of conversations over time. This is helpful during important periods like new offering launches or in the aftermath of a crisis.
  • Determine share of attention. You can track the amount of conversation about you versus your competitors.
  • Identify influential sources. The tools can determine the popularity of conversations and the sources of those conversations. This helps you decide which blogs you’d like to do outreach with, for example.
  • Locate the conversations. Some of the tools let you see the geographic locations of people involved in the conversation.
  • Track propagation. Track a comment from a blog post all the way through to mainstream media.

Here is a list of companies that do some form of social media monitoring, by category:

Search tools:

Microblogging search:

Discussion Forum Search

Comprehensive (so they say) tools:

Sources: ITSMA research, Ben Barren, Murray Newlands, pier314, socialmediamonitoring.ca, social media monitoring wiki.

What have I left out? Please let me know in the comments.

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We’re missing the real social media revolution

We’ve all heard a lot of debate lately about whether social media is an evolution or a revolution. Lots of statistical analysis about the relative growth rates of Facebook and Twitter and the slowing of uptake for both.

Look at it this way and social media inevitably becomes evolution, as social media researcher Josh Chasin convincingly argues here.

But I think we lose sight of the revolution by looking at social media in isolation. Social media is tightly tied to something that is undergoing a revolution right now: media. We’re all looking for the revolution to happen within the tools, but where the revolution is occurring is in the content that feeds those tools. We all like to share relevant, credible content through social media, and until now, most of that content has come through traditional media sources—mostly print publications that are pretending to have a viable business model online.

The destructive side of revolutions
We like to look for constructive creation from our revolutions. As Americans, we think back to the American Revolution as a constructive spark that led to a powerful nation instead of focusing on the decades of weak, chaotic, violent, and ineffective government that actually followed it—and that nearly collapsed many times.

Today’s real media revolution is in its destructive and chaotic period. Our traditional business model for media is imploding. Advertising-supported media is becoming an unsustainable business. There won’t be nearly as much to link to through Twitter in the coming years, and that’s the revolutionary subtext that’s going on behind the evolution of Web 2.0. What happens as thousands of small and medium-sized newspapers and magazines disappear? How does social media fill that void? Will it be replaced by spending our time reading Shaq’s tweets?

The five percent of Twitterers who actively use it are probably the only ones who are going to try to fill this void with something useful. In tracking B2B marketing through Twitter, I find a ton of great content being shared through blogs whose creators have already swamped the output of trade magazines. But what about the rest of social media’s audience?

Social media tools are imperfect for informing people
This is where the constructive part of the revolution will come. What thoughtful readers like about a good publication is that it filters out all the noise and it tells readers when they know enough to move on. You reach the last page of the newspaper and you’re done for the day. You realize that you don’t know everything, but you can walk away knowing that the day’s events haven’t totally escaped you. Social media doesn’t do that for us right now. Twitter is literally an endless stream of information, much of it repetitive. The tools are imperfect for informing us.

But as the traditional tools for informing us disappear, we need social media to play a role in rebuilding the channel of informed public opinion that is being destroyed right now. This is no evolution.

But social media tools can alter relationships
I keep coming back to how social media tools have the power to reshape relationships, much as the American Revolution (eventually, many years later) reshaped the relationship between a government and its people. That’s why I’m so intrigued by the viral relationship model invented by Twitter.  The ability to follow someone (offline I think we call it stalking) is perhaps Twitter’s most powerful feature. This idea of viral relationship building (following followers of others) is what Facebook and MySpace look at and get really jealous about. They’re stuck in the model of making relationships the old fashioned way: through permission-based trust and experience. Twitter has created a sandbox where those rules are mitigated by technology and people are liking it because they know everyone else is (or should be) playing by the same rules.

In this sense, I think the comparisons between Twitter and Facebook are less valid than those between Twitter and another phenomenon that changed the way we relate to each other: eBay. You can’t deny that eBay is a revolution. Tens of thousands of people make their primary living from it now on a global basis. Twitter has all sorts of options for expanding based on the viral relationship model it has created. Sure, now it’s 140-character updates, but the viral social model has potential for other things, too, including content creation (not just sharing).

When does social media take on a social responsibility?
So at what point do we begin ascribing the same responsibility to social media that we have to traditional print and TV media: that of educating and informing the public? It sounds crazy, but at some point (if not already) many people are getting most of their information through these social media channels. At what point does Twitter stop Twittering about its latest features and start offering public service announcements? Probably not anytime soon, because Twitter’s business model isn’t any more certain that traditional media’s is right now. Someone else may come up with a way to make money from the viral relationship model that Twitter pioneered and we may not even remember the name in a few years. Sounds like a revolution to me.

Meanwhile, a new revenue giant has emerged in social media for the same reason that the old media empires emerged back in the 19th and 20th centuries: it can charge a tax. Of course, I’m talking about Google, which sucks cash out of businesses just like the newspapers and magazines used to. Businesses believe they have nowhere else to go to get their messages out other than through Google paid search, so they pay through the nose for it, just like advertisers used to with newspapers and magazines. So when do we stop viewing Google as a software company and start viewing it as a media titan with a responsibility to the public? When does Google stop linking to the New York Times (and sucking all of the paid search revenue that the Times would get if people just went to the site instead) and start building its own news division, just like the TV networks did in the 50s?

Sounds nuts, right? But if you’re going to be the source where everyone gets their information, you have some responsibility to those people at some point don’t you? As a people (and as a government) we’ve certainly had that expectation of media empires in the past.

What’s happening here is that we are completely altering the relationship between media consumers and media producers. Social media is part of that because it is altering the relationships that people have with each other online. Put those two things together and you have a revolution. We are in the chaotic period where the walls have come down and no one’s quite sure where or how the new ones will go up. Sure sounds like a revolution to me.

What do you think?

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