September 18, 2014

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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It’s official: Marketing owns social media management. Now what?

We just completed our ITSMA survey on social media. I’ll be reporting some of the major findings here and at ITSMA.com over the coming weeks.

But one finding sticks out. Marketing owns social media management. That’s right. It’s our job.

In our survey, we asked, “In your company, is marketing the catalyst for social media being used by others in the company (product development, HR, etc.)?” 68% of our respondents said yes.

That means that if we are to keep up with our competitors, we’re going to have to take the lead on developing a strategy not only for marketing with social media, but for getting the rest of the organization involved as well.

Will social become a silo within marketing?
This has big implications for how we organize marketing. The biggest implication is that we cannot afford for social media to become a silo or an add-on to our existing marketing organizations. Marketing as a percentage of revenue for technology services companies is at an all-time low—less than 1%. The Great Recession certainly has played a role in that, but the percentage has been dropping more or less steadily since before the dotcom crash, when it averaged about 3%.

Back then, we could still run lush print ads, design fancy brochures and whitepapers, create monster trade show booths, and wine and dine CIOs at the Super Bowl. And to business people, that all represented value. Salespeople and businesspeople could see the talent and creativity in the ads and brochures, relationships being made at the events, and the business cards in the fishbowl.

Today, we do a lot less of that stuff. That’s not to say that these more traditional tactics don’t work anymore and should be abandoned. But we have to find ways to stretch the dollars we do invest in those tactics farther. And we have to use other tactics that, in and of themselves, build trust and relationships with buyers.

That’s where social media comes in. So much of what I see out there today treats social media as a standalone. But the real successes I’m hearing about in B2B use social media to support and extend more traditional tactics. Such as using online communities and social media to build up interest and discussion about our traditional live events both up to, during, and after those events.

Reorganize in an integrated way
So the question for marketing becomes, how do we integrate social media? That was the number one goal of respondents in our survey for the coming year.

Social media consultant Jeremiah Owyang has a good post about different ways that he sees companies organizing for social media that you should check out. It will jog your thinking. But the question I have after reading his post is how does this fit with our existing models of marketing?

As I told Jeremiah in a comment on his post, I don’t doubt the rigor of his (as always) insightful thinking. But I wonder, are companies really reorganizing around social—and should they?

From our research we see that marketing tends to own social media for the rest of the organization. So we’re really looking at how much the marketing function is going to change as a result of social. Today, we see most marketing organizations divided up between corporate and field marketing (central and local) and basically divided up between marcom and everything else. So the real question is how does social impact the ways that we organize marketing today and how does it integrate with the things we already do?

I don’t think we can afford to create a social media silo inside the larger marketing organization. Do you? How are you fitting social into your organizational models?

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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 to use social media for B2B

Making Friends - Marketing Cartoon
Image by HubSpot via Flickr

I want to do something ambitious and I’m hoping you’ll help. I’d like to create a guide for how to use social media in B2B that does not involve talking about the specific tools—as least not in the top line.

I think it’s important to try to do this if we’re going to get social media integrated with the rest of marketing. It’s also important if we’re going to stop talking so much about the tools and start talking more about what to do with them.

I started trying to do this a year or so ago by talking about the four components of social media management. I wanted to focus the discussion on things that we differently in social media. Here they are:

  • Monitor. Find and track the relevant conversations in social media and online.
  • Engage. Take an active role in social media by engaging with customers and influencers in the various forums where conversations are taking place.
  • Manage. Take an active role in facilitating and managing conversations, such as creating a blog or community.

The next step is to categorize how we use social media in these different areas and how our actions hook back into the rest of marketing.

Monitor

First, here’s what we do as part of monitoring:

  • Track conversations about your company. You need to know what’s being said about your company online. Pretty obvious, right? Trouble is, we’re finding in our research that most companies stop here. There’s much more that we should and could be doing with monitoring.
  • Develop a target audience. Monitoring can be used to discover customers and prospects that are most relevant for your offerings by observing the patterns and topics of their conversations. All of the major social media tools have search capabilities, and there are specialized monitoring tools that have more powerful searching abilities. Offline research and segmentation are important pieces of this effort.
  • Discover influencers. By monitoring conversations online, we can find the people inside and outside our companies that say smart things. Monitoring tools help determine how much impact these smart things are having on our target audiences. For example, the number of RSS subscribers bloggers have, the number of comments to the blog post, the number of page views, etc.
  • Gather research. Social media are repositories for discussions and content on every possible topic. Search tools can help you mine that data.
  • See the distribution of conversation. Some monitoring 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.

Engage

Here are the things that we do to get our companies involved in the social media conversation:

  • Identify subject matter experts (SMEs). It’s up to marketing to find SMEs who can engage in the conversations that are most important to your target audience.
  • Assign SMEs to engage with key influencers and/or topic areas. Think of this like the old beat system in newspapers. You want to have someone knowledgeable get involved in the most important and relevant conversations. Marketers and PR people can help by monitoring conversations and alerting SMEs to the topics and conversations they should get involved in.
  • Create social media policies for engagement—and support them. One of the things that’s new about the social media conversation is that engagement can’t be vetted by PR. We have to trust employees and SMEs to engage on their own, otherwise our conversations become stilted, one-way messages. Social media policies help the organization understand how to engage without getting in trouble. Some organizations have created support channels for employees to ask questions about the guidelines. Others have set up training programs for employees who will engage in social media.
  • Gather information by asking questions. Asking for information helps deepen social media relationships. Taking a poll in a LinkedIn or Facebook group, asking for input from Twitter followers, or asking for information through comments on blogs are some of the ways to gather information. If you can link to a survey and promise respondents some level of access to your findings, you can create a powerful source of information.
  • Build influence by answering questions. Social media is all about sharing—whether that be pointing to good content (yours and others’), or sharing expertise and experience. By pushing SMEs to engage with the target audience in these ways, you help them build up trust and loyalty among customers and prospects.
  • Create continuity. As we start showing up regularly in social media, we build up a sense of regular connection with our target audiences. That, in and of itself, helps build trust and stronger relationships with audiences. This sense of continuity helps fill in the gaps in communication that we have with the traditional campaign style of marketing. For example, when SMEs speak at conferences, they can engage conference attendees before, during, and after the event to follow threads of conversation through to their conclusion.
  • Promote other types of marketing. By engaging, we can share links to the various other forms of marketing content that we produce, such as white papers, events, Webinars, etc.
  • Seed discussions. Using social media, we can drive interest in other forms of marketing by posting provocative questions or information. For example, posting a link to a survey that you reference in a white paper or will discuss in an upcoming event helps drive interest—and may even provide valuable research.
  • Get people together. B2B buyers value peer connections above all else. By having your influential SMEs help introduce them to one another, you can help build a stronger relationship.
  • Locate others. Using mobile applications to engage with others is going to become important in B2B in the coming years. Knowing where others are at any given moment will give marketers opportunities to link peers at conferences or to have real-time conversations, for example.
  • Build loyalty be being timely. SMEs that can be counted on to contribute to conversations quickly will become very popular among their social media followers.

Manage

In our ITSMA research, we’re starting to see marketers manage conversations through social media, whether it is groups on LinkedIn and Facebook, blogs, or private communities. Managing the conversation takes more time and resources, but it can pay off in a number of ways:

  • Develop and test points of view. Managing the conversation through vehicles like blogs and communities gives you a ready test bed for getting help and feedback on ideas that you are trying to develop into thought leadership.
  • Extend conversations. Managing the conversation gives you a way to keep your target audience’s interest by bringing in conversations from other marketing channels and giving them a permanent home.
  • Closely observe behavior. By capturing a target audience within your own community, you can get much richer data on their actions, needs, and interests.
  • Reuse and re-purpose. Managing the conversation gives us ways to stretch our content further. Blog posts can riff on other marketing channels or revisit pieces of them. The episodic nature of blogs and communities lets us sprinkle content through them like bread crumbs in the forest.

Does this all make sense to you? What would you add? Please help with your comments.

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There is no social media strategy, only marketing strategy

The Twitter fail whale error message.
Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been working with my colleagues at ITSMA on another survey on social media for B2B marketers that I hope you’ll take by going here.

As we put together the questions, we struggled with the issue of social media strategy. I resisted treating it as a standalone in the survey. I’m hoping that all the articles, books, and blogs I’m seeing that look at B2B social media strategy in isolation are a function of our excitement over this new channel (and don’t get me wrong; it is really, really exciting).

I’m also hoping that the excitement (and the needs of social media consultants and authors to drive their businesses) will not drive us to distraction. B2B marketing lays the path to a sales discussion and supports relationships with existing customers. Social media is another channel—one of many—for making the connection and building the relationship with customers.

Social media is no silver bullet. Other channels are more effective for reaching high-level B2B buyers—and that situation may never change. I say this even after discounting ITSMA’s recent research showing that marketers don’t see social media as being very effective components in their marketing strategies. It’s clear that social media are still new and most B2B marketing groups haven’t gotten the hang of them yet. It’s too early to reach any definitive conclusions on effectiveness.

It’s tempting to say that because B2B sales are highly dependent on relationships, social media will eventually reign supreme. But I think the nature of B2B makes it harder for companies and customers to have a satisfying relationship that’s entirely virtual than it is for B2C companies.

We all know that B2B decisions take a long time and are made by committee and logic rather than individuals and impulse. It’s hard to imagine that kind of a complex, long-term, multi-person relationship ever happening entirely or even mostly in social media. At the C-level especially, face-to-face remains the killer app for everyone involved.

What’s been proven to work in B2B is for marketers to reach out to prospects with smart, engaging, educational content that leads to trust. The trust leads to a more personal relationship and hopefully, a purchase.

Looking at social media in isolation distracts us from the real revolutionary trend, which is that marketing strategies need to shift to an emphasis on content and relationships.

Social media simply makes starkly plain what we’ve known for some time but haven’t had to face yet: We don’t have a lot of content capable of generating trust and relationships.

Trust comes from buyers deciding that providers are as interested in their concerns and needs as they are in selling stuff. The only way we can do that is by providing a range of different content—thought leadership, news, education, training, support—in a range of different channels—events, white papers, communities, private meetings—at all phases of the buying cycle.

If you look at social media in isolation, you’re not going to see the larger strategic issues until they slap you in the face—blogs with nothing to write about; LinkedIn groups with no substantive conversation; Twitter streams that link to nothing but brochures and press releases.

That’s why I’d love to see the social media conversation turn more towards integrating social media into the overall marketing mix and arming marketers with the additional skills they need to make it happen. It’s why I left strategy and metrics out of the four components of social media management. The strategy is a marketing strategy and the metrics should happen across everything you do. I’m trying to get at the issues of integration in our survey, and will report on our findings.

What do you think? Are we overemphasizing social media strategy at the expense of overall marketing integration? Please let me know.

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Social media isn’t enough. We need a marketing transformation.

During one of the first few days I went to work at CIO magazine in 1995, I had what we called a “vendor visit”—one of many I would have in the coming years. The idea behind the visits was to avoid having us journos become isolated in our ivory tower. We needed to hear from marketers who were out there day-to-day listening to CIOs’ problems and aspirations. Plus, many were advertisers, so the visits made it seem like we weren’t completely ignoring what they had to say.

But mostly we were.

Back then what marketers had to say was all about their offerings. And why not? The IT industry was on fire and the stuff was flying out the doors. Marketers and salespeople didn’t have to do much coaxing to get CIOs to buy, so why get complicated?

But a quick read of our magazine showed that we didn’t write about products. We wrote about the typical concerns of a C-level executive, such as strategy, leadership, organizational design, and change management. Kind of a Fortune magazine for IT executives.

Bibles, vacuums, and boxes
But the vendors had little need to engage with CIOs at that kind of level. And the guy that showed up to see me that day was a representation of the times. Big, stony-faced and intimidating, with a lapsed football player’s gut and a big school ring buried into one of his fingers. He wasn’t a marketer, but he had been sent by a marketer, who hadn’t bothered to accompany him or even send an agency PR person for translation and kind supplication. So much for hearing about the latest strategic trends affecting CIOs.

This guy was a salesman. Could have been bibles or vacuum cleaners, but they didn’t need sales guys for that stuff anymore. They needed guys to take orders for these boxes. He swung his expanded briefcase up onto the table, pulled out a media kit bulging with press releases about speeds and feeds and plunked it down on the table in front of me. “That’s for you,” he said. Then he launched into a pitch, delivered in a tone and with an expression that made it clear that this time could be money in his pocket if it wasn’t for me.

For my part, I made sure I conveyed the same body language, while choosing the chair nearest the door. I counted the minutes (these things go even more slowly when you have to listen).

Michael Jordan and the baseball bat
When it finally ended he said something that I’ve never forgotten. As he grandiosely snapped the buckles on the briefcase and dragged it off the table, he snorted, “CIO magazine, huh? Why don’t you have CIOs writing it?”

At that moment, I realized that I wasn’t just wasting his time. In his mind, I shouldn’t even have been working there. Given my minimal knowledge of IT at the time, I guess he had a point.

But it was clear that he had no concept of how difficult it is to write clear, compelling content about complex subjects. Assuming CIOs would be willing to accept the pay cut, and smart and determined as they are, I’m certain that few have the talent for or interest in the publishing process.

What am I paying for?
Marketers today are in the same position I was with that sales guy in 1995: Wondering how to explain the value and difficulty of creating clear, compelling content about a complex subject.

Except that today many of those sales guys are gone. Today, more salespeople are able to have business and strategy discussions with customers and take the time to listen to their needs. Thus, their skepticism becomes sharper and more justified. If I can do all this in a sales call now, why do I need you?

At ITSMA, we’ve seen investments in the things that we used to identify as the key contributions of marketing—like advertising, brochures, events, and trade shows—shrink consistently. And today we’re seeing marketing budgets as a percentage of revenue dipping to their lowest levels ever—at or below 1%.

Businesses are asking if you’re not doing all these things you used to do anymore, why should I give you more budget? And if I do, what am I paying for?

The model needs transforming
Pledging to do more with social media isn’t the answer. What we need to be telling the business is that we’re going to transform marketing completely. Getting into social media really means getting into publishing. It means creating a constant stream of idea-based content that keeps buyers interested and engaged. That’s hard, and it means a real shift in skills for many marketing departments.

I think the suspicion that we see of social media, which is justified, is mixed with fear. Let’s identify that fear so that marketers will have an easier time making the transition. I think it’s fear that the hardest aspect of marketing, content development, is ascending to become marketing’s most important role, as advertising, traditional PR, and events shrink and fall away.

The content engine
Marketing departments are going to have to transform themselves into content development engines. And just as important, they are going to have to sell the value of that engine to their businesses to prevent further cuts to the budget. As McKinsey consultant David Edelman said at the ITSMA annual conference last November, we can’t make social media an add-on to a system that isn’t adding the value that it once did. We need to look at how to do things differently.

Here are some of the key aspects of that transformation:

  • Marketing is becoming data. We couldn’t measure the effectiveness of ads in the old days, but the CEO saw the ads and signed off on them, so that made it okay. We couldn’t measure the effectiveness of events and trade shows, but sales people saw the crowds at the booth and the bar and so it didn’t matter. But as we shift to a content focus, it is all online and its impact is invisible. There is no visual, visceral confirmation of its impact. But a white paper isn’t just content; it is data. It can be tracked and measured.
  • Automation creates metrics. We tear our hair out trying to devise metrics that we can’t report on because we don’t have the data. If we automate the processes that matter, the metrics we need will be staring us in the face.
  • The funnel becomes electric. The impact of our content will be visible if that content is linked to an automated, closed-loop lead process. Getting agreement with sales on a sales-ready lead is critical. And with all the SaaS-enabled software available today, there’s no excuse for not automating the lead management process—at least up to the point where marketing hands over sales-ready leads. You don’t even need to involve IT anymore. And the excuse that these systems don’t integrate with old CRM systems is becoming less and less valid. If the vendors can’t help with the integration, IT can. Marketing needs a better relationship with IT.
  • Content creates relationships. It isn’t enough to develop idea-driven content and ship it out; we have to redesign the creation and dissemination processes so that readers are lured into conversations and relationships. This is where social media tools are helpful. But developing and disseminating content that builds relationships—think publishers and subscribers—takes different skills.
  • Buyers become approachable. After consolidating their power for years through internet search, B2B buyers are beginning to emerge from behind their firewalls and show up in places where marketers can find them. We have to meet them halfway. That requires a culture shift in the company and new skills for marketers and employees.
  • PR becomes conversation. We’re all PR now. Employees, subject matter experts and marketers all need to represent the company, but in a way that is transparent, constructive, and cordial. PR people meanwhile should use their thick skins and relationship skills to help build the conversation in social media. But it means shaking up the PR department and our relationships with PR agencies.

At ITSMA, we’re calling 2010 the year of marketing transformation. We wouldn’t use such grandiose terms if we didn’t see a real need for change. When she saw the trend in the numbers that we prepare our annual budget study, my colleague Julie Schwartz asked an important question: “Do we want to spend another year doing more with less? Marketing has to do things differently.”

We’re going to offer more specific on how marketers should make this transformation backed up by selected data from the 2010 survey at our webcast, The Year of Marketing Transformation: ITSMA’s 2010 State of the Profession Address on January 26.

In the meantime, do you agree that marketing needs a complete transformation? If so, how would you do it?

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Top B2B marketing posts for 2009 (hint: social media)

Who says B2B marketers are lagging in social media? If they are out there, they aren’t reading this blog. Of the top ten posts on my blog this year, only one did not involve social media. Though I’m supposed to be an objective researcher, I have to admit bias here. I think the social media phenomenon is the most exciting and important thing to hit communications in my lifetime. So writing about this stuff is fun. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I do writing it.

Thank you so much for your comments, links, and tweets this year. I’m happy to say that traffic to my blog has quadrupled (I’ve gone from a D-list blogger to a C-list, I think) in 2009 thanks to you. I look forward to collaborating even more in 2010. Have a happy and safe New Year!

Check out these top posts if you haven’t already:

  1. Six factors driving B2B social media marketing adoption
  2. The four components of social media management
  3. Want proof that the C-suite is into social media? Here it is.
  4. How to create B2B social media policies
  5. Why B2B marketers hate social media
  6. Social media strategy for B2B: what’s required and what’s optional
  7. Why bother with thought leadership? Five questions and answers.
  8. Eight reasons to monitor social media and a list of tools for doing it
  9. Where should your corporate blogs live?
  10. Why B2B marketing will become more visual, vocal, and mobile

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Why B2B marketers hate social media

In a recent post, I offered some hard research data to support the growing importance of social media to B2B. But this time I want to address the legitimate concerns that ITSMA clients give us when we talk about the wonders of social media. The case for social media isn’t just about showing how buyers are flocking to social media. It’s also about addressing the very real concern that in a time of stretched budgets and lean staffs, social media becomes yet another channel to manage.

What’s really different with social media?

The End of Control
The biggest difference between social media marketing and other forms of marketing is control. Most marketing channels are focused on broadcasting tightly controlled messages to audiences that have little opportunity to talk back.

Social media is different. The focus shifts from messages to conversations. And those conversations cannot be controlled. Giving up control of what is being said about your company is difficult for most marketers.

But it becomes less difficult when we realize that we never had control of these conversations in the first place.

When buyers engage their most important sources of information—their peers—most of those conversations (90%, according to a study by Walter J. Carl, assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Northeastern University) occur in private, far from the ears—and control—of marketers.

A loss of control is nothing to mourn when it was illusory in the first place.

Instead, we should be celebrating a new opportunity. Social media is a way to influence those peer conversations by monitoring them, engaging in them, and managing them through peer-based communities.

Why B2B?
The first hurdle for B2B marketers in developing a social media strategy is presenting a case for why their companies should be involved in social media at all. Social media seems better suited to B2C, with its larger scale and simpler buying process.

B2B companies have fewer, more complex customer relationships and are often conservative and protective of those relationships. With good reason. B2B customers tend to be high on the executive ladder and are usually reluctant to discuss their business strategies in public forums. And while B2C marketers can use social media as a cheap channel for running promotions and driving sales, for B2B, social media does not provide a magic link to sales.

But of course, no B2B marketing strategy does that. B2B marketing lays the path to a sales discussion and supports relationships with existing customers. Social media is another channel for making the connection and building the relationship with customers.

The most important factor in the growth of social media is its potential for collaboration. The most trusted information source for buyers has always been each other. As more buyers participate in social media, and as the tools and possibilities for collaboration continue to improve, social media is becoming an indispensable channel for marketers to help buyers find one another and market to them.

But social media is by no means a silver bullet. It is a new and invaluable channel, but it is not effective unless it is integrated with other marketing channels. ITSMA research shows that B2B marketers are most successful when they use social media to drive prospects and customers to more “traditional” marketing channels such as the website and events.

Yet while social media should not become a separate silo within the marketing organization, it does require some new skills and thinking. For example, it requires a change in the culture of the company—which must accede to social media’s demand for more openness and less control over conversations with customers. Social media also comes with new rules of engagement for both marketers and employees, who will need to become spokespeople for the company and its brand.

Developing these new skills and ways of thinking takes time. This is why every B2B company should be moving into social media to start the process of building the skills and making the broad cultural changes needed to make social media work.

What do you think?

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Social media strategy for B2B: what’s required and what’s optional

Despite all the breathless hype about social media these days, what I hear most from B2B marketers is frustration. Most of the marketers I talk to are trying to reach a few top executives in big organizations who make buying decisions about big, complex products and services. For these marketers, the pool of customers and prospects is small and many of them do not want to engage publicly in social media or are simply ignoring it altogether.

ITSMA research shows that there are other ways to reach these people that are much more effective than social media, such as small, thought leadership-based events, content-rich websites that are optimized for search, and robust reference programs, to name a few. For these target executives, peer relationships are everything, but for now anyway, most of those relationships are happening offline.

For many companies, this translates into a wait-and-see approach to social media.

I think that’s the right decision—up to a point.

For these companies, there is little reason to twitter into the wind. If you’re strapped for resources (who isn’t?) and you can invest in other things that are more effective for reaching your target audience.

But the mistake I think many companies make is assuming that if there is no reason for actively marketing the company through social media then there is no reason to invest in a social media strategy.

I think that’s short sighted.

Here’s why: In marketing, we have a traditional bias towards being active. After all, that’s how we’ve always done it. We push messages out and try to stir up attention. We could control the public conversation because our audience had few public outlets for giving or receiving information. But social media is a vast public platform where eventually the conversation is going to get around to our companies—if it hasn’t already.

So even if there is no reason to have an active social media strategy, there is every reason to have a passive one. By that, I mean monitoring the cacophony of public conversation on the web to determine whether any of it is applicable to your company—and if it is, what you should do about it. This is why every B2B marketing leader needs a social media participation strategy even if he or she does not intend to actively market through social media.

I divide participation strategy into three pieces (I go into each in more detail in this post):

  1. Monitor. Listen for conversation about your company or about relevant issues for you and your customers.
  2. Engage. Develop a strategy for responding to customers and influencers who talk about your company or relevant business issues.
  3. Manage. Decide whether to take an active role in creating conversations and fostering a community.

Though I will probably get some arguments about this, I think the participation strategy is a linear process—i.e., you need to know how to monitor well before you can engage well, and you certainly need to know how to engage well before you can start building community.

We have reached the point where monitoring is an absolute requirement in any B2B marketing strategy. Even if it doesn’t seem that your customers and prospects are actively conversing on the social web, you need to confirm that fact. And even they aren’t talking, there’s no doubt that someone is having a relevant conversation about business issues that are important to your customers—and that you should be monitoring.

This week, Jeremiah Owyang published a great framework of things that marketers have to do to listen well—including a list of vendors who help marketers listen. The only disagreement I have with his framework is that it is about more than listening. Stages 1-3 of his framework are true passive listening and every B2B marketing group should be doing them—regardless of whether they decide to actively market through social media.

But moving from stage 3 to 4 is moving from passive to active participation. There’s a chasm there that many B2B marketers are unwilling to cross. It seems companies are comfortable (in theory if not yet always in practice) up to Stage 3 but beyond that they are terrified. They see the resource commitment ramping up and the potential for mistakes (risk) amplified because now they have to actively engage with people in social rather than just track and listen.

And there’s good reason to be terrified. As effort increases, resource allocation and ROI become issues. Larger companies can shift budget from dying categories like advertising and trade shows into social media without affecting other programs, but many smaller companies never had much budget in those areas to begin with. So social media becomes a larger strategic decision that some would just rather not make right now—so they don’t do anything.

I think we need to parse that decision more. Listening is a requirement, but active participation remains optional.

What do you think?

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Want proof that the C-suite is into social media? Here it is.

There are two rivers of content at conferences. One is the river of planned content—the conference theme, the presentations, etc.; the other is the river of conversation that flows through the event at breaks, meals and receptions. This is where you get the dope on the shared challenges of the attendees.

We just wrapped up our ITSMA Annual Marketing Conference this week and the strongest current driving the river of conversation was social media. Specifically, frustration over how to use social media to reach the C-suite. Most of ITSMA’s clients are B2B marketers from big technology companies that sell big, complex products, services, and solutions. That means that the people buying those services—or at least playing a key role in the decision—tend to be high up on the corporate food chain—the C-suite or just below.

These are not the people we imagine Twittering about their need for complex enterprise IT services. In fact, it’s hard for most of us to imagine these people using social media at all.

CEOs Use Social Media More than Other Buyers
And yet our latest annual survey of 355 buyers of complex IT solutions, How Customers Choose Solution Providers, 2009: The Importance of Personalization, Epiphanies, and Social Media, shows that the door to the C-suite is opening up. (You can download an abbreviated summary here.)

We found that usage of social media among IT and business buyers of technology rose 50% over last year and finally pushed to majority status—55% said they use social media as part of the technology buying process in 2009 versus just 37% in 2008. More importantly, we found that executives in large organizations use social media more than in smaller organizations, and that C-suite executives actually use social media more than their lower-level buying peers. Just 15% of CEOs and directors said they did not use any form of social media at all, while 34% of manager/directors and 26% of VPs/Assistant vice presidents said they ignore the stuff.

This has big implications for marketers. It means that social media is taking hold within your biggest, most valuable accounts at the highest levels. Sounds like a business case for investment to me.

Another surprise was that the big shots use all of the different social media tools pretty evenly. However, CEOs did show a specific preference for the range of social networking sites—LinkedIn, Facebook, and Plaxo—over Twitter or blogs.

Use Social Media to Drive Peer Connections
This makes sense when you consider what our IT buyers have been telling us for years: that their peers are by far their most preferred and trusted choice for information during the buying process. This year, our research showed that most buyers go to colleagues inside their own companies for referrals of people to talk to about a purchase. No doubt, they would like to expand that circle beyond the company—30% say they rely on peers from councils and communities they belong to, and 29% say they speak to colleagues at other companies for referrals.

Right now, I have to believe that the biggest potential for social media within this elite audience is as a tool for expanding the circle of trusted peers that they can call upon when they’re about to make a big purchasing decision.

What do you think?

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