January 23, 2018

Where is the utility in mobile apps for B2B?

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

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

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

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

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Is “social media campaign” an oxymoron?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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3 factors in winning the social media horse race

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

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

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

What do you think?

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4 Reasons Why Facebook Stinks for B2B Marketing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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15 things marketers should stop doing and thinking in 2011

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

Social media

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


General Marketing

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

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

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Stop doing PR. Start doing visibility.

Thanks for the great comments on last week’s post, “Is the Era of PR Over.” Okay, so if the traditional model for PR is failing, what do we do instead?

Most journalists have discovered social media as an important research tool. And research shows that even the stodgiest C-level executive does at least three web searches per day.

That’s why increasingly, PR is going to become a matter of simply allowing your subject matter experts to be found rather than enlisting armies of PR people to try to force journalists and customers to find those subject matter experts.

I’m not saying we fire all PR people. Every company needs a guard dog or two to be around in case of a PR disaster. But it does mean removing PR people from their traditional role as gate keepers between subject matter experts and influencers and customers. And it means taking the conversation out of the hands of PR people and putting it into the hands of subject matter experts, influencers, and customers.

Think of the traditional PR process as a supply chain with four steps:

  1. Subject matter expert identification and preparation. PR works to identify people in the organization who would be good representatives of the company, its value, and its offerings. Those people may receive media training, presentation and speaking training, etc. to prepare them to be public representatives of the company.
  2. Outreach. PR creates a communications campaign with press releases, calling and emailing influencers, etc.
  3. Gatekeeper. PR schedules interviews between the subject matter experts and the influencers and tries to influence the interaction to put the company and its offerings in the best light.
  4. Placement. PR tries to influence the placement of subject matter experts, content, and interviews in third-party channels (articles, conference and trade show speaking engagements, etc.)

Here’s a new that model cuts out the two middle steps and rethinks the first and last steps.

  1. Visibility. This is the new primary role for PR. Beyond discovering and prepping spokespeople for the company, PR becomes responsible for making them nodes on the online network that can be easily found by influencers and customers. Examples of how you do this are:
    • Make them visible on social networks. Make sure they have business profiles on the different networks (LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.). Push them to get lots of peer and customer recommendations and connections. Also push them to join relevant groups and contribute to those groups.
    • Encourage them to blog. The best way to get press and influencer attention these days is to write smart things that are easily discoverable. If your subject matter experts don’t want to write, use other types of media to populate the blog such as videos and podcasts. Or interview them and ghost write the posts. Just don’t MSE (Make S**t Up). The thinking has to be from the mind of the subject matter expert, not the ghost writer. And the subject matter experts must make themselves available to respond to comments in the blog.
    • Get them twittering. Twitter’s viral relationship model means that your subject matter experts can build up their networks of influence much faster than through a press release.
  2. Facilitation. In France, the concierge is a combination building superintendent and busybody. They get a small apartment on the first floor of the building with a direct view of the building’s front door and the lobby (I’ve even seen two-way mirrors on their apartment doors!). Consequently, they know everybody’s business but don’t intervene unless asked. This is the new role of placement PR. You monitor everything your subject matter experts, customers, and influencers do and say, but you stay out of the conversations themselves. Don’t require them to come to you before scheduling interviews or responding to customers and influencers through social media. You can’t do what one B2B company did: require that subject matter experts submit tweets to PR for approval two weeks in advance of posting. I don’t have to explain why that’s ridiculous, do I?

What do you think? Is this the new model for PR? What would you add or change?

P.S. Valeria Maltoni, who writes the excellent blog Conversation Agent, offered an interesting vision for PR last week that you should check out.

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15 qualities of a good social media voice

When people ask about how to use social media tools like Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook, I suspect that they are really asking about how they should sound in those tools.

After all, the tools themselves are dead simple. You need a second hand on your watch to track how long it takes to set up a Twitter account, for example.

But developing a social media voice is a more complicated proposition.

A good starting point is to create a social media policy for the organization. But these policies are more like guardrails than signposts. Writing style guides can also help, but who has time to plow through them? Employees and subject matters experts need active support from marketers to develop their social media voices. In ITSMA’s social media survey, 68% said that marketing is the catalyst for social media. It’s worth our time to develop a brief guide to social media voice for employees that takes into account the unique attributes of your target audience.

I humbly offer these guidelines in the spirit of the B2B marketing guild. I’d love to hear your additions, comments, rants.

Here are some of the qualities that social media voices should have:

  • Authentic. I’m loath to use this one because it gets trotted out so often, but social media ups the ante for saying what you mean and meaning what you say at the time you’re saying it. In social media, buyers can connect synchronously with you and with their peers, they can react instantly, and they can do so through easily accessible tools like Twitter. Obfuscation used to be a way to buy time in an era when buyers had to write letters to the company president to get their complaints heard (and they had few ways to determine whether others were having the same problems). In social media, obfuscation only brings a swift, often large-scale, backlash.
  • Relevant. In social media, it isn’t just what you say; it’s the company you keep. Creating a responsive social media network means focusing on a subject that you know well and sticking to it so that people know what to expect from you. Remember that it’s as easy to disconnect from people in social media as it is to connect with them. Lack of relevance is a ticket to deletionville.
  • Empathetic. The best social media voices have a clear understanding of what it feels like to stand in their audiences’ shoes. We need to understand their experiences and offer content that fits their needs.
  • Generous. Sharing is the currency of social media. For example, Twitter updates that come with a link to something deeper to read (such as news, opinion, tips, research, and thought leadership) are more likely to be passed on, or retweeted, to others. Rarely do those links lead to paid content. Those who make their content freely available will have many more readers than those who don’t. Besides, it makes us feel good. Acts of generosity, it turns out, light up the same primitive, feel-good areas of the brain as sex and food do.
  • Responsive. Just when we think no one is listening to what we’re saying in social media, we’re likely to receive a message—often from someone we’ve never conversed with before. If we ignore these messages, we can hurt the feelings of those involved and lose opportunities to have interesting conversations that could contribute to our social media success. Blog comments, for example, should all receive a response from the blogger, even if it’s just one message thanking everyone for their time and good thoughts.
  • Helpful. Our helpful deeds in social media are often seen by many others who spread the help farther and enhance our reputation. Subject matter experts who answer questions on the Answers section of LinkedIn, for example, can grow their connections and build traffic to their blogs.
  • Original. It’s okay to link to news items or interesting blog posts, but chances are that many others have already done the same thing. The strongest social media voices are those that regularly contribute original ideas. Blogs are a great hub for creating and sharing original ideas, because readers can contribute to and refine the thinking (as I’m hoping you’ll do here!).
  • (More) Informal. Social media are designed to elicit conversation, yet most of that conversation happens in written form. That means we need a new standard for ourselves. We should make our writing sound more like the way we speak (when we’re at work). One way to judge whether you’re being too stiff (or overly casual) is to read your writing aloud before posting it. If it sounds too stuffy, overly long, or overwrought, simplify it. On the other hand, if it sounds like you aren’t old enough to have a driver’s license, put more thought into it.
  • Timely. Everybody loves a scoop. Gaining a reputation as the first with the latest news in your chosen subject area increases your relevance among others in your network and helps attract new followers. However, it helps to do a little research before sharing to make sure that the tidbit hasn’t been re-tweeted a million times already, or that there hasn’t been some change in the issue since you discovered it.
  • Persistent. Social media voices that appear and then disappear for long intervals create mistrust and apprehension. Was this just a passing fancy? Are you participating just to push messages? Do you have so little say that you needed a month off? The unwritten rule for blogs demands at least a post per week, for example. More than a month and people will begin to delete you from their RSS feeds.
  • Inspiring. As my friend Laura Nicholas points out, the best social media voices try to inspire others to action. For example, try looking at a perennial problem from an entirely different angle and asserting new ideas and thinking. You may inspire someone to share what you wrote because they see the value and want to enlighten others.
  • Grammatical. Sure, social media are more informal by default, but informal doesn’t mean you should sound like an idiot. Indeed, the more personal nature of the communications makes good skills even more important because all the misdeeds can be easily tracked back to their source. It’s okay to split an infinitive now and then, but the really obvious stuff—misspellings, misunderstood words, crappy punctuation, and internet shorthand (unless you are really short on space)—reflects poorly on the reputations of the communicators and their companies.
  • Communal. Just as we communicate differently in conversation than we do in writing, we have a different voice with groups than we do with individuals. In most cases in social media, we are speaking to a group. Depending on your reach and focus, the group can be homogenous or incredibly diverse. In B2B, it’s likely to be diverse, at least in terms of ages and backgrounds. Your voice should sound reasonable to everyone in that group.
  • Dialectal. We always hear that it’s wrong to use a lot of jargon, and in general it is, but only because most B2B marketers are usually trying to reach a general audience of both business and technical people. On the other hand, if you’re only trying to reach the techies, jargon may be expected, as marketer Jed Sundwall points out in this excellent presentation, Finding Your Social Media Voice. We need to understand the particular dialects of the audiences we’re trying to reach with social media.
  • Contextual. Social media are a lot like party conversations. Much depends on how long the conversation has been going on and what has already been said in your absence. The smartest blog comment sounds dumb if the point has already been debated in the comments section. Conversations in social media have a habit of diverging from their original course. Participants need to stop and assess the waters before plunging in.

What do you think? What are other important qualities to have in a social media voice?

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How Facebook’s privacy disasters will change B2B marketing

Have you ever noticed that your Facebook profile page looks like one of those horrible qualification forms that we make our customers fill out? If you go to Facebook and look at your profile, your immediate reaction is going to be that it’s asking for too much information.

Social media is beginning to teach us that long qual forms are going the way of the dodo. I’m still looking to pin down incontrovertible evidence of this, but anecdotally I hear from people that when they get rid of qual forms for their content the amount of engagement increases exponentially. The question that we’re asking Facebook is the question that we should be asking ourselves in our marketing: Do we really need all this information?

Facebook has built its business model around gathering as much personal information about us as possible. And just as our traditional thinking about qual forms is failing, so will Facebook’s personal-information-as-currency model. Both Facebook and we have traditionally believed that the content services that we provide—in our case studies, white papers, webinars, etc.—come at a price. It costs us money to produce this stuff, and therefore our consumers must pay a price. That price is personal information, company information, and buying intent. For Facebook, it’s personal information that advertisers can use to target us.

Customers are less willing to give up information
Especially as social media takes off, we’re finding that prospects and customers have less and less patience for giving us that information. The expectation on Twitter is that 99.9% of the time any link that you put in a tweet is going to lead to accessible content. Twitter etiquette, at least as I observe it, is that if the information that you’re linking to is gated, you take up some of that precious 140-character real estate to inform people of that fact.

It seems that Facebook has staked its future not on the interactions that occur between people on its network but on the idea that the value is in the personal information of its participants. This is a disaster if you ask me.

Now let’s compare your profile page on Facebook with your profile page on Twitter. It’s like the difference between someone asking for your e-mail in exchange for a white paper versus them asking for your salutation, your company size, when you are going to buy, your mother’s maiden name and on and on ad nausea.

The key is the interaction—not the information
See, what I think Twitter understands that Facebook and LinkedIn and all of the other permission-based networks don’t is that the key is in the interaction, not in the information.

I admit it; I’m a Twitter bigot. I find much more value in Twitter than in any of the other social media networks. So take my comments with a grain of salt. But I will tell you that this week I attended an excellent event run by Silver pop called the B2B marketing University in Boston. Because of my Twitter interactions with people in the B2B realm, I had all the information I needed to be able to approach four people I recognized at the event (if you’re reading this, you know who you are!) and engage them in real substantive discussions—even though we had never met.

I don’t know what schools they went to, or where they worked before their current jobs, but I know what they think about B2B marketing and I have re-tweeted their stuff and I know they’re smart. Those interactions on Twitter opened up a possibility of a relationship much more easily than being able to read their profile pages on LinkedIn or Facebook. I learn about them and who they are based on my interactions with them and in sharing content that is of interest to all of us.

Viral vs. permission-based
It’s this viral relationship model of Twitter that wins in every privacy showdown between Facebook and its users. There is a cottage industry developing out there for people who want to protect you from Facebook. Reclaimprivacy.org is a small browser based program that practices a kind of benevolent vigilantism and helps you change your vulnerable privacy settings. It’s a great service, but it only reinforces the perception of Facebook as Big Brother. The privacy issues for Facebook are going to be on the cover of Time magazine next week. There’s would be joy in Twitterville this week if it didn’t seem that the founders of Twitter have none of the ego and contempt for competitors that most businesses seem to have. (Of course, it may be a little bit easier to be this way when your own business model remains rather ill defined.)

I don’t know about you, but I’m always annoyed by people whose first question is what I do or what school I went to. But that is how we’re introduced to each other on Facebook and LinkedIn. I’d rather get to know you based on knowing that I have a shared interest with you. Frankly, I can’t imagine why 300 people would read my blog every week if that weren’t the basis of our relationship.

Ask for a relationship, not information
I think that as social media becomes more integrated into our lives and our jobs were going to see that just as with our content we are going to have to get to know one another through our interactions. We need to ask people for a relationship rather than asking them for their information. What if, next time you offer a white paper or video to prospects, instead of demanding their contact information, you invite them to join your community on LinkedIn, or sign up for an event, or follow you on Twitter? This would be the basis of a much more substantive encounter—and potential relationship—just as I had with my Tweeps this week in Boston.

We should all take a lesson from Facebook and understand that getting information from people is not a zero-sum game. It’s a gradual process—the currency of which is trust and exchange of value.

What do you think?

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How to establish a voice of authority in a blog

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about how to get others to blog. But it’s not enough just to support bloggers. For them to be successful, we need to help them establish their voices in a blog.

The way that we establish trust and relationships with buyers is through authority. We want readers of our SMEs’ blogs to see them as experts. But you can’t establish that authority by putting a link to their LinkedIn profile on the blog. You have to establish authority through the writing voice that your SMEs use in their blogs.

It would be wonderful if your bloggers were the only experts writing about their fields. If that’s the case, great. Stop reading. But most likely, there are already other experts out there who are more expert and write better than your SMEs. In this case, just showing how smart they are won’t cut it. SMEs need an angle. Here are a few to consider:

  • Lead a niche. Pick a subject that few others have staked out. SMEs with deep expertise in a particular niche can build a strong and loyal following—if not necessarily huge blog traffic.
  • Show your age. A former colleague that I really admire managed to mention his 30 year experience in marketing into the first minute of conversation with anyone new. The voice of experience is powerful.
  • Be timely. Being the first with the latest news builds authority.
  • Have the data. This is how analysts (like me) establish their authority. They can make assertions based on what everyone is doing—not just what they themselves think.
  • Aggregator. If your SME is a person who loves to collect information, then becoming an aggregator is a route to trust. People know that they can count on this person to provide or link to the most insightful information in the topic area—no matter where it first appeared.
  • Futurist. Some SMEs are always looking to see what happens next. If they are focused on developing new offerings, for example, this is a natural voice for them.
  • Iconoclast. SMEs can construct a great voice around questioning existing practices and trends. But be careful; these SMEs need to have thick skins and handle negative comments constructively.

What suggestions do you have for establishing a voice of authority in a blog? Let’s get a conversation going.

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How to build emotional engagement in B2B marketing

I got a really interesting question last week through my Skribit box: How do you use emotional engagement when talking about dry technology?

This may be the ultimate question in B2B, especially as we struggle to integrate social media into the overall marketing mix.

Let’s face it, even if it was possible to curl up in front of the fire with a glass of wine and our B2B products and services, no one would do it. Most of the things we sell are about as emotive as army ants.

That’s why I’m going to answer the question (and invite accusations of copping out) by saying that we shouldn’t try to use our dry technologies as the basis for emotional engagement.

We have to stop torturing ourselves trying to write interesting things about our dry technology. That’s what has led to the horrific vocabulary of mindless marketing speak that makes us utter things like “demonstrable value” with straight faces while deluding ourselves that it leaves an impression on customers. (Hey, it was the best thing we came up with at the meeting, so why wouldn’t customers like it, too!?)

Where are thepeople and the stories?
Journalism has long understood that people respond to other people and to stories. Those two things are built into the process. You get fired if you don’t interview people and feature them in your story. And you never get any interesting assignments if you aren’t able to communicate information through a narrative structure—a story with a number of star characters and a beginning, middle, and end.

It’s the same in B2B. It’s why our latest ITSMA marketing budget survey shows (free summary available)that thought leadership has risen to a higher priority level than in any recent year. Ideas can create an emotional connection. Okay, so it’s not big emotion, but it hits some buttons:

  • Gratitude. This company understands my pain
  • Loyalty. I may need to keep an eye on these guys in case they say something else that moves me.
  • Respect. These guys are smart.
Press photo of Sockington.
Image via Wikipedia

But for all of these things to hit, customers need to be able to connect them to people. Social media offers some new ways for us to build emotional connections with customers by connecting them with other people and their stories. (Ever wonder why Sockington is so popular? Even making a cat more like a person works.) Blogs let us feature our subject matter experts (SMEs) not just as brainiacs but as people that customers can eventually feel comfortable reaching out to directly. Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. all do that, too.

But let’s not get too hung up on social media. This has to permeate all that we do. It’s why those expensive private events work so well.

What do you think? How do you use emotional engagement when talking about dry technology?

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