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February 28, 2008

How IT Companies Have Leveraged Social Media

587214_hands_revised.jpg How are technology companies incorporating social media into their corporate marketing campaigns? We all know that most tech companies already use podcasts, webcasts and video to market their products and services, but what other tools are being employed by IT companies both large and small? By reaching out to users with interactive tools, technology companies are finding that there is a place for social media in their marketing departments.

I visited websites of 10 large technology companies to learn more about how organizations have implemented social media into their corporate websites. Each of the companies I researched is using social media in some form - check out what I found below:

Cisco Systems
When visiting the Cisco site you can easily navigate to their "Human Network" - a place where users can log in to watch videos, read and share stories about their experiences with Cisco technology, and communicate with their network members. In their blog, Cisco touts the success they have had with collaboration tools such as wikis, forums and other interactive technologies - and from looking at the site, you get the impression that they know what they're talking about.

There is a prominent link at the bottom of the homepage on the Dell website. By clicking the link, users are directed to the Dell Online Community. On this site, Dell offers a portal filled with user-generated content (reviews, conversations, suggestions), rich media (podcasts, videos), and other social media tools including a Dell Wiki, a link to Dell on Second Life, and Member Spotlights (profiles of Dell Community members).

HP has jumped full-force into blogging, and publishes blogs on a range of categories - from Innovation to Mobility & Wireless. When you're on the HP Blog site, you have options to view other rich media (podcasts, videos, webcasts), but there is no robust HP online community. And while you can read about Customer Stories, the stories are actually more like case studies, and users are unable to contribute their own. One unique feature of the HP site is their Online Classes - where users can log-in, register for a class, and learn about different topics online.

IBM has developed an Executive Innovation Channel that works as a forum for users to investigate specific technology topics, find resources related to those topics, and connect with IBM employees about the topics. While there is no user-to-user interaction, IBM has clustered rich media content (including Flash videos and audio files) that relate to the topics, for easy access, and they also track your interactions with their content as you move from topic to topic.

Nokia's slogan is "Connecting People," and they make that possible in their "Forum Nokia," an online community site where users can learn about Nokia products, visit the Nokia blogs, contribute to the Nokia wikis or join the discussion boards. Nokia has implemented popular tagging searches on their blogging site, and users can search their blog posts by keywords. When you view the Nokia product pages, there are RSS feeds to user blogs, videos and news. You can also visit the Nokia Workshop, where users write about their experiences with Nokia technology.

Research in Motion
Research in Motion, best known for their BlackBerry smartphones has a "BlackBerry Owners Lounge" on their website where BlackBerry devotees can log in and communicate with other BlackBerry users, read member stories, download free games and applications for their devices and share tips and tricks about their BlackBerries. Community members are granted access to free ringtones and downloads that non-members are unable to access, and you're given the impression that membership makes you part of an exclusive club.

The SAP Business Community and SAP Developer Network are both online communities that provide a place for SAP customers to share their experiences, find useful information, and easily locate upcoming events - both virtual and live. While the SAP communities don't have the flashiness of some other social media sites, they have forums for users to discuss individual products in-depth with others, and also access rich media content.

Sun Microsystems
Sun Microsystems has created interactive experiences that give users the opportunity to "Discover" and "Participate," and also join one of their ten communities. Sun has developed communities for all kinds of users - including the press, their customers, and their investors. By clicking on any of their community portals, you are taken to sites that offer news, rich media, online discussion forums, blogs, and resource centers. While Sun's sites lack the flashy experience found on some of the other tech company websites, they provide high-quality information, a place to share and collaborate, and regularly updated news and opinions related to their products.

Symantec offers a user-based network on the Symantec Technology Network (STN), a community that includes links to Symantec blogs, forums and videos. The community network is resource-heavy, and provides easy access to a range of Symantec product information. The forums and blogs have lots of posts, but given the topics, the site is geared more toward highly technical discussions of Symantec's products than toward the sharing of user stories and experiences.

Looking around the Toshiba website,there was a lack of social media allowing user interaction with the site. After clicking around the Business Products Services and Support page, I was able to find a few "forums," but to use those you have to navigate to a specific product's support page, and hope that they have a real forum setup - not just a page with contact information or a web-form to complete. In the consumer products area of the site there are user reviews (and a way for you to submit your own review), but overall Toshiba offers few ways for users to interact.

Stay tuned for more! Next I'm going to look at 10 small technology companies and see what they're doing with social media on their websites.

February 27, 2008

Will Social Media Kill "Campaigns?"

With the recent surge in the use and interest of social media as a B2B marketing tool, now is a good time to address the coming changes to how this industry does business. By incorporating new social media technologies into lead generation and marketing efforts, B2B marketers may have to reconsider how view their customers and their clients.

In Buzz Marketing for Technology, Paul Dunay makes an excellent point regarding the possible demise of the traditional "campaign" due to social media's impact on marketing. In his post, There is No "Campaign" in Social Media, Dunay defines traditional marketing campaigns as such:

When marketers use the word “campaign,” it tends to suggest an initiative to get a message out to a targeted group of constituents. It also implies there will be a beginning and, somewhere down the road, an ending.

With social media playing a larger and larger role in the B2B marketing industry however, "campaigns" become outdated. According to Dunay, marketing via social media modes (blogs, podcast series, virtual communities) requires long-term user participation. Because users have to get involved in order for social media to really work, you have to continue reaching out, engaging your prospects and asking them to join the conversation.

By relying on the user to respond to our offerings, it's possible that we will have to cultivate, nurture and score leads in a completely different manner. "Campaign" time frames may lengthen, and the way leads are valued may change. Lead scoring, and the management of leads over time, may become the most important part of lead generation, especially if companies discard time frames for lead guarantees and concentrate on lead quality instead.

February 25, 2008

Become a Blogger Today

With the growing popularity of blogs - over 12 million Americans currently maintain blogs and 57 million Americans read blogs according to the BlogWorld & New Media Expo website - now may be a good time to examine the benefits of adding a blog to your organization's marketing toolkit. There are a multitude of benefits to corporate blogging, and I've listed a few below to shine some light on the benefits of jumping into the blogosphere.

Build Brand Awareness
Blogs are good tools for building brand awareness, educating users about your company and its offerings, and establishing your place online and in the marketplace. If a website was the must-have corporate marketing vehicle of the past 10-years, a blog is the must-have tool today. By tagging your posts, images and blog with search engine optimized keywords, you can drive traffic to your blog and increase your organization's overall audience. And while websites can also be optimized for search (and should be), the dynamic nature of blog publishing increases the number of tags you can use, and the frequency with with you are attaching your organization to new tags. In the article, Branding and Advertising: Using your Blog to Build your Brand, Angela Booth of Blogging for Dollars writes that the longer a blog is online and the more content is contained within, "the more useful it becomes for organic search for more terms." Once your blog is discovered - even unintentionally via searches - the more likely you are to drive traffic to your blog and to your organization.

Become Recognized as a Thought Leader
When writing a blog, you have the chance to share your knowledge with the world and become an expert in your field. Brian Carroll, of InTouch and author of B2B Lead Generation Blog, is an excellent example of a marketing blogger who has used his knowledge and his blog to become a thought leader in his field. Carroll started writing his blog in order to help other marketers by sharing his knowledge. According to Carroll in the recent Marketo article - Lead Nurturing with Brian Carroll - his speaking events and blogging led a publisher to him, and from there he wrote "Lead Generation for the Complex Sale."

Interact with Your Current & Potential Customers
When you publish a blog, subscribers and visitors have the opportunity to provide feedback, share their opinions and generally interact with you (and therefore with your organization) easily and with little commitment on their part. Instead of forcing site users to fill out a web-based form that includes all of their contact information, send you an email or pick up the phone and call your company, a blog lets people leave quick comments about any of your posts. Once published, other users can join the conversation and respond to what people are saying about your blog and about your company. By providing an open forum for discussion, you have an opportunity to see what your users are thinking, learn how your views and ideas match up with their expectations, and publicly respond. Suddenly, your interactions with your users are on view for all to read, and your company is viewed as being accessible and open to the views of your users.

Continually Engage with Your Customers & Potential Customers
Every time you publish a new blog post, you have a chance to put your message in front of your users - automatically. By prompting readers to sign up for your blog's RSS feed, you can deliver new posts directly to your target audience whenever you publish. Each time your users read your blog, you have the chance to remind them of your message and encourage their participation with your company.

You can also check out these sites to learn more about the growing popularity of blogs and to get a general idea about the omnipresence of blogs on the web:

BlogPulse is an automated trend discovery system and search engine for blogs.
Technorati is a blog search engine that tracks blogs and social media online.
Tailrank is a memetracker that finds and tracks popular blog posts from millions of blogs.
BlogScope is an analysis, visualization and tracking tool for the blogosphere.

February 19, 2008

Social Media as a B2B Marketing Tool

social media.jpgWith the popularity of social media sites like Twitter and Flickr, it's no surprise that B2B marketers are starting to reconsider social media tools for their marketing strategies. Overall, B2B marketers have not fully jumped on the social media bandwagon, it seems however, that the tide may be about to change.

Back in June, Jon Miller of Marketo published What's Wrong with Social Media for B2B Marketing on SearchEngineLand. com. In his article, Miller argues that to effectively use social media, you need to be marketing trendy or popular products or concepts that will motivate users to interact with your site. And while B2B marketing can incorporate some social media practices - especially for traffic generation, brand awareness, and direct selling - the relative straight-forward nature of B2B marketing topics limits user interaction.

Lately however, it seems that more and more B2B marketers are realizing the benefits of using social media and are trying to implement social media on their websites and in their marketing campaigns. Enterprise marketers are starting to offer more live and virtual events, bookmarking and tagging options, and Web 2.0 applications that let their users respond to, comment on, and sometimes even create their own content.

Have you begun implementing social media in your marketing practices? Are you interested in learning more about how you can use social media to enhance your B2B marketing campaigns? I've found a few resources that may help you get started. Feel free to start participating yourself and leave a comment - after all, we can only make social media a B2B marketing reality if we're all ready to take action and interact with marketing campaigns.

Social Media: Where Should BtoB Marketers Start?, is a free archived webinar that features Vice President, Principal Analyst Laura Ramos of Forrester Research and Rob Solomon, CEO and Founder of Bulldog Solutions.

Deciphering Social Media is a free TeleBriefing in which Anil Dash, chief evangelist of Six Apart, and Chris Howard, VP and Service Director of Burton Group's Executive Advisory Program, join Principal Analyst Mike Gotta for a lively discussion on the challenges and benefits social media presents to the enterprise.

You can also check out Koka Sexton's Super List of 50 Social Media Links if you want to learn more about social media in general.


February 14, 2008

IT Marketing and the Economy

financial_resized.jpg Are you concerned about the current state of the US economy and how an economic downturn will affect your business? Have you wondered what will happen if businesses across the country scale back or cancel big-ticket IT purchases because they fear an impending recession? With the Federal Reserve Bank's recent rate cuts, the continual decline of the NYSE and NASDAQ, it's easy to see why so many people are concerned about entering a recession. At the same time, it's important to stay positive, hope for the best, but as always, plan for the worst.

While business remains strong in this first quarter of 2008, it is clear that more and more IT marketers are concerned about the effects of a recession on the overall industry. In reading through my weekly line-up of marketing Websites and blogs, I stumbled upon a few resources that address the economy and its impact on IT marketing and thought it might be useful to present them here.

In his February 6 white paper, Strategies For Interactive Marketing In A Recession, Forrester Research's Josh Bernoff addresses the impact of an economic downturn on interactive marketing initiatives. According to Bernoff, the inherent nature of interactive marketing makes it a relatively safe place to invest, even with a looming recession. Interactive marketing applications tend to be inexpensive to build and maintain, and traffic is driven via user interaction and word-of-mouth. These unique aspects of interactive marketing programs make them affordable to build, implement and maintain, and they provide a high return-on-investment. Read Bernoff's paper here and find out if including more social media and interactive marketing strategies in your 2008 marketing campaigns could actually be the more cost-effective way of doing business.

In this free podcast, The Economy and IT Initiatives, the Burton Group outlines what enterprises learned through strategic planning during the last economic down-turn in the scope of data center management, security initiatives, and identity management projects. If you are concerned about the economic impact of a recession on IT buying in the enterprise, listen to this informed account of how organizations respond to down-turns. This podcast is available on the Burton Group site through February 28.

BtoB Online is also offering free webinar titled How Marketers are Planning & Budgeting for 2008. Scheduled to air on February 28, this webinar will address the following:

• How marketers are measuring success in 2008;
• Where marketers are spending their online budgets; and
• What marketers think about current economic conditions, and how these are affecting their plans and budget.

The good news, according to the 2008 Marketing Priorities and Plans survey (BtoB Online), is that in 2008, B2B marketers plan to increase their overall marketing budgets.


February 08, 2008

Maintain Your Online Reputation

junk_email_resize.jpg Email marketing via eNewsletters is a highly effective way to generate online leads and promote your company's offerings. With the popularity and relative ease of sending eNewsletters, it is important to remember that each time you send an eNewsletter, your organization's reputation is on-the-line. If you want to maintain a good reputation, maintain your subscribers and deliver valuable products that drive clicks, you may want to consider the following checks on your eNewsletter processes:

1. Do you have permission to email your subscribers? Are you sending your subscribers only those messages for which they have requested and opted-in? Make sure your subscribers have all opted-in to your eNewsletters and have access to functional, easy-to-use unsubscribe links (in each eNewsletter) if they change their minds.

2. Are you considered a spammer? Do you send so many emails that your subscribers hit the unsubscribe list just to stop the deluge? Do you have a list full of undeliverable email addresses? To stay off black lists, limit how many emails your organization is sending each day, and honor all unsubscribe requests. Implement "list hygiene" practices and scrub out junk email addresses before they are added to your lists.

3. Are your subscribers able to read your eNewsletters once they're received? Have you tested each of your messages to make sure the images, links and text render properly in different email clients? Testing eNewsletters is essential to make sure that graphics and links render properly once delivered. By sending test messages to the big email clients (Hotmail, Yahoo, AOL), you also ensure that your eNewsletter images aren't getting blocked for security reasons.

4. Does your eNewsletter design work for your users? Do you deliver a product that inspires people to open, read and click through your content? A/B testing is helpful in determining what works for eNewsletters. When implementing changes, make sure you test out new ideas on your users, and let the metrics help you decide which designs best suit your users.

5. Do you deliver value in each eNewsletter you send? Do you send updated, timely and relevant content that matches your users needs? The greatest eNewsletter ever created will fall short if you are unable to provide your subscribers with interesting content. Make sure that you are sending new material with each eNewsletter, and look at the click-through rates and metrics to determine if your efforts are working.

By staying on top of these kinds of eNewsletter issues, your organization will be better suited to build a positive online reputation and protect their brand. By respecting opt-in and unsubscribe requests, maintaining clean lists, testing your products and always sending relevant content, you are better able to retain both the trust of your subscribers and an online reputation that keeps you out of spam filters.

February 01, 2008

How to Use Telemarketing to Nurture Leads

If one of the goals of your lead nurturing campaign is to become a trusted adviser to prospects as they move along the IT buying process, you might consider using telemarketing to achieve that goal. By introducing telemarketing as a lead nurturing tool, you create a two-way communication channel with your prospects that allows you to learn more about their needs as they learn more about your offers.

telnet.gif In her article, Show 'Em the Love: How You Can Create a Content-Rich Nurturing Strategy, Kathy Rizzo of TelNet Marketing Solutions talks about how telemarketing can be used to reach out to prospects and determine what content they are ready to receive. Rizzo writes that the most effective way to nurture your prospects is by providing them with timely and relevant content that is suited to their purchasing needs, and in order to determine what kind of content best fits their needs, it's important to keep the lines of communication open, which is best achieved through telemarketing.

When calling prospects, you need to ask a series of pointed questions that get to the heart of their buying need and timeline. Once you determine your prospects' needs, you can use telemarketing and email touches to reach out and deliver strategic content that will move them further along the buying process. Instead of simply sending automated content to your entire list of leads, you are now able to break your leads into segmented lists and send specific content that you know will be found useful by your leads.

By incorporating telemarketing into your lead generation and lead nurturing strategies, you recognize the importance of tailoring your efforts to individual buyers and targeting your tactics to fit your users' specific needs. And each time you reach a potential buyer via the phone, you are given the chance to gather data on their purchasing process and refine your marketing efforts to match.