Social Marketing Guidance for B2B IT Vendors

As you continue to invest and execute in your Social Marketing, step back for just a moment to think about how “Social” fits in your overall marketing-mix.

It is helpful to first look at the overall marketing function. There are two major rivers of information that flow into and out of the marketing organization. The first is the flow of data that informs the “in-bound” product management process, wherein customer requirements are continuously gathered and prioritized. The second is the flow of “out-bound” product marketing work-effort, wherein products and services are presented to the marketplace.

Social marketing is the process of applying social listening and social communicating as a new and value-adding element to those in-bound and out-bound information flows. For example the in-bound product management process has been traditionally informed by customer councils or user groups; where new product ideation would happen one idea at a time, and one customer at a time. With Social product management, crowd-sourcing for voting and ranking of new features can speed up this process by orders of magnitude. SAP today has a robust Social crowd-sourcing engine called IdeaPlace that does just that.

Social Marketing begins with good Social Listening. This involves tapping into the blogs or forums or communities where your customers are present; the virtual places where they are actively becoming self-educated about potential IT product and services. If you can be a good listener, you will then “earn” the right to contribute to the conversation, perhaps by connecting those buyers with information sources and tools to further their self-education journey. B2B IT vendors are placing their bets on this. Just in the past few months I have observed Dell and HP make an overt organizational change by placing their Social Listening function into their existing and formal Market Intelligence functions.

So: Listen first. Become an excellent listener before you begin to insert your voice in the communications stream as a contributor. There are many examples of this in B2B, and it is accelerating. Dell gets a lot of play as a listening expert and deservedly so: they were a first-mover on this capability more than six years ago. HP now has a Chief Listening Officer (CLO) role. Cisco has been so successful in social media training for its employees that they are now starting to sell this to their customers. Intel just told me that they are now listening in over 50 languages. The list goes on.

To punctuate this last point, some research might be useful. IDC conducts an annual survey on “How Buyers Buy.” We seek to understand: Where do buyers go for their product education? What media types are most frequently accessed? What is the pathway of their digital journey? What is their preferred content types or subject matter? On this last point, buyers tell us that their preferred content sources are (in rank-order): information that comes from peers; then information that comes from independent third-parties; and third, information that comes directly from the vendor.

This is why social marketing should be such an important part of the B2B marketer’s tool kit. If vendors can help prospects to connect with peers as part of their education process; they will be viewed favorably by those prospects. The social media are the best tools for doing this.

A mis-step to avoid…

B2B marketers entering the social media environment will often start listening and communicating with the most popular social tools: Twitter; Facebook; and LinkedIn, to name a few. These are all fine tools and readily at-hand. But the question is: are your customers and prospects using them? IDC research shows that B2B buyers who are evaluating complex products and services are most likely tapping in to the technically-oriented social communities and blogs. And so lesson number one is: “Hang out where your customers are hanging out!”

Content Trends: Insight from IDG’s Tech Media Executives

A company that publishes over 460 websites, 200 mobile sites and apps, and 200 print titles knows something about media and content. Last week, I had the pleasure of discussing trends with executives from IDC’s parent company International Data Group (IDG), the world’s leading technology media company.

Here’s what I learned about the changing state of communication and content.

The currency of information is shifting:
The primary indicator of engagement is the “quality” time spent with content as well as the meaningfulness of the action that time drives. Someone who is truly engaged in a conversation is more likely to download content. Some content is Core while other content is Candy. Core content gets fewer pageviews but drives more meaningful action while Candy content attracts attention (such as page views or clicks) but doesn’t drive much action. Be careful about using easy metrics like page views or clicks as a sole metric as they are easy to manipulate by upping the ratio of Candy content.  Clicks are also increasingly useless as a metric as 85% of clicks come from about 10% of people. 

New ways to think about social:
Expect social media as a separate category to eventually go away. ALL media is now social with participation ranging from simple comments and sharing to citizen reporting.  An emerging model for content is to create high-quality conversations with two or more experts/leaders/celebrities engaging in public dialog about a story then to create an echo chamber around the story by attracting a larger community to listen in and comment. Note that both IDC CMO Advisory service and the IDG media and editorial team find that marketers are still pretty lost when it comes to how to work with the social aspects of communication.

The way we consume content is changing: 
My favorite new term is “snackable” content. Audiences prefer consuming in smaller bites. Increasingly, these bites are visual, with mini-videos especially popular.  Video is also getting more casual and less edited. Think of a recorded Skype conversation (see the above comment on social). The move to snackable is changing content delivery. The “content event” (spending four months coming up with a big launch of a big story) is declining and is shifting to dripping out small amounts of content on the subject over time.

“Native” media is hot:
 A big new trend is native media which is content in an online publication that is labeled as sponsored content (typically thought leadership) that really reads like part of the user experience. This is NOT an advertorial driven by a sponsor. Advertorials are too product-oriented and transactional. Instead, real journalists create the content on behalf of the sponsor. The real journalists are much more reader-focused and in-tune with the editorial voice and policies of the publication. Think of this as joint-venture communication.

Trends in ad-buying:
Real-time bidding for advertising inventory (versus monthly contracts) is the most revolutionary trend in the media industry since publications went online. Fast growing ad categories: selling ads based on audience behavioral context, search ads, newsfeed ads, mini-ads (like Facebook uses).

What we are learning about mobile: 
Smart money isn’t thinking about whether it’s mobile first or not. The key is user first.  Publications are using “responsive design” design it once and render differently for different screens – a trend made possible with HTML5. Across all kinds of advertising (not IDG specific) mobile ad revenue is still tiny – only 1% of all ad spending. However, mobile screen time is about 10.1% of all screen time.  Will this change? Maybe not. Mobile is driving a different use model.  Rather than being primarily an advertising screen, mobile is being used as an authentication point to offer other services.  Audiences have different expectations for mobile. They don’t consider it to be as open and free as the web. They are more willing to pay for content and services. What is working for mobile monetization: promoted tweets, newsfeed ads; metered content (example, New York Times).

Best Practices for Paid Social Media – An Up and Coming Tool for B2B Marketers

The stigma of social media is something I have been fighting for years. As someone whose education and career has mirrored Mark Zuckerberg’s (minus the dropping out of an ivy league school to build a multibillion dollar company and taking it public…so really when I say “mirrored”, I mean we are approximately the same age), I feel an affinity to the social networks that have matured as my own career has moved forward. Because of this I have found myself defending the merits of different social networks’ “tangible” value to relatives, colleagues, and random people on the subway. So, when I received an email stating I had $100 free Twitter ad credits, I jumped at the chance to see where Twitter has taken their ad platform. While that $100 was great to boost my twitter followers (speaking of which follow me here), retweets, and ego it didn’t really answer my questions around how creative B2B marketers are utilizing social networks.

To dive in deeper I tapped the knowledge of 3 digital and social marketing leaders to educate me on how their organizations are harnessing the power of social through “Paid Social” Campaigns. The experts I spoke with are listed below:

Lauren Vaccarello, Sr Director of Online Marketing at
Lauren Friedman, Manager of the Social Community Engagement Team at Adobe
Dan Slagen, Head of Global Marketing Relations at Hubspot. (Now SVP of Marketing at Nanigans)
You can find the full overview and guidance on ‘Paid Social’ within IDC’s CMO Advisory Service’smost recently published document Paid Social Media: A Look into How TopBrands Are Utilizing Paid Social Campaigns. For 3 ‘take aways’ for B2B marketers look no further:
There are Two Kinds of Marketers in Social: The Quick and the Dead: A pillar of social is the fast pace and instant reactions it provides. While moving fast is necessary, leading companies go to great lengths to make sure they are able to move quickly and effectively. The experts I spoke with all emphasized seamless communication across the organization to assure there was no misunderstandings on the current social game plan. Additionally, they each spoke about implementing technologies on the backend to measure the data and output actionable metrics.
Paid Social is a Different Kind of Advertising Buy: Social ad buys are not your father’s paid advertising campaigns; marketers must acknowledge this before going head first into a paid social campaign. Social networks are built with the end user in mind; all of the marketers I spoke with emphasized this point. Think creatively when it comes to Twitter or Facebook ad buys, consider leveraging the platforms to amplify a message or push something that will strengthen your community rather than just driving leads.

What Can Social do for Me?: Most marketers have acknowledged and embraced social marketing as a part of their overall strategy. However, that does not mean it is accepted throughout the organization. Before asking for (or putting) advertising dollars towards paid social campaigns, marketers need to answer the question “what can social do for me?” for other decision makers within the organization. The experts I spoke with pointed towards heavy alignment with sales so the reps understand the incoming leads and how to act on them. Some companies put SLAs in place to assure that both Marketing and Sales commit to specific responsibilities. The other best practice is to create a pilot program before committing big dollars and major resources – this way you have specific proof points to set your goals on and optimize off.
What are your thoughts on “Paid Social”?
Does your organization currently run paid advertising on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn?
Do you have any comments to add to what is above?
Sam Melnick is a Research Analyst with IDC’s CMO Advisory you can follow him on twitter: @SamMelnick

Facebook Announces 1 Billion Users – It’s Time for All Marketers to Give it a Go

A few days ago Facebook announced that their active users surpassed 1 Billion. This is a huge number and like it or not, as a Marketer, you cannot ignore a community of this size. At this point, it is irresponsible to write Facebook off as a fad. Its user base covers all demographics and geographies – chances are, as a business, whoever you are selling to is on Facebook. While I certainly do not advocate for suddenly changing your advertising mix to a 25% Facebook Ad spend or hiring a brand new agency to build a Facebook Page that rivals Coke or Jet Blue, I do believe there are plenty of good ways to start dipping your toes into the giant ocean that is Facebook.
I readily admit that the standard thinking is Facebook is a B2C tool – Facebook is great to reach consumers, however I believe there is something for everyone. B2B marketers need to think creatively, manage expectations and take learning’s from similar communities (think LinkedIn). And if you’re worried that you might be behind the curve or not sure the amount of time and energy to spend on social, through IDC’s 2012 Tech Marketing Benchmark Study (full results to be published this quarter), we learned that only 0.9% of tech marketing program budgets are spent on social media. So, while there is a lot of hype around social, we are still in the early days of truly leveraging social as a powerful marketing tool.
Below I’ve listed three ways you can start utilizing Facebook to make sure you aren’t missing an opportunity:

  • Skunk Works Project

While it’s great to have an agency who can own Social and Digital, having staff internally that are just as skilled is important. Facebook advertising is relatively easy to get started with, so it lends a perfect opportunity to give a key staff member a skunk works type side project and see if they can get value out of Facebook. Let them be creative, see what you can get out of Facebook, a worst case scenario is results are unsuccessful but you have a staff member who learns new skills – this can’t be overlooked in a world that continues to rapidly move towards digital. 

  • Don’t Forget Mobile

It’s easy to think of Facebook as a website where people go to when they want to take a quick break from work or inconspicuously “catch up” with old friends, but the future of Facebook is Mobile. In fact Mark Zuckerberg recently stated that 600 Million are Mobile users. With that many users on Mobile already, you can be sure that any major updates to the platform will have mobile users top of mind. Combine that with Facebook’s need to continue to monetize, it’s probably safe to predict there will continue to be new and creative ways to reach your target audience through Facebook’s Mobile platform. Be sure to keep your ear to ground when it comes to Facebook and Mobile, test out new products, you never know when one might be just what you need to reach key targets!
Quick heads up! 
For more research on Social Marketing please view our report: Despite the Hype, B2B Social Marketing Is Still in Its Infancy: 2012 Guidance for New Investment Dollars and Staff

  • Ask For Help

No one is expecting you to be a Facebook expert – it is still a very new platform and it is ever changing. Thankfully, there a ton of innovative companies that work with the platform or leverage Facebook to help large brands reach their goals. Start with your agency, see if they have resources, partners, or experience with building out the type of campaigns you are looking for, if they don’t have the answers, find out what vendors are leaders and schedule a call with them to see what they can offer. You don’t have to go at it alone. 

Regardless of what you do remember to measure measure measure. We never advocate aimlessly trying new strategies without a solid plan and a way to track and compare.
Have you had any experiences with leveraging Facebook? Let me know how it went and how you think it can be best used to reach your audience (if at all!).
Sam is a Research Analyst within IDC’s CMO Advisory Service you can follow him on twitter: @SamMelnick

Social Marketing: Beyond the Hype or Behind the Curve?

What is the reality of Social Marketing adoption? Does usage match up to the hype and high expectations? Or is this already an over-blown marketing fad, even in these early days?

IDC is beginning to see excellent examples of use, where Social Marketing is moving beyond  experimentation and is beginning to put down roots as a “value-adding” contributor within the marketing-mix. Our latest research from shows that 84% of IT buyers are accessing social media to keep up with trends and stay connected.

However, of that same 84%, only 19% believe that social media has influenced how they interact with vendors and make purchase decisions. It would seem that tech vendors and tech buyers are inhabiting many of the same Social media spaces, but Social Marketing as a more intentional effort to influence buyers still needs work. Tech marketers are learning that they must give before they expect to receive, and focus on creating social media interactions that are highly relevant and provide value to buyers.

IDC is closely watching levels of investment and attention to the deployment of Social Marketing. How much is actually being spent in this area? What is the marketing-mix allocation of scarce monies and human resources to work on these initiatives? IDC starts by looking at investment and activity in Social Marketing. When one examines the actual allocations. the results are surprising. Investment in Social Marketing tools and programs is just 1.3% of the discretionary budget for a large IT vendor. As for the human resource: dedicated Social marketing talent is just .7% of total staff – or in other words – a part of one person’s time.

The infrastructure and tools to support Social Marketing must come in to place. Our research also shows that Social Marketing tools are at the top of the CMO’s shopping list for 2012. Only 34% of marketers surveyed currently agree that they have access to the right information at the right time to support decision making, analysis, planning, or forecasting.

We are still in the early days of this. I cast my vote on the side of optimism, and believe that Social Marketing execution will, in-time, be a core element of the B2B marketers tool kit.

In the mean-time, assess where are you on your progression towards delivering value, and earning the rewards of Social Marketing. Here are three tips for Social Marketers:

1) Don’t rush the listening process: Our parents taught us to “listen before you speak” and here is a great place to remember their words. IDC is seeing good usage of Social Marketing for the key activity of “Listening and Monitoring”. In fact, “just listening” to the conversations about your company–without even “saying” anything–is an excellent way to step into this new media. Many companies are rushing this step, which has limited their ability to meaningfully engage with their targets. Data from IDC’s 2012 Buyer Experience Study shows that buyers are most commonly found in communities and blogs, making them an excellent source of relevant conversations.

2) It’s not only about presence, it’s about influence. Always prioritize the value that you can bring to your audience. Help educate them. Help connect them with their peers. These are attributes that they dearly seek, versus being “sold to” by their tech vendors.

3) Invest and evolve: Continue to invest in Social Marketing and increase proficiency. The relatively low level of dollar and staff outlay will grow quickly in the coming years. At the same time, there should be a relatively sizable gain in cost per impact vs. traditional media. Social Marketing is capable of providing high impact at a relatively low cost. Invest and increase proficiency to achieve higher levels of impact.

Update on Social Business Transformation

Social Media in the B2B world has got a bit of a bad rap right now. Let’s frame the problem. The obstacles might be spoken (or whispered) as:

• “These new communication platforms, and this social media movement within our company…is …who knows? Well, let’s just keep an eye on it. Let’s see what develops. But for the time being these are…
• NOT the valid business-communications media we should be using to communicate with the serious audience we wish to reach. “

These obstacles may be over-observed.

Let’s broaden the definition and talk not about Social Media, but about “Social Business Transformation”. The real Transformation lies not in what you see: with Twitter or LinkedIn or FaceBook. For personal networking, these tools may be the whole game: you are involved in connections that are one or two links deep. But at the enterprise level these tools are merely the surface layer. Social Business Transformation is about deep communications adaptation; changes in culture; new rules of engagement; shifts in organizational centers-of-influence; and then (lastly) the associated tools and technologies that enable communications on the surface.

IDC is digging deeper to uncover this major trend and transformation in business communications. “Social” will continue to press its way into the enterprise – into our lives as business professionals.

With my research partner and IDC’s Social Business expert Erin Traudt, IDC has just completed a series of interviews with IBM about their own Social Business Transformation We are impressed with IBM’s accomplishments.

To boil it down, here are three observations for Social Business Transformation success:

1. Tap in to the Professional Ego.

You say that you enter into a web community because you want to “connect”. But I would suggest that most of the energy behind any personal or business Social Media activity has a strong element of: “Here I am!” None of us would enter a single Social keystroke unless we wanted to satisfy an ego need. The need to feel important. And, (fingers-crossed), the desire to be recognized! By extension, would not the math argue that if we spend nine or ten hours each day at the workplace, that this dynamic should be a more powerful force in the business world (“Look at my great new technical workaround!”) than in the personal world (“Look at my cool new postcard collection!”)

The IBM developerWorks website is a technical resource for the IBM developer community. Established in 2000, it is now one of the largest IBM sites, with over 4 million unique visitors per month. It is a resource where developers in the IBM ecosystem offer their knowledge and skills. About one-half of the content on this vast site is posted from outside of IBM: developers, partners, and customers. Why does it work? Professional ego! But it takes time and investment. developerWorks has been an eleven-year work-in-progress for IBM.

2. You can’t force interaction.

The viable and vibrant IBM communities we have studied are years in the making. It takes significant time and investment to devlop a community to the point where it is somewhat self-sustaining. One IBM executive noted that Community development is like planting a tree where the first year of nurturing, watering and pruning requires almost constant attention. And more than one IBM community that we examined was several years underway and still under active investment mode. It is also notable that each Community only becomes self-sustaining because of the external contributions (see above). Our estimate would be that for every one community that is self sustaining, that there are hundreds in “push” mode (hoping that our voices will be heard and enjoined).

“If the people don’t want to come, all the marketing in the world won’t stop them”.

3. Construct and Adhere to Policy.

This is interesting. I think we all are a bit attracted to the Social Media because we can express ourselves in a way that allows us to put our corporate toes across the corporate line, if even for an instant! However, the successful sites that are viable today are here in part to some basic and sensible policing. We have to. We all need to protect our customers, to do the best by them.

Our sense is that sustained and successful Social Business Transformation efforts are going to be more powerful than we have ever imagined. Good examples (such as with IBM) are already in place. Of course there are challenges; but these obstacles will over time be trumped by the benefits (see Figures).

How is your company coming along on its own Social Business Transformation?
– Rich Vancil

Social Media is Not Marketing…Yet

I have just returned from the Bay Area where last week I moderated a panel of senior marketers on the topic of Social Media within the complex B2B marketing mix.

The more I think through the potential for this area, the more excited I become about the contributions that Social Media will eventually make to marketing.

What is most promising is that “Social” will help to transform marketing communications into what it should be: a two-way interaction between buyer and seller. Presently, much of our marketing communications is just the opposite: a one-way push of the vendor’s voice.

But Social Media is not Marketing…Yet. Mostly, it’s a jumbled mass of dialogue with a lot of static to sort through.

Social Media will become marketing when two things happen. First it needs to contribute to the “inbound” side of marketing. Web 2.0 conversations about your company’s product and services need to be mined and gleaned so that they become valuable components of your product management decisions. The litmus test here is that your product managers start to depend on those contributions.

The second thing that needs to happen is on the “Outbound” side of marketing. The litmus test here is that Social Media needs to become a primary preference for how buyers inform their decisions. IDC research shows that buyers almost always prefer to receive information from independent third parties and from their peers. So, Social Media should really shine in this application.

There is important work ahead to make it this happen. It’s all about how to operationalize your marketing organization to reap the benefits of Social Media. “Operationalize” doesn’t make it through your spell-checker… but it is on the lips of the best marketers in tech, today. Only with operational depth will Social earn its way into the marketing mix. In our latest survey of CMO’s less than one-half said that they were making “significant” progress on this task – and that’s from an audience who tend to self-rank pretty high.

Here are three operational Best Practices that I see marketing leaders taking, right now. These leaders, by the way, are moving quickly on these. My sense is that they know that these basic operational tasks need to be completed well before the inbound and outbound marketing benefits can be realized.

1. Centralize. If you have followed the IDC CMO area research, you know that we are not great fans of heavy-handed corporate marketing. But in this case we are pressing hard for this. The issue is that (Congratulations, by the way) everyone in your company is now in marketing! Well-meaning engineers are merrily blogging about a new technical advance. Your sales reps are tweeting about a local seminar that they are setting up. The problem is that we are creating the perfect environment for a major breach of data. A privacy issue will be violated; an important confidentiality will be disclosed. When this happens, the blame I think is going to wind its way back to the marketing department, regardless of marketing’s role in the breach. So, corporate marketing needs to have the basics of governance and policy in place.

The second opportunity for centralization is for shared service creation. One of my clients has five major development groups and the lead developer in each group took a separate initiative to construct a community site for the development community and their most engaged customers. Couldn’t the deployment of a master community site with five sub-divisions have saved money? Yes. And wouldn’t it be easier to then deploy a single mining tool across those sub-divisions? Yes.

2. Train. I don’t think that there is a lot of good external “courseware” for how to conduct Social Media Marketing. But wait! Remember that everyone in your company is now in marketing?? I would bet that for every 100 people who are involved in Social conversations, that you have two or three real sharp-shooters. Find those two or three, and have them train the rest.

3. Measure. Poor metrics can give good marketing activities a bad name. One of the basic faults in metrics development is measuring activities and not results. Measuring the number of Tweets or enumerating the cast of your Followers are stark examples of these errors. Measure how many buying decisions you influenced. Measure how many customer service issues you identified and passed on to the right area for resolution. It seems basic but I am surprised at how many marketers still measure just the volume, the activities. Why? Because it’s easy. You have to be willing and able to do the harder work.

“Operationalize” for Social Media. An important initiative for 2010.