October 21, 2014

Jobs Don’t Give Us Purpose and Meaning, Helping Does

photo for Koch help blog smallFace it, few of us can say that our work has a high degree of purpose and meaning in the greater scheme of things. True purpose and meaning implies a degree of selflessness that few of us can afford when considered against rent, mortgages, college funds, or car payments. It’s one of the unstated frustrations in all the recent surveys that show how unhappy most employees are in their jobs.

That’s why it’s important for companies to provide an extra boost on the purpose and meaning fronts.

Companies Must Make Room for Helping
When you boil purpose and meaning down to their essences, you get helping. We want to feel like we’re contributing not just to our own or our families’ wellbeing but also to something bigger. You see it when a disaster happens – we instinctively rush to the blood bank or (often ill-advisedly) to the scene itself. We become desperate to do something to help.

A quieter sense of desperation follows us to work each day. But we often don’t have the opportunity to get that sense of helping on the job – unless we get a little help from our employers.

A few years ago, I was given the day off from work and walked with about two dozen colleagues into a huge warehouse that was filled with broken boxes. The boxes were filled with medical supplies that had been rejected for a bunch of different reasons, none of which included damage to the actual supplies themselves. We spent the day taping up those boxes and stacking them on pallets and wrapping them up with shrink wrap. They would soon be on their way to Africa, where they were desperately needed.

Helping Beyond the Job Builds Engagement with the Job
Now, I’m not going to tell you that suddenly my life was filled with purpose and meaning. But I did do something to help that I will never forget and got to bond with some colleagues that I had never met before. Kudos to my employer, SAP, which offers programs like “October Days of Service,” as well as a more ambitious program in which employees can work in developing countries for months at a time.

Doing good deeds like that don’t just make me feel good and help build bonds with colleagues; they also bond me more tightly to SAP. I’ve never had an employer offer such programs. All other things being equal, why wouldn’t I now feel more loyalty to SAP? Obviously, there’s a lesson for companies here.

Helping Can Happen on the Job
But we don’t need to help the world to feel like we’re helping. When I was a journalist, I mentored young writers who asked for it. Trouble was, they had to ask for it. I can’t imagine anything worse than mentoring people who don’t feel they need or want it (even if they do). That’s why such programs need a push from above to succeed. Research by my colleague Michael S. Goldberg has found three examples of how companies can do this:

Intergenerational learning. American Express piloted a phased retirement program to allow some older Cobol programmers to work part-time instead of retiring so they could train younger programmers, act as mentors and coaches to younger workers.

Peer recognition, amplified. Macy’s reported higher employee engagement after implementing an in-house portal for retail associates to post stories celebrating peers’ good work. Recognition occurs at store, regional and national levels.

Purpose and public service. IBM offers sabbatical programs for employees to work on pro bono projects in developing countries. Employees get to ply technical and management skills while having a meaningful experience, strengthening bonds with employer. Starbucks paid for its associates to contribute 631,000 community service hours to local neighborhood projects in 30 countries and runs a website with a list its employees can join.

What are you doing to give yourself or your employees a greater sense of purpose in their work? I’d appreciate your thoughts.

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The last of the anti-social marketing tactics

Taglines are the last bastions of a classic, one-way marketing messaging strategy, preserving marketing’s perceived right to tell customers what to think.

In truth, customers have never listened, except in a few cases of companies with the budget muscle to pound the tagline into customers’ heads over and over again though mass marketing and TV.

In B2B marketing, we’ve never been given the right to tell customers what to think, much less the budgets to pound a tagline into their minds. I’ve spoken to hundreds of CIOs in my career as a journalist and I can tell you that at best, they ignore taglines; at worst, they feel their intelligence insulted by them.

And yet we keep spending hard-earned shareholders’ dollars creating these shallow soundbites that are supposed to protect our brands, even though the transparency of the internet, and now social media, have rendered such defenses useless.

Not that the defenses were much more than Maginot Lines to begin with. I recently did a search on some well-known B2B technology brands and compiled their taglines in the list below. Many of these companies compete with one another. Can you imagine being a buyer surfing providers’ websites and seeing even a handful of these in quick succession? I put them in alphabetical order so that you can feel the “Power of Repetition” in the words and “Experience the Selling.” I mean, some of them are just plain incomprehensible, communicating to buyers that we live in “A Certain World of Connected Freedom for Caring People to Passionately Inspire the Valuable Impact of More Enterprise Silliness”:

  • A world of communications
  • Agility made possible
  • Applying thought
  • At the speed of ideas
  • Building a world of difference
  • Building tomorrow’s enterprise
  • Confidence in a connected world
  • Creating business impact
  • Cutting through complexity
  • Experience certainty
  • Experience the commitment
  • Freedom to care
  • Inspire the next
  • Passion for building stronger businesses
  • People matter, results count.
  • The power to know
  • The power of we
  • The power to do more
  • Results realized
  • The value of performance
  • Working with clients, not just for them

It is also interesting to note how many well-known B2B technology companies do not use taglines (at least not that I could see on their home pages): BMC, BT, Cisco, Deloitte, EMC, Juniper, Lenovo, Microsoft, Nokia-Siemens, Oracle, Pitney Bowes, Xerox. Are the marketers at these companies not doing their jobs? Or have these companies decided that they are going to stop trying to sell themselves in a couple of hackneyed words and instead do it through relationships and experience?

There’s even one company, IBM, which inverts the focus of the tagline from internal “capabilities” to something that customers may actually care a whit about: Smarter Planet.

'a Smarter Planet' logo

Image via Wikipedia

Actually, calling Smarter Planet a tagline does it a disservice. Unlike traditional taglines, which generally hang on the corners of websites like misplaced socks, with no discernible connection to anything around them, Smarter Planet is paired up with a lot of interesting thought leadership content that lines up with IBM’s business strategy—it’s a business theme rather than a tagline. I predict that we’re going to see a lot more B2B companies moving in this direction in the coming year.

What do you think? What am I missing about the value of taglines?

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The 2 questions on every buyer’s mind

At any moment in time, C-level executives are looking for answers to two questions:

What should I be doing right now?

What should I be preparing to do in the future?

We need to create a mix of these two types of thought leadership content to maintain strong relationships with their target audiences. Here’s why: Marketers who do this are more successful. In ITSMA’s Thought Leadership Survey, marketers with formal thought leadership processes segment their ideas this way 95% of the time. And those marketers tell us that they are much more satisfied with the quality of the ideas from their SMEs than marketers who have ad hoc processes for thought leadership development and dissemination. Among those who parse ideas, most split the pie in half between two types of ideas:

  • Aspirational. These are the ideas that prompt buyers to think about change. Assuming that you’ve done the necessary research to understand your target audience, that change can be on a personal, organizational, or industry level. These ideas aren’t necessarily about predicting the future or painting a picture of how it will look. Often, they focus on a catalyst for change that may not be obvious. Consultant Fred Reichheld didn’t invent the concept of customer loyalty, but by identifying the marker for it, he changed how many companies approach managing customer loyalty. These kinds of ideas are generally most useful at the Epiphany Stage of the buying process, when buyers are casting about for ideas but haven’t formulated any specific plans.
  • Practical. If these ideas were offered up at a newspaper’s editorial meeting, they’d go in the news hole. They identify a current trend, say a regulatory change, and offer perspective on what the trend means and how companies should react. An excellent, though controversial, example of this is the McKinsey article I wrote about a few weeks ago, about how US health care reform will affect employee benefits. Another great aspect of that piece is that when you click through to the article, you’ll see an aspirational piece positioned next to it entitled “Redesigning Employee Benefits,” which advocates taking a product development approach to the employee benefits process. Practical ideas tend to be more useful to buyers who are in the later stages of the buying process, when they have a more concrete idea of what they want to do but are looking for insight into how to do it.

What’s unspoken here is that you need to develop thought leadership that is appropriate to each stage of the buying process so that buyers (and salespeople) can get the right information at the right time. For example, buyers who are in the Epiphany Stage are looking for new ideas and industry news, while buyers who are actively getting ready to buy and are creating a short list of providers will be looking for case studies that profile how their peers have generated business results. Marketing and sales must agree on the alignment of content to the various buying stages so that sales will get the right signals about when and how to approach customers for a sale. For example, IBM creates specific versions of its thought leadership materials for salespeople to use during their discussions with customers.

Do you segment your thought leadership content?

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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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3 ways to link marketing to revenue without metrics

I’m looking forward to our annual ITSMA spring road trip. This time, I’ll be speaking about how to tie thought leadership to revenue, starting in Santa Clara, CA next Wednesday, and in New York and Newton, MA the following week. Hope you can join us.

Now, you may think that because I’m using revenue and thought leadership together in the same sentence that I’m going to reveal some secret way to measure the link between the white paper you published last month and the complex solution sale you make six months from now. Alas, no such magic metric exists.

We’re focusing on the wrong things
In fact, our most recent thought leadership survey found that few marketers are measuring much besides consumption of their marketing content. I’m not saying that you should stop measuring consumption; but it’s clear that those kinds of metrics don’t give business people the answers they’re looking for when they ask about the value of marketing. They want more strategic answers, such as whether marketing is increasing the velocity of contacts through the buying process and reducing the time and effort that salespeople need to expend in making a sale.

If you have the ability to measure those two things, then great. But if you don’t, there are still ways to make sure that those things are happening. Here are three ways to do it:

  • Connect ideas to offerings. Too much of our content just tries to look and sound smart—great focus on ideas, but no real connection to how our companies can solve the problem. At the other end of the spectrum are the brochures that masquerade as idea marketing by making the offering descriptions longer and the production values higher. One great way to connect ideas to offerings is to create a business theme—think IBM’s Smarter Planet or Cognizant’s Future of Work. Both of these themes give subject matter experts and marketers plenty of leeway to focus on ideas while maintaining a link to the company strategy and its offerings.
  • Use ideas to attract and nurture leads. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I’m constantly beating the drum of integrating content with an automated lead management process. A lead management process gives you the ability to get the right content to the right people at the time they need it.
  • Train salespeople to use and talk about ideas. Creating good idea-based marketing content is hard and takes a long time if done right. That’s why the urge to start drinking kicks in about the time the white paper finally hits the website. But hold the beverages. Most salespeople don’t know what to do with a 20-page white paper. Marketers tell me that if they can get salespeople to even send the thing to prospects and customers they’re happy. We need to do much more than that. We need to create talking points for salespeople to use when communicating to customers and prospects, and we need to find ways to integrate salespeople into the content development and dissemination processes from the start.

How do you link content to revenue? Please give me your thoughts. Hope to meet you live, in-person soon!

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13 questions about social media and idea marketing

Earlier this week I participated in one of MarketingProfs’ TechChats (just do a Twitter search on the #TechChat hashtag to find the dialogue).

It’s a warm-up for the great dialogues we’ll be having at MarketingProfs’ SocialTech conference later this month in San Jose, where I’ll be speaking about social media and the B2B buying process. If you’re in B2B marketing, you gotta go to this thing. All the top social media pros will be there and the focus will be all B2B. I can’t wait.

MarketingProfs’ Megan Leap came up with some excellent questions for me about thought leadership and social media for this week’s TechChat. My answers sparked a lot of debate, so I’ve put them together for you here to see if they will spark the same kind of discussion here. (As an extra added bonus, due to Twitter’s typical evening queasiness, we weren’t able to post all the questions during the appointed hour. So they are all here for your enjoyment.) Please add your thoughts!

Q. Let’s get back to the basics. What exactly IS thought leadership?
A. Ideas that educate customers and prospects about important business and technology issues and help them solve those issues—without selling.

Q. Why should B2B companies try to be thought leaders in their industry?
A. Because online search has become so important to the B2B buying cycle. Content is replacing salespeople in the earliest stages of the buying process. If buyers find your content you’re a step ahead.

Q. What are some ways B2B marketers can position themselves as thought leaders?
A. Marketers can never be thought leaders! Especially in social media, their subject matter experts need to take center stage. But marketers must lead and support SMEs in the development and publishing processes. http://j.mp/8YsPBg

Q. What are some ways B2B marketers can improve their thought leadership?
A. By investing more in the idea development piece of thought leadership. Marketers today are too focused on the publishing part. Another way is by picking themes to help guide your TL development. Smarter Planet helps SMEs at IBM focus. http://j.mp/dzaioo

(Note: At this point, we had a lot of discussion about how ITSMA divides thought leadership into two pieces: development and publishing. Some people thought that publishing was too limited a term for describing the process of getting your ideas packaged up and out into the market. My feeling is that it is apt, because the best model we have for doing this is publishing—i.e., traditional media companies. Just because their business model doesn’t work anymore, that doesn’t mean that their model for developing ideas and getting them out into the marketplace should also be tossed out. It works.)

Also at this point, participants started a really interesting debate about the qualities of a thought leader—but that dialogue is too long to reproduce here—you’ll just have to check out the hashtag!)

Q. Who should be in charge of developing thought leadership? Marketing? PR?
A. Marketing. Marketing has more peer relationships with thought leaders inside the company than PR. Marketing is helping develop offerings.

Q. What social media vehicles are best for promoting B2B thought leadership? Video, blogs, Twitter?
A. Whichever channels your prospects are interested in receiving it and at the stage of the buying process they are at. Research them!

Q. How can marketers integrate thought leadership with traditional marketing tactics?
A. ITSMA research shows that nothing comes close to peer networking and small-scale events. So we should find ways to use social media to support and enhance the live meetings. IBM does that. http://j.mp/c9fWuX

Q. What are some qualities of a good social media voice? (Yes, stole this one from your blog ;)
A. I see 15 qualities, but if it had to pick the top one it would be authenticity. More about it here: http://j.mp/cdcbo9

Q. What are some examples of B2B companies who are successfully using social media and thought leadership? Companies who aren’t?
A. I think B2B companies that have social media policies are ahead of the game in using social media and thought leadership. Companies that don’t let their SMEs talk are going to fall far behind.

Q. Let’s say you market a highly commoditized industry. Would you say thought leadership is even more important?
A. I think it’s important for any B2B company. Anywhere there’s a business process you have the possibility to create thought leadership. That’s where the trade magazine explosion of the 60s-90s came from. Heck, I remember a trade magazine about coin-op laundromats! Everyone wants to improve what they do and how they do it. .

Q. Where will social media and thought leadership be in 2 years?
A. More integrated. Companies and customers and prospects will have a more continuous relationship than they do today. Marketing is still very episodic today, even with social media.

Q. What works better: a blog with a multi or single author approach?
A. I think single authors work best, but it’s much more work and can distract from the brand. I see companies adopting multi-authors for that reason (brand defense). But in B2B, people want to connect with other people, not with brands. Most multi-author blogs are really boring, with few posts and even fewer comments.

Q. How can B2B marketers measure their thought leadership investment?
A. There is no measurable ROI from thought leadership. Period. You will never track it through to a sale and if you do, you’ll never be able to separate it from other factors affecting the sale. I wish the pundits would stop selling that fiction. But I guess it keeps consultants in business. Thought leadership has a role to play, but it’s more to do with building a relationship than making the sale. Content builds intimacy between the company and the prospect until you can put them in touch with a salesperson.

Like these answers? Hate them? Have something to add?

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Why our thought leadership is broken

All of our talk about marketers becoming publishers is incomplete. We can’t just become publishers, we also have to become advertisers.

Let me explain.

For centuries, publishers had an uneasy, co-dependent relationship with advertisers. A wall existed between publishers and advertisers. Publishers (the good ones, anyway) gave some of the most prominent pages in their newspapers and magazines to advertisers in return for a lot of cash, access to a targeted group of customers, and editorial independence from advertiser influence.

Marketers, meanwhile, didn’t have a wall, so they filled their content with self-aggrandizing references to their own products and services that pissed off readers and sent them to other sources for advice.

What’s the point?
Lately, as traditional media fall away, marketers are getting the message and creating content that looks just like the stuff that readers love from traditional media: news, advice, and new thinking that is not meant to manipulate them into buying something. And they’re linking this content to their social media management strategies.

But that’s only part of the answer.

Ironically, a lot of this new content is pissing off readers in a new way: they like the content but they don’t understand why it’s there, where it’s going, or what they should do with it.

Marketing through association
This is where the advertising part comes in. One of the reasons that companies used to like to advertise in publications like Fortune and BusinessWeek and in trade magazines like CIO was that they could associate their companies with the smart content that these publications produce. The association was subtle, not overt. It may have taken quite a while before a reader started to associate a company advertising in a magazine with the subject matter covered in the magazine. But it happened.

Of course, then the internet happened and advertisers got tired of subtle. They demanded that readers click on their banner ads on publishers’ websites before they’d pay. Readers, long accustomed to the subtle approach, may have looked at those crappy banner ads but they didn’t click and the publishing industry has collapsed as a result.

But from the ashes of publishing, subtle association is making a comeback. The same web analytics that have destroyed publishing are now getting marketers fired because nobody’s clicking on their white papers and surveys.

Partly that’s a quality issue, but it’s also an issue of B2B marketers taking the publishing analogy too literally. They duplicate the content they used to see in trade magazines without providing the context that magazines provide for why that content is there in the first place.

Idea marketing as checklist
For many B2B companies, idea marketing is a check box on a marketing list. They think up all the different things that magazines offer to readers and then make a list: Surveys? Check. Interviews with industry luminaries? Check.

But readers are left to wonder, what’s the point? Why are you giving me all this stuff? What does it mean?

A new way to make idea marketing relevant
Marketers need to invent their own version of subtle association. The publishing model of ads next to content won’t work, of course. Putting ads for your own company next to your own content is silly.

Instead, marketers must create a clear line of sight for readers. They need simple, clear, visual messages that integrate with but don’t detract from their idea marketing content and make a reference to the services that they offer. A simple entry point leads to deeper and deeper related content. And all this deep thinking relates, by association, to the services that you offer.

The nice thing about online is that its hierarchical structure makes this kind of integration easy.

Here, marketers need to tear down a wall of their own creation—the one that separates the ad agencies from the idea marketing content producers. The two have to work together to create themes that are thoughtful and that are about getting readers interested—it’s about leading the horse to the idea marketing bucket. Rather than just shoving readers’ muzzles in the bucket of surveys and white papers, we lead them there with some short, clear, visual themes that are focused on issues that matter to customers rather than on silly ad tag lines or collages of the logo.

Association in action: Smarter Planet
The best example of this that I can think of is IBM’s Smarter Planet. I’m guessing that the term came from an ad agency. But it straddles the issue of green in a way that seems to show knowledge of the target audience and the kinds of ideas they might be open to receiving through such a campaign.

Most CIOs wouldn’t mind being green, but their businesses evaluate them on cost and efficiency. If they can be greener while cutting costs and becoming more efficient then great, but they won’t respond to a purely green message or content. Using “smarter” rather than “greener” seems to encapsulate and get beyond that dilemma in a way that only a good ad copywriter can.

Themes send a signal to the organization
Much as a good simple teaser headline on the cover of a magazine leads readers to the well of deeper content that is the feature story, so too does smarter planet serve as a simple way to lead readers to a bunch of what we would consider traditional thought leadership content: case studies, whitepapers, and a few links to services that CIOs could use in their own departments (with IBM’s help, of course).

The theme (as opposed to an ad slogan) is something that IBM’s marketers can use in many different channels, like social media, and sends a clear signal to the organization that Palmisano probably won’t complain if you decide to write a few post about the intersection of green and efficiency on your blog.

We’re building the publishing engines in our marketing groups, but I think we’re leaving this larger issue of themes and marketing by association out of the process. What do you think?

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Six ways that marketing needs to lead the organization in social media

Social media creates the need for marketing to lead within the organization.

At least that’s the conclusion we reached at ITSMA recently when we did our social media survey (there’s a free summary if you’re interested).

Now what do we mean when we say that? We mean that within the organization the leadership of social media is falling to marketing. We think that’s because social media is seen primarily as a tool for marketing. Therefore, the marketing group is becoming the default center of social media, right?

I’m really excited about this because it’s rare for a function like marketing to get an opportunity to lead the entire organization. But think about it. Marketers are the not the only ones who are going to be doing social media. Our subject matter experts (SMEs) are talking to customers. We’re seeing HR departments using social media for recruiting. We’re seeing companies use social media to bring customers into the product and service development processes to collaborate on new ideas and improvements. We’re seeing companies use social media for customer support. (Shameless plug here: My favorite B2B blogger Paul Dunay is going to talk about how Avaya uses social media for customer support at ITSMA’s Marketing Leadership Forum on May 25-26.) The entire organization needs to get involved in social media and marketing needs to lead that effort.

I have to say that we were pleasantly surprised and I have to admit a little shocked when we discovered that many marketers seem to get this intuitively—67% of marketers said they are taking on the responsibility of identifying the appropriate subject matter experts and assigning them to engage with their target audience and influencers in the online conversations that are happening out there.

But if marketing is truly going to be the catalyst for social media in the organization, many things are going to need to change. To be a leader, you have to have your own house in order. That means that marketers need to integrate social media with the larger marketing and business strategies. That’s why at ITSMA we’re calling 2010 The Year of Marketing Transformation (sound the bugles!—a little portentous, I know, but we really believe it and the data really shows it). And social media is the main driver behind the need for this transformation. We don’t think marketing can afford to continue doing more with less. With marketing budgets as percent of revenue being an all-time low — less than 1% — social media can’t just be another add-on to everything else that marketing is already doing.

Remember that marketing can’t do this alone. Social media gives us the opportunity to bring the rest of the organization into our efforts. But to do this effectively, we have to define new processes, roles and competencies for marketing and we have to play a large role in leading social media for others inside the organization.

So in our research and our discussions with members and influencers on social media, we’ve identified six major areas that marketers need to focus on to lead the rest of the organization effectively.

  • Research. We have to figure who we want our SMEs to talk to so they don’t waste their efforts.
  • Ideas and content. We need to create an idea engine within the organization to help SMEs come up with things to Twitter and blog about.
  • New roles. We’re seeing a role that is sort of a director of ideas and content emerge. Someone who helps identify smart ideas and people within the organization and makes decisions about how to develop them. We’re also seeing directors of community—Jeremiah Owyang tracks these people on his blog.
  • Governance. Social media policies are the foundation of social media governance. And even small companies can benefit from having a social media council. Listen to IBM’s Sandy Carter talk about how she set up a social media council in her group at IBM.
  • Training. We shouldn’t just turn employees loose without helping them learn about the tools. But we also need to teach them about the strategies for using those tools. Telstra has a cool example of social media training that anyone can watch.

What do you think? What have I left out here? Anything to add?

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How to get others to blog

One of the biggest challenges for B2B social media marketers isn’t creating content, it’s helping others create content.

Marketing is the default head of social media management in most companies. And while marketers can create some social media content, they can (and should) rely on their subject matter experts (SMEs) to create most of the stuff that’s going to build trust and relationships with customers.

At our two ITSMA briefings this week in Boston and Washington on social media, (we have two more coming up in New York and Santa Clara, CA that you can attend), marketers offered up a common complaint: They have a hard time getting their SMEs to start contributing (and keep contributing) content.

It’s no surprise. Creating content such as blogs is hard. That’s why marketers have to step in and help out. Here are some ways to do it:

Send them what interests you. If you’re in tune with your SMEs, then what interests you should interest them (at least from a business perspective—no need to go nuts and take up golf). Set up an RSS feed of key news sources and bloggers and forward the good stuff to your SMEs.

Get ideas from customers. When blogger’s block sets in at IBM, bloggers can get inspiration through software that lets customers suggest the topics they’d like to see covered. (Okay, so you need to work for IBM to access it, but Skribit is available to the rest of us.)

Filter research. Customer research can provide tons of fodder for content, but you can’t just dump it on SMEs unfiltered. Pick some key themes and ask them to comment on them.

Incite them. If you see a controversial assertion or question somewhere, forward it to your SMEs and ask them to craft a thoughtful (not attacking) response and link to the original through their content.

Interview them. If your star SMEs are struggling to come up with ideas for starting a blog or for keeping one going, start thinking of yourself as a reporter. These people are your beat. You don’t have to write their posts for them, but you must interview them regularly to find out what they are hearing from customers and what trends they are seeing in the market. Just as reporters take the heat for missing a story or failing to file regularly, you have to take on the responsibility for making sure these people keep posting regularly by checking in with them regularly and getting them talking. Record the interviews and get them transcribed. Then take a look at the transcript and highlight the sections that you think would be interesting for them to write about.

Have regular pitch meetings. Very few writers are able to get their best thoughts out on paper without some help. That’s why magazines and newspapers have pitch meetings, where writers blurt out their rough ideas and get feedback from others on how to turn those ideas into cogent stories. This all happens before the writing begins. When you check in with your bloggers, ask them to talk through their ideas before they start writing. It will improve the quality of their posts and it will also help you keep them focused on the issues that matter most to your business.

Create an editorial calendar. Companies have strategies and goals. Marketers should use them to help inspire their content creators. Pick topics that matter to your customers and your business and ask your SMEs to create content for those topics. Create an editorial calendar with a new topic at least each quarter (e.g., sustainability or cloud computing). Then make a plan for hitting those topics in as many different types of content as possible (blog posts, conference presentations, videos, etc.) so that buyers can consume the information in any form they choose. And target that content to all of the stages of the buying process so that anyone encountering your content will find something that speaks to them personally.

Hire a content director. Have you noticed what’s been happening to the media lately? There are many unemployed journalists and editors out there. Hire one to help your SMEs develop and disseminate their ideas. Journalists are trained to separate the compelling ideas from the chaff and develop them with supporting evidence and case examples.

Buddy them up. If your SMEs refuse to go solo because they think it will be too much work, find them a partner or partners to share the load.

Write for them. If all else fails, you can interview them and use the transcript to write something yourself. Just don’t relieve the SMEs of the responsibility for feeding you the ideas and thinking.

What have I left out? How do you encourage your content creators?

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How Forrester is squandering its leadership in social media

Social media experts often chide marketers about control. The experts say that in the new era of social media, marketers need to stop delivering tightly-scripted, one-way messages and start engaging in uncontrolled, transparent conversations with customers and prospects wherever those conversations happen.

That’s why a change in the policies of perhaps the leading voice for social media, Forrester, has bigger implications than it may seem.

Recently, an analyst relations consultancy, SageCircle, broke the story that Forrester management will require its analysts to take down their personally-branded blogs or redirect readers to a Forrester-branded blog.

The most powerful example of one of these personally branded blogs is Web Strategy by Jeremiah, by Jeremiah Owyang, an analyst who left Forrester prior to the policy change. Owyang’s blog is one of the most highly trafficked, most influential social media blogs today, as it was when he was at Forrester.

Another example is Experience: The Blog, by Augie Ray, who is Owyang’s replacement at Forrester. Ray is one of the analysts who will be taking down his blog. (Forrester is quick to point out that it will begin allowing individual analysts like Ray to have their own blogs behind the firewall.)

No doubt, the success of Owyang’s blog is due in part to his former role at one of the most respected analyst houses in the world. And this is the crux of Forrester’s argument in defense of the policy change. Another prominent Forrester social media analyst, Josh Bernoff, who was a co-author of perhaps the most influential book about social media to date, Groundswell, puts it succinctly in his blog post about the controversy: “If you’re creating content for a content company, that company ought to host your blog.”

All of Forrester’s commentaries about the policy change so far have focused on this idea that content companies are special and have a special need to protect their IP—which is words. No wonder they all steer the argument in this direction; it makes it seem like Forrester is the aggrieved benefactor being sucked dry by selfish, ungrateful employees who insist on giving away the IP that Forrester pays them to create—and whose powerful brand opens the doors for them with the sources they need to help create that IP.

I have no doubt that Forrester is a powerful, valuable brand. And I can certainly sympathize with Forrester’s argument about IP. “Information yearns to be free” is utter nonsense uttered by people who don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. Yes, crappy information yearns to be free and is worth what we pay for it, but good information, such as that provided by Forrester, cannot and should not be free.

It takes time, money, talent, and innovation to create good information. No doubt you’ve seen research showing the degree to which most web content leads back to a few, dependable sources like the New York Times—whose reporters do all the work (which, contrary to popular belief, very few people could do even if they had all the time and money in the world) so others can benefit.

So at this point you must be wondering why I am bothering to write this post. Here’s why:

  • Forrester doesn’t take its own advice (no really). It’s maddening that Forrester doesn’t acknowledge the fact that while it actively preaches to clients that they should give up control, Forrester is exerting tighter control over its employees—specifically in social media! Bernoff addresses this offhandedly by saying, “Groundswell says that your employees will be blogging—it doesn’t say that content companies should have their content creators blog anywhere they want.” Oh wait, I forgot. Content companies are different. C’mon. IBM has as much IP to protect as Forrester, if not tons more—and it allows employees to have personal blogs.
  • Forrester controls the message. In another Forrester blog post in defense of the move, analyst Nigel Fenwick acknowledges that there was controversy within Forrester about the change. Indeed, I’ve been a journalist too long not to know that stories don’t get leaked to outside sources unless someone inside the company isn’t happy about what’s happening. What about hearing from people inside Forrester who oppose this move? Isn’t that what social media is supposed to be about? Openness? Transparency? Not from a company that tries to put strict controls on the ways its social media content is cited by others.
  • Forrester is shocked, shocked. Ray tries to spin the controversy in his post by calling it “a minor tempest in the research industry teapot.” The worst way to fend off controversy is to downplay it (as Forrester also regularly counsels its clients). And it insults the intelligence of those of us who are fans of Forrester. As one of the leading lights of social media, is Forrester really surprised that a change in its policies would invite thorough scrutiny? Please.
  • Forrester loses IP. It’s clear that by controlling its employees, Forrester will lose IP in the long run. Big thinkers who have built up personal brands through their blogs will think twice about coming to work at Forrester because they will have to cut that thread (even if it can be reconnected on the other side of Forrester’s firewall).
  • Forrester loses R&D. Forrester swears up and down that analysts will able to say and do whatever they like related to their jobs on their personal Forrester blogs. I don’t think that’s true. Not because I think that Forrester will become Big Brother, but because analysts will police themselves. Places like Forrester are full of smart, talented, competitive people. It’s going to be harder to look stupid and ask for help from behind the firewall. Personal blogs are more fertile ground for testing half-baked ideas than those that have your employer’s logo next to yours.
    I should know; it’s one of the reasons I set up my blog outside of ITSMA’s firewall. I want to be able to experiment fully and freely while reducing my own sense that I could potentially do harm to my colleagues who have given me the time to do this (but who in no way have ever tried to control what I say). I think it’s easier for everyone this way (and it absolutely feels better than when I used to blog from behind the firewall at CIO magazine). If Forrester’s analysts feel the slightest trepidation about posting something on these new personal blogs, everybody loses. So why not just let them start their own? It all leads back to the mother ship in the end—via reports and presentations that are better and more fully informed than they would have been.
  • Forrester loses a piece of its supply chain. I never visited Jeremiah Owyang’s blog posts on Forrester unless he sent me there from his own blog. Forrester thinks that’s a loss for them. But in fact, it’s a gain. Social media isn’t about companies (as Forrester will tell you); it’s about people connecting with one another. Owyang drove more traffic back to Forrester than it ever would have gotten on its own because he was a recognizable, solo voice, rather than one among many. When you lose traffic that way, you lose a valuable piece of your content supply chain—the customers, prospects, and influencers that you need to help develop and sell your ideas.

Look, I love Forrester. For 13 years as a journalist covering IT I was constantly blown away by the quality of the firm’s insights and by the approachable, friendly, patient nature of its analysts. But I fear for the future of the brand with this move.

What do you think? Am I being too hard on Forrester?

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