Category Archives: Social Networks

Need to reach B2B buyers? Ignore social media at your peril

Business-to-business (B2B) marketing executives may comfort themselves that they don’t have to think about social media because, “That’s for consumer products.” That excuse has just been exploded by Forrester Research. Although no one should storm into an uncharted jungle unprepared, Forrester advises that B2B marketers had better start donning their pith helmets and sharpening their machetes.

In research findings released last month, Forrester reports the following:

If you’re a B2B marketer and you’re not using social technologies in your marketing, it means you’re late. … [Although there are some strong b2b companies doing well in the social media space], a lot of the blogs, communities, and other social outreach from business to business companies is less than mature, to say the least.

This is your chance to stand out. Take this report and show it to your boss to convince her that it’s time to get started.

This chart shows the Technographics of the B2B buyers they investigated. Although they are an admittedly “plugged-in” audience (they are technology buyers for the most part), Forrester discovered that 91% of the group were Spectators, the highest percentage they’ve ever witnessed in a Social Technographics Profile.

b2b_social_participation_sm

Even the overall Creators (i.e., bloggers, forum posters, etc.) and Critics (those who use social media to rate products and post reviews) are quite high, at 43% and 58%.

The Takeaway

The way businesses buy is changing fast, and in the direction of ignoring the marketer altogether. Instead, they’re talking amongst themselves, in conversations that B2B marketers should ignore at their peril.

Social Media 101: Get your feet wet with Facebook

This morning I was part of a panel discussion, talking to the Greater Milwaukee Committee’s Insider Breakfast, held at The University Club. The topic was social media. One of the questions from the audience was (to paraphrase), “I know of MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc., but the only one I am a member of is LinkedIn — and I barely know how to use that. How do I prioritize as I get my feet wet in them?” Panelists had varying opinions, but I opted for a one-word answer: Facebook.

Facebook announce this week it's becoming more like Twitter. Click to via a larger graphic

Start with Facebook, I advised.

Others, notably GMC president Julia Taylor (whose Twitter presence is @JHTaylor) and Cd Vann (@ThatWoman_SOHO), “participating visionary” of SOHO|biztube.com, disagreed. They leaned more toward Twitter as a place to start. As much as I enjoy Twitter, and find it invaluable in my consulting business, I rarely suggest a client start there as a way to understand the experience. Here are my reasons:

4 Reasons Why Facebook Is A Better Set of Training Wheels

  1. Twitter is too scary — Three weeks ago NY Times tech columnist David Pogue finally dipped his own toe into the waters of Twitter. Pogue began the column by saying, “I’m supposed to be on top of what’s new in tech, but there’s just too much, too fast; it’s like drinking from a fire hose. I can only imagine how hopeless a task it must be for everyone else.” This was his apology for being a “geek” and not being willing to face the ugly, 140-character beast that is Twitter. I feel for him. But more importantly, I feel for the clients who have to learn the arcane nomenclature of “re-tweets,” hash-tags and Twitter agents. When the panel discussion was over, I confided to Mary McCormick of the Rotary Club of Milwaukee that mere mention of Twitter causes most of my clients to go into spasms. I wouldn’t knowlingly wish that on anyone!
  2. Twitter is too amorphous — The same quality that makes Twitter so popular also makes it a little too much like a multi-faceted, super-charged desktop application (think Excel) that is daunting specifically because it is so versatile. I find myself using Twitter for a lot of things, and this versatility can lead to early abandonment and disappointment (read the book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less for how this veritable banquet we face can be psychologically overwhelming).
  3. Facebook lowers the chance of a “crappy first experience”Robert Scoble wrote that there is a barrier we’re facing today. It’s a “new digital divide.” The divide is between the folks who can swim easily in the social network pool and the “normal” people who refuse to or are afraid to dive in. Scoble writes that when these normal people get into a social network, “they enter a pretty lame environment since there are no friends … The first experience is a real crappy experience, since there’s no input. And it’s all about input from other users.” Facebook is more helpful than Twitter, and it’s easier to find a group of folks you can immediately “friend.” They can help you, and reduce the crap risk significantly.
  4. Facebook is becoming more like Twitter by the week — Just this week Facebook announced new changes to their interface. They make this social networking site, which already has a version of “tweets” in their mini-feed feature, even more like its competitor for user attention and participation.

I think all of us on the panel would agree that if you are a business leader, you need to start personally leaping the chasm — the digital divide — to get a feel for the new communication medium. You need to give social media a try. If you choose Facebook, I’m here. If it’s Twitter, I’ll see you there too, at @TheLarch!

5 blogging tips for small business

Many moons ago the authors of the book Citizen Marketers posted a list of reasons why small businesses of all stripes — either b-to-c or b-to-b — should consider blogging.


computer

Equally valuable in their post were these tips for the business blogger once the thing is up and running. Here they are:

  1. Do not have someone else write your blog. Write it yourself.
  2. Blogs should not be managed by the PR department or ad agency. Blogs are best when they’re authentic, which may include run-on sentences, detailed analysis or critical opinions. Typically, those qualities run counter to the sensibilities of traditional public relations.
  3. Do not have a thin skin. Comments to your posts may bite or sting, especially while other people watch. But a strong benefit of blogs: unwarranted criticism often causes other customers often to spring to your defense. Trust-based relationships emanate from taking the bad with the good.
  4. Do not let your blog go unattended for weeks at a time. Focus on several posts per week, even if they’re just a few paragraphs.
  5. Do not make your blog a branding exercise of self-centeredness. If you endlessly promote yourself and your services, no one will care.

Much of what followed in their post is dated. But re-reading it just now, I see these five tips as withstanding the test of time. Violate them at your own risk.

Google Latitude brings web closer to place-based networking

Today Google has proved correct the predictions of many, including anthropologist and technology expert danah boyd. For years she has been fond of saying that the next iteration of the web — the much ballyhooed Web 3.0 — will be place-based. In a post of hers from two years ago, she writes the following:

I believe that geographic-dependent context will be the next key shift. GPS, mesh networks, articulated presence, etc.

People want to go mobile and they want to use technology to help them engage in the mobile world.

Leaping across the chasm to a robust mobile web experience won’t be easy. Especially in this country. Like the ancient city of Bable, the current state of U.S. carriers is one of everyone speaking a different language.

This suits the carriers just fine.

As long as you cannot easily share rich functionality with someone who has a different cell plan, the temptation to switch is less. In other words, as long as each carrier is as dumb as the next, we all remain tied to our current one. In a confederacy of dunces, you might as well stick with the dunce you know.

Enter Google, Stage Left

Even before 2005, when Google purchased Dodgeball, there have been indications that they see the future in place-based networking. Everyone has been watching for the big play; the one that will accelerate the steady march to this new networked experience.

In the meantime, many of us have done our own experimenting with what has been available. I, for one, have toyed with Brightkite.com — especially its “I am here” interface with Twitter (my handle in both: TheLarch).

The experience has been kludgy.

This is rarely a word used for Google applications, though. And today they officially announced Google Latitude.

Here’s a video to explain how it works. It’s about (surprise, surprise) privacy:



What Latitude will do for our progress toward rich mobile networking is not necessarily revolutionary, but it is evolution on steroids.

I am certainly not the only person predicting that the news today is big.

I am, however, the only one in this particular location. Perhaps by later this year, if you’re a close friend, and I choose to let you know, you’ll be able to know through Latitude exactly where my current “here” happens to be.

Social networks and fundraising, Part 2

Below is a story far more personal and close-to-home than Part 1. This story illustrates how some extraordinary people — including co-workers and friends, but also connections I’ve initiated and fostered on Twitter and Facebook — helped improve and brighten the lives of some of Milwaukee’s under-served. The fundraising took place last month, for an event held Thursday, December 18, 2008, in the basement of a church on the corner of Milwaukee’s 54th Street and Capitol Drive.

The slideshow below shows just some of the smiles that this “picture-perfect” night created:

By way of background, I’d like to quote an email that I sent as part of my fundraising efforts. It explains our pretty ambitious plans for the Winter Holiday Fest. Here it is:

Hi —

To those who already know of this, and have contributed or pledged, THANK YOU!!! This is for everyone else:

My girlfriend and I have devoted a ton of time, and a lot of our own money, to make a holiday party truly special for 68 under-served preschoolers and their families.

These 4 and 5-year-old children are mostly of single-parent families, and many — if not most — are struggling for the basics, let alone a head start on their school years. For example, in order to qualify, a family of three must have a pre-tax household annual income of less than $18,000.

So my girlfriend and I have arrayed a small army of volunteers (8, to be precise!) and on December 18, 2008, we’re going to help these families where it counts. There will be a Winter Holiday Festival for them, and Sherry and I are going to:

  • Serve them a meal, since so many parents will be coming right from work: a hot dog, a bag of chips and a holiday cookie
  • Give them an 8″ x 8″ canvas bag with their name on it, containing crayons, pencils, a coloring book and a book mark
  • Set up a decoration station for them to further decorate this canvas bag
  • Set up a cookie decoration station to decorate the ginger bread man they each get (we baked them last night!)
  • Set up a photo booth. I’ll be taking their photos, and placing them in a thin, foam frame
  • This picture frame is then decorated by the kids at yet another station
  • Yet another booth will make “super balls” — a toy they can customize and bring home with them

I addition, each child will get a pair of knitted winter gloves and a fleece scarf — also labeled with their names on them, so they don’t get misplaced in the classroom.

Also, we are raffling off as many $20 baskets as we can afford, filled with flour, pancake mix, syrup, peanut butter, jelly, etc. — you get the idea. These are staples that the parents can use over the holiday and into the new year, along with some treats, such as two mugs with hot cocoa mix.

The only financial support we’re getting is from donations of people like you. Each $20 donation we receive will purchase one more basket of food, or other necessary supplies for the event.

Can you please pledge twenty bucks to this worthy cause? (Thanks, Nelie, for your $20 “seed money,” and to everyone else who has donated on this).

PLEASE HIT REPLY and say yes. Yes, I take checks … and IOUs! 😉

If you have other holiday charities, or other reason not to give, God bless you. But if you don’t, Sherry and I and the rest of the team will be supplying photos of the many happy memories that you will have helped to create.

Please say yes. Right now. THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

~Jeff

This and other efforts raised an impressive sum (including the money to cover other supplies, the amount came to $628). We were able to raffle off enough holiday baskets to make a lot of parents very happy indeed.

The Gift Basket Were A Huge Hit

Speaking of the baskets, I was a little astonished at the response. You would have thought we were giving away new cars!

Social Networks and Fundraising

Examples like TweetsGiving have demonstrated the power of social networks to get out the word. By contrast, this story shows more of the power of grassroots fundraising. Physical networks were leaned on heavily — especially my relationship with workmates at ec-connection, Nelson Schmidt and Madison’s Waldbillig & Besteman.

That said, you might have guessed that I “put the touch” on many of my closest online friends. Our fund raising tally was definitely boosted by my online network, including two of my newest friends. (@annNow and @ChrisQuick, you know who you are!)

For all of those who contributed, I want to say that I and the other volunteers (Shannon Schlintz, Jaime Schlintz, Paul Thomas, Noel Stollmack, Barb Lloyd, and event mastermind Sherry Richards) could not have done it without you.

And for those of you who are considering social networks as part of your fundraising efforts, rest assured that this and the case mentioned in Part 1 illustrate how, especially when your network is strong, you can accomplish amazing things!

Social networks and fundraising, Part 1

Shortly before Thanksgiving, a post on Twitter asked me and others on this friend’s network of “tweets” to consider helping in the building of a classroom in an African village. The link that was embedded in the tweet provided the details necessary to authenticate the appeal, and five minutes and one Paypal transaction later, I was back to work.

I was not alone.

The graphic below shows the pace of giving for this campaign, which successfully raised more than $10,000.

tweetsgiving_donations_by_day

More information on the campaign can be found at the Tweetsgiving web site, and in this post about the project, written as it was underway.

tweetsgiving_postscript

The success of this project should not be misinterpreted, however.

It would be easy to conclude that this illustrates the marketing reach and power of a new medium. Yes, it’s true that this “medium” is powerful. But as others have pointed out, it would be like saying the telephone is a powerful medium, because so much business is transacted over it.

Instead, we have to look at social networking as a new way of communication. Period.

And as long as the means of communication is handled well and for a compelling reason, exciting things can be built — a brand, a reputation … and even a classroom inTanzania.

Thrive in this down market by finding and catering to social customers

Database marketing consultant Kevin Hillstrom has done impressive work in helping retailers trace their customers across sales channels, using Multichannel Forensics (Note: this link is to a PDF file). Now he’s helping clients — and blog readers like me — to find creative ways to re-segment customer files based on responsiveness in a Web 2.0 world.

NOTE: Click for larger image

In his post, Kevin lists five segments of customers. Three are familiar: Organic (those customers who are your without a traceable stimulus, such as advertising), Advertising (they’ve purchased because of a non-discount-related ad) and Begging (you’ve given them discounts and other strong incentives).

Two are new to the Web 2.0 world, and thinking about them is a valuable exercise. They are Algorithmic and Social customers. Here is his description:

Then we have customers who use algorithms to purchase. Yup, these are the customers who use tools like paid search to purchase merchandise. These customers are different. They don’t always respond to future advertising, and when they do respond, they combine advertising and algorithms to make decisions. This is where your Net Google Score comes into play. Catalog brands really struggle with algorithm customers, and online marketers struggle with e-mail marketing programs for algorithm customers.

Increasingly, we find ourselves managing social customers. If you’re Crutchfield, you have customers who buy merchandise, customers who write reviews, and customers who are referred from blogs to your site. The latter two groups represent “social customers”. Social customers are different than are typical catalog customers, and are different than typical e-commerce customers.

These two segments describe a type of purchasing behavior that is brand new. Especially the Social customers.

Hillstrom goes on to say this about Social customers:

Catalogers are way behind the curve when it comes to managing social customers. In fact, almost everybody is behind the curve regarding social customers. Hint: Social customers don’t necessarily embrace catalogs, and sometimes get really angry when [you fill their] mailbox.

Smart catalog marketers are hyper-sensitive to the nature of their customer conversations. Even if you’re not in the catalog retail business, you should be too.

Here are two examples:

  1. When people arrive at your site from an organic search, greet them with the phrase they searched for (when it is a relevant phrase) and offer several links that can help them better find what they’re seeking. Then trace them to a conversion and compare to a control that receives no greeting.
  2. When people arrive from a social site, watch where they go within your site. For statistically significant instances (lots of page views, subscriptions to e-newsletters, etc.), consider making a friendly, overt presence on that social network (remember these 11 magic words when posting any social media comments).

Other ideas will come to you when you realize the obvious: The source of a customer changes that customer’s future buying behavior.

The new power to get in: Twitter

A decade ago Michael A. Boylan wrote a book on business to business (b-to-b) selling called The Power to Get In. It was publicized as “a step-by-step system to get in anyone’s door.” To reiterate the book’s promise of granting access, Boylan begins Chapter 1 with this pronouncement: “You’ve been frozen out.”

It’s a terrible feeling, and familiar to many who have something valuable to sell but cannot seem to get an audience with the proper buyers.

A case for Twitter for business

I’m not a sales coach, but I have personally seen that when you apply the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you) to Twitter, it can help you succeed. It may even help you regain that Power to Get In.

Here’s why people get “frozen out”: In the business world, we’re all overloaded with too many people who want a piece of us. This has a key driver behind the drop in responsiveness of these tried-and-tested lead-generation techniques:

  • Email open rates and click-throughs are falling
  • Direct mail is becoming more expensive and less effective
  • Phone calls, with their deadly voice mail phone screeners, aren’t being returned

Viewed 20 years ago, the solution would have been to learn to play golf. And that method is still viable today, for reasons I’ll get into in a moment.

But in the meantime, social media are providing quasi-business environments, most notably Facebook and Twitter. In both cases, these systems use a social phenomenon that’s come to be known as ambient awareness (here’s an excellent article on ambient awareness by Clive Thompson of The New York Times).

The growth of these seeming “distractions” (okay, real distractions), is two-fold.

1. Drinking from a fire hose

First, we are all overwhelmed. To use the famous metaphor, we are trying our best to drink from a fire hose of information. This was described wonderfully in the book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. For those who are inclined to try it, Twitter (and Facebook “mini-feeds”) can be a way to control this information flow. It’s like creating our own private channel of friends and business associates, available in real-time whenever we’re ready to check it out.

2. Special access to a private gathering

These micro-blogs allow us to grant special access. Remember when only a handful of your best friends and business colleagues would get your email address? Well, now your many email addresses are teeming with responsibilities and requests. Even our most private email accounts can become another obligation to maintain.

Relative silence, plenty of fresh air, and interesting challenges

Most humans who have been working at their computers much of the time yearn to be surrounded by friends and interesting colleagues, with few distractions. At one time, it was joining a country club that scratched that itch. Twitter is starting to do the same.

And because it is attracting some significant decision-makers, it is taking on some of the same appeals, in terms of lead generation, that golf does.

Ostensibly, golf is a game. But playing with potential business partners offers surprising access, and an informal context for the discussion of mutually beneficial opportunities. So golf is no mere game. The ambient awareness mechanism of Twitter offers the same lead-generation potential — if it is used properly.

The three rules to using Twitter for business

Follow these three rules and you cannot go wrong:

  1. Like other networking, think about helping others before yourself. Look for chances to respond to other people’s queries or interests
  2. Find chances to meet face-to-face. Here’s the story of my awakening to the potential in a “Tweet-up.”
  3. Never or rarely directly promote what you’re selling

Sign up for a free account on Twitter. Follow me if you’d like; I’m at @TheLarch. And then begin exploring a surprisingly productive business time-waster. Perhaps even as productive a time-waster as golf!

CNN’s Rick Sanchez on a social media adventure? For real.

Last night I was at a business event. During my mingling, I found myself attempting to convince the PR director of a major not-for-profit organization why she should care about social media. I thought I gave good and relavant arguments, but realized I’d only been partially successful.

She agreed that she’d have her organization join our local interactive marketing association, but said she would delegate attending the meetings: “I’ll send our web guy to them. He’ll understand all that stuff.” The problem is, if you don’t take the calculated plunge into social media, you cannot possibly grasp why it is such a game changer — for both the discipline of PR, and for marketing in general.

I wanted to tell her, “Considering your leadership position, delegating an education in online marketing to someone else is not a wise move, for either the organization or your own career.”

Just ask Rick Sanchez, co-anchor of CNN Newsroom. His newscast has lately included a real-time Twitter display, and tie-ins with Facebook and MySpace. I guarantee you that regardless of how carefully he and his producers planned this adventure in social media, they could not have planned for what would be thrown at them, and how they might respond.

Still thinking about my conversation with that PR director, I came home to read this update on a criticism that social media and marketing strategist David Berkowitz had posted about Rick’s show. David noted that Rick Sanchez had responded quickly and thoughtfully to his disappointments with the way social media were handled:

Rick managed to change my opinion of him the hard way – by taking the time to listen and respond to my comments, and to go above and beyond. He was authentic, personal, and immediately responsive, all important characteristics for any person or marketer determining how to respond to customer feedback.

This authenticity cannot be faked, and cannot be experienced at arm’s length.

I wish I could have pointed to this sequence of events — David’s post, Rick’s response, and the resulting good will and positive buzz — as a perfect example of good PR in a Web 2.0 world.

Regardless, she and others will be seeing other adventures in social media by broadcast journalists yet to come.

None of us have to climb up and try to surf a given wave that’s passing by. But as for this wave, if we’re in the communication industry, we will all most certainly be getting very wet, very soon.

Are widgets today’s ad specialties?

In a prior life I worked in direct response. My clients were mostly healthcare organizations — hospitals, physician groups and health plans. They used magnets. Lots of them. Not in their MRI devices, mind you. I worked with healthcare marketing departments.

No, these were refrigerator magnets. Magnets such as these:

Not very sexy, huh? Believe me, I tried to break my clients’ addiction to the things. I mean really!

Keeping Your Brand Top-of-mind

But I finally conceded that if you are selling a service that on any given day no one wants (no one, that is, except independently wealthy hypochondriacs), you need to have your brand nearby. Should the need suddenly arise, you want your brand to be the one consumers think about.

It’s not such a bad idea to be somewhere hard to ignore … such as on the door people swing open several times a day.

I eventually resigned myself to my career as a peddler of refrigerator magnets. My project managers were in frequent contact with our fridge magnet vendor, Magnets, LLC (above are examples pulled from their online catalog). Post cards we bulk mailed to targeted regions around our clients crackled with magnetism and hackneyed slogans.

Back then I would quip that if the physical law of magnetism was repealed, all of healthcare marketing would grind to a halt.

Then I joined the online world and mostly forgot all about these give-aways. Until yesterday.

This week Bob Garfield, in an Ad Age piece, compared online widgets to these lowly trinkets. Here’s an excerpt (emphasis mine):

For the past half-century (and for about five more minutes) TV advertising has been at the apex of marketing communications. Then, in no particular order, newspapers, magazines, radio, out of home, direct mail, point of purchase, collateral (brochures, for example) and — in the murky, mucky darkness at the very bottom of the deepest abyss of marketing prestige — advertising specialties.

For example, a ballpoint pen emblazoned with your insurance agent’s logo. Or a wall calendar, fridge magnet, coffee mug, yardstick, foam beer-can sleeve, ashtray, key fob, emery board, pocket diary — any cheap giveaway item meant to remind the consumer of you every single time she measures fabric or swigs a Pabst or files her nails …

In a digital world, advertising specialties are as analog as you can possibly get. Until they go digital.

Branded widgets are the refrigerator magnets of the Brave New World.

Say it ain’t so! Is someone playing a cruel joke?

Describing widgets, Garfield puts a finer point on his argument: “These compact, portable little software apps — from video players to countdown clocks to makeup simulators — are inexpensive to distribute, free to the user and (often enough) distinctly useful.”

That’s true. Just like ad specialties. They also remain, often, in front of a consumer until a need for the brand arises. “At a minimum,” Garfield states, “they carry an ad message wherever they go.”

He said “At a minimum.” There’s my loophole. This is what will restore me to respectability! Although Garfield says they are “distinctly useful,” he neglects to say just how useful. No one can argue that a fridge magnet can hold up a parent permission slip or shopping list, but did one ever report back to the advertiser about consumers’ aggregate kitchen behavior?

The best widgets, like the ones my team produces (either the freestanding web apps, or the Facebook games and calculators that are deep into our development queue now), do far more than simply justify their existence on a social media profile page or blog entry.

Because a widget can interact with consumers, and since we can attach precise web metrics to them, widgets can do valuable marketing work such as:

  • Pre-qualify prospects through calculators and configurators
  • Enlist customers in sharing your message with others who may also be prospects
  • Display and play user-generated content appealing to long tail interests
  • Entertain!

This last one is a biggy. Because, unlike refrigerator magnets, people actually want to pass along widgets. This may seem like a small thing to you, but this morning, it’s causing me to hold my head a little higher. I am no mere peddler of digital chochkees.

Social media powers fundraising for an African classroom

This morning I contributed to TweetsGiving, and I urge you to as well. It’s an excellent cause, and it can give you a first-hand experience in the power of social media. As the name implies, what is propeling this two-day fundraising effort is the micro-blogging platform Twitter.

As of this post, the total raised is $5,182. Here is what the TweetsGiving web site has to say about the effort:

Tweetsgiving is a project of Epic Change that seeks to demonstrate the power of twitter and the social web by spreading gratitude and raising $10,000 in 48 hours to build a classroom at the school in Tanzania. The project was inspired by the TrickorTweet campaign organized around Halloween by @TheGrok and @ChrisBrogan and by this “thank you” post.

Giving Thanks

Follow @TweetsGiving on Twitter. Then, as the site suggests, you can “Tweet thanks. Share something you’re thankful for with all your twitter followers. Your tweets can be touching or silly, poignant or fun. Just tweet from the heart and be sure to include the #TweetsGiving tag and a link to http://tinyurl.com/4thanks.”

And of course, be sure to give!