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How Smaller IT Companies Leverage Social Media

As promised in How IT Companies Have Leveraged Social Media, I investigated some smaller technology companies to learn where they are spending their social media dollars, and how social media is playing a role on their websites and in their customers' experiences. I found it interesting, though not too surprising, that most of the smaller tech companies have not implemented fancy social media tools, and have instead chosen to focus more heavily on using traditional rich media practices (the use of white papers, case studies, videos, podcasts & webinars) to educate their users on their products and services.

For these smaller companies, the most popular use of social media seems to occur when developers are invited to collaborate on further developing the products, and have a need for a forum where they can discuss their ideas. Red Hat, Juniper Networks and F5 all have these kinds of communities on their sites. Otherwise, these smaller companies are using blogs, wikis, and customer stories told via videos to engage their users and create a feeling of community and collaboration on their sites. Comprised of various companies from the CNNMoney list of the 100 Fastest-growing Technology Companies, the list below is a sampling of IT hardware, software and service companies that aren't quite as large as IBM or Microsoft, but who use social media to create communities and engage their customers.

1. Akamai is the leading global service provider for accelerating content and business processes online. Akamai places a high priority on the customer experience, and has created a page full of videos in which their customers talk about their experiences with Akamai logo.jpgAkamai. And because Akamai has so many high-profile clients, including the NBA, Fox Interactive and MySpace, their video presentations are a great way of letting people know the heavy-hitters that use their products. Users can also tour the Network Operations Command Center online and watch the Akamai Real-Time Web Monitor. While there in no user forum or online community through the Akamai site, the company's use of multimedia tools and customer stories gives the impression that they want their customers to share their stories feel as if they are part of a greater Akamai experience.

2. Epicor is a global leader dedicated to providing business software solutions to companies around the globe. In terms of their social media strategy, Epicor offers standard live and archived webinars that are designed to introduce and educate their users about their products and technology. The Epicor site also has a Customer Portal, where users can join discussions and access reference materials from one location. And while Epicor is still relying more on in-person events than on online events, they do have a User Conference page where users can access videos, customer testimonials and opportunities to provide feedback about what they'd like to see at future events. Epicor customers can also chat with live company representatives and subscribe to company alerts.

3. F5 Networks, a leader in Application Delivery Networking, provides solutions that ensure business applications are always secure, fast, and available. The most prominent aspect of F5's social media integration is their F5 DevCentral site - a f5 networks.jpgcommunity driven portal that provides links to blogs, forums, videos, wikis and other resources. F5 Networks has combined all kinds of user-created content - from blogs to wikis - in one location, so their customers can find information on their products and services quickly and easily. They also provide access to the F5 "Labs" - a place where users can present ideas for new products, product upgrades and other development-related concepts. Tags decorate the right-hand side of the page too, so users can see what other community members are interested in, and find related resources.

4. The Juniper Networks high-performance network infrastructure helps businesses create a responsive and trusted environment for accelerating the deployment of services and applications over a single network. One of the first places I visited on the Juniper Networks site was the J-Net Communities, an online portal that connects users and lets them share and discuss their use of Juniper products and services. The J-Net Community lets users see information about who's logged-in to the site, the most popular forums and user-based information. Juniper also has links to their official blog, Got the NAC, and provides a range of rich media tools to promote their products and services.

5. NetScout Systems, a leading provider of integrated network and application performance management solutions, offers the NetScout User Forum (an independent user group), where netscout logo.jpg
NetScout customers can come together to share their experiences with NetScout products. NetScout users can also read the NUFBlog, however they must first register with the NUF community to do so. Another area where NetScout users can participate more fully in the company is the Online Training Center, a resource portal that contains educational materials, interactive Flash presentations, and audio/video training modules. By engaging their users to learn about their products and participate in customer forums, NetScout has successfully employed social media tools that highlight user needs and experiences.

6. Packeteer - a leader in WAN Application Delivery and WAN Optimization - has taken the tack of using rich media to promote their offerings and offers a selection of multimedia demos, videos and webcasts that customers can access from their website. Packeteer also offers web-based training where users can find training materials on-demand. Finally, Packeteer has really embraced the concept of social media by hosting the Packeteer Technical Exchange, an online forum where users can join together to discuss topics related to Packeteer's product and service offerings.

7. Red Hat develops Linux and open source technology. Seeing as Linux and open source technology are built on the concept of collaboration and user-participation, it was no surprise that when I visited the Red Hat site I found a wide variety of social media tools. By clicking on the "Collaboration," link on the Red Hat site, I was dropped into a portal filled with links to videos, explanations of the open source philosophy, and links to Red Hat blogs including the Truth Happens. Truth Happens is one of many Red Hat blogs written by their employees, and discusses how collaboration plays a role in the company. You can also subscribe to and read the Red Hat Magazine, which includes a list of the site's most popular tags, current columns, and links to their online Developer Communities.

8. SanDisk makes innovative flash memory data storage and popular consumer storage technology including MP3 players. SanDisk offers their users the Sansa Community, an online forum where customers can discuss and compare products, services, and their experiences with SanDisk. The forums include polls and poll responses, information about what users are online at any given time, and the ability to personalize user profiles - all pretty standard community forum offerings. While SanDisk's site does not have a huge array of social media tools, they do have tools that allow you to determine what kind of product you might need, and to compare products easily from one location.

9. TIBCO Software makes enterprise software that helps companies achieve success in developing service-oriented architecture (SOA) and business process management applications. TIBCO is another company that has a Developer Network with access to user forums, user groups and popular downloads. TIBCO also offers a Customer Story center, where they use videos to tell their customers' stories. Additionally, TIBCO has joined the blogging culture and points their users to the TIBCO Executive Corner where the company has the stated goal of getting closer to their "customers, potential customers, analysts, partners, and employees." And while not on their corporate website, TIBCO has attracted attention lately with "Greg the Architect," a plastic doll who stars in videos that poke fun at technology implementation.

10. Websense, a leader in web filtering products, offers a portfolio of web and desktop security software. Websense does not have an online community or forum where their users can communicate with one another, but they do have MyWebsense - a portal where users can create accounts and log-in to find downloads, product information and support resources. Websense does create some topical podcasts, but otherwise sticks to standard rich media tactics (datasheets, white papers, case studies) to educate users about their products and generate interest in their company.

I hope this series has provided some insight into how companies are using social media tools to attract, retain and engage their customers. It's always interesting to understand how IT companies are using new technologies and marketing concepts to reach out to their users and get them involved in their companies. Feel free to drop me a comment about how your company is using social media, and how we could all be employing social media tactics to improve user experiences online.

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