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April 30, 2008

Educating People to Take Action

obama_revised.jpgSenator Barack Obama is considered to be the most plugged-in of the candidates when it comes to using the internet as a campaign tool. In the Rolling Stone article, The Machinery of Hope, the author discusses how Obama followed in Governor Howard Dean's footsteps when it came to using the Internet, and how initially, that was considered a risky thing to do (given Dean's political spin out in the 2000 Presidential election). With that said, Obama was wise to stick with his online strategy, and his wisdom has paid off in the guise of a robust website that's packed with social media tools.

Obama's homepage grabs the users and asks them to take action right away. Site visitors are greeted with a dynamic window that flashes new content every few seconds; each window asks visitors to take a different action - from downloading his "Plan for America," to donating money after looking at the map of committed delegates. This kind of instant engagement is good for getting people involved as soon as they land on his site, and offers the kind of education voters seek when looking to elect a leader.

Education seems to be a key to the Obama campaign, and the first tab in the site's navigation is "Learn." From this link, users can find all kinds of information about the Senator from Illinois, and even check facts to find out if what they're hearing in the news (or from other candidates) is true. In his "Issues" section, Obama even offers his 64-page "Blueprint for Change," a document that outlines his plan for the country if elected President.

Obama's campaign seems to rely on getting people involved in the process - not unlike Clinton's strategy. From the "People" link where Obama addresses Americans of all different races, ethnicities and backgrounds, to the "Action Center" where he reaches out to voters and asks them to donate money, organize events and volunteer their time, people are at the heart of this campaign. Voters can also sign up for an account on MyBarackObama.com, a personalized online community of Obama supporters, and create their own groups in support of the candidate.

The Obama campaign also has a blog, offers eNewsletter updates, mobile/text updates, ring tones and wallpaper for cell phones and a variety of interactive tools that let voters see how many voters are needed to secure the nomination, and when primary elections are scheduled around the country. Voters can also download all kinds of Obama imagery, and the image above was downloaded right from his site and dropped into this post with little editing.

Overall it seems that the Obama campaign has really stressed the importance of educating voters by providing a tremendous amount of content (multimedia and text) that they can turn to throughout the electoral process. Once voters are educated as to the facts, the website is set up to allow people to form their own alliances in support of Obama and to participate at their own pace.

April 29, 2008

Building a Brand with Social Media

Senator John McCain may be slightly older than his competition, his campaign strategy includes plenty of social media tools that are meant to attract younger voters and reach out to tech-savvy supporters of all ages.

Voters have all kinds of options for getting involved with the McCain campaign when they visit his website, and his site navigation promotes participation. The second tab on his homepage is the "Get Involved" tab, and from that link, voters can engage with the campaign in a variety of ways.

The staff of the McCain campaign clearly understand the need to brand their candidate, and they provide free downloads of McCain web banners, Google icons, cell phone wallpaper, Facebook photos and buddy icons for instant message clients. By giving voters easy access to McCain's image, they are asking supporters to assist in their branding of the candidate and show the world that they support McCain. Consider this - I grabbed the URL for the image above right off of the McCain website and didn't have to resize it or edit it at all to work on my blog!

Senator McCain has also embraced the value of offering a range of multimedia content that can be downloaded and saved for future reference. Voters can find McCain videos, speeches, advertisements, and policy statements on his website, and his Multimedia page has a YouTube logo and videos prominently placed at the top of the page. McCain also gives voice to his supporters and his website has a space for videos created by average Americans in support of his campaign.

Like the other candidates, McCain has communities on Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube, but he's also created "McCain Space," where voters can create an account and be a part of his campaign's community. McCain's campaign blog is written by campaign staffers, includes embedded video, and has some posts that have drawn over 1000 comments - not bad! And unlike the other candidates, McCain seems to use RSS Feeds effectively and has "top feeds" set up on his blog homepage that are easy to access.

McCain's use of social media on his site appears to really promote his brand and engage users to get involved in the campaign. By offering photographs and videos that really show McCain in action on the campaign trail, McCain reinforces his image and builds brand awareness. His site is less focused on user-generated content than those of Clinton or Obama, but in his case, branding may be the best way to attract voters right now.

April 28, 2008

Engage and Nurture with Social Media

clinton_revised.jpgMuch like Senator Obama and McCain's campaigns, Hillary Clinton's campaign has embraced social media as a tool for reaching out to voters and encouraging them to get involved in the political process. Clinton's campaign seems to understand the importance of getting voters involved in the process, and her website includes many areas where voters can get involved and become a part of history.

Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY)
When visiting the Hillary Clinton website, you're greeted with a dynamic selection of comments that people have posted to BlogHillary, the campaign's official blog. Written by members of the Hillary Clinton for President (the campaign's official name) staff, prominent Clinton supporters and citizen-bloggers, BlogHillary addresses the issues, chronicles campaign events, and invites Clinton supporters to get involved by organizing events, signing petitions and adding their comments to the blog.

Clinton encourages voters to get involved by joining one of the Clinton communities on social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, by following the candidate's Tweets, or by watching Hillary videos on YouTube. Voters are also invited to start their own Hillary-related blogs, sign up for campaign updates via text messages or subscribe to HillaryHub (a site that tracks Clinton-related news) RSS feeds. From the website supporters can also donate money, volunteer their time, or sign up to host their own events.

The Clinton campaign appears to understand the need to engage and nurture voters over the course of the lengthy election cycle, and provides ample content to achieve this goal. From speeches and press releases to videos, photos, articles and issue statements, voters can find a comprehensive array of information on Hillary's beliefs, voting history, background, and policy initiatives. As this information is always available (and constantly expanded), voters can research the candidate on their own schedule, and with a range of educational tools.

In examining the Hillary Clinton for President website, it looks as if the campaign understands the importance of generating leads (i.e. voters), and nurturing those leads through a lengthy decision making process. Much like the B2B buying process - which involves long-term lead generation and nurturing - the electoral cycle requires candidates to attract voters early on (before their state primaries), and retain them through the national election. During this time (from 6 to 18 months), candidates rely on voters to participate in their campaigns by donating money, organizing events and volunteering their time.

April 27, 2008

Social Media Can Change the World

vote_revised.jpgRegardless of how you plan to vote in the upcoming Presidential election, you have to admit that the 3 mainstream candidates for the Presidency have effectively implemented social media strategies and engagement marketing into their online campaigns. And while Senator Barack Obama's is generally considered the first to have embraced social media as a cornerstone of his campaign (see this Rolling Stone article - The Machinery of Hope), Senators Hillary Clinton and John McCain both have developed campaigns that rely heavily on social media to engage voters.

With the need to reach as many voters as possible before November, the campaigns have developed marketing strategies that recognize the value of user participation, social networking, real-time updates, and the availability of multimedia and text-based content. Instead of delivering static messages to voters, candidates have opened up their campaigns to their supporters and asked them to participate in the process by blogging, joining online communities, organizing events, and reaching out to other voters.

By incorporating social media into their campaigns, the Presidential contenders have introduced the concept of online user-participation to mainstream America, and opened the door to widespread use of social media in other segments of society. With so many people discovering social media tools, it’s possible that people may begin to expect social media options when making other serious decisions.

While some B2B marketers have already developed excellent social media strategies and use blogs, multimedia, user-generated content and personalization to engage their users over the course of their buying processes, there are still plenty of B2B marketing campaigns that lack social media tools. In looking at the Presidential candidates' websites, it's interesting to understand how social media is being used to engage, educate and nurture people through lengthy decision-making processes, and how those techniques can be applied when developing other kinds of marketing campaigns.

I've examined Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama's websites in an attempt to understand how they have leveraged social media tools to generate interest in their campaigns, invite voter participation, engage and re-engage voters over a lengthy election cycle, convince voters to donate money, and motivate supporters to cast their votes in November. Over the next several posts, I will dissect the social media strategies employed by each of the candidates and try to discover how B2B marketers can use similar strategies to achieve their own goals.

April 17, 2008

What Can Micro-blogging do for Marketing?

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Micro-blogging is a growing phenomenon and may be one of the waves of the future when it comes to reaching out and connecting with plugged-in website subscribers, members and users. Because of the ability to send short, highly targeted messages to users via their cell phones, IM clients or desktops, micro-blogging may be the next best way to deliver content quickly.

According to Wikipedia,

Micro-blogging is a form of blogging that allows users to write brief text updates (usually less than 200 characters) and publish them, either to be viewed by anyone or by a restricted group which can be chosen by the user. These messages can be submitted by a variety of means, including text messaging, instant messaging, email, MP3 or the web.

The most popular of the micro-blogging platforms is Twitter - the social networking service that allows users to send brief messages (140 characters maximum) to their network of "friends." When you use Twitter, you have the ability to let your network in on what you're doing at any given time, and follow what your friends are doing as well. Twitter has gained a large and loyal following of people who constantly answer Twitter's defining question, "What are you doing?"

Pownce is another micro-blogging platform, but this one allows people to send messages, links, files and event invitations to their network of friends. Pownce has developed a range of tools and applications that allow you to send and receive messages on your cell phone, IM client, and even as notes sent straight to your desktop.

Other micro-blogging platforms include Jaiku, Dodgeball and Loopnote.

Micro-blogging's potential as a marketing tool comes from the potential to sign users up for niche-content updates, and send links (to white papers, case studies, podcasts) using a micro-blogging platform. Instead of relying on a general topic eNewsletter when sending out a white paper, you can send a micro-blog message to a self-selected group of highly targeted users. The New York Times, the BBC and Al Jazeera are already using micro-blogging to send headlines and links to stories.

While setting up micro-blog updates for your content may not be at the top of your priority list right now, it's important to start considering where technology is taking online marketing. We already know that 64% of IT decision makers are reading your eNewsletters on their mobile devices. Of these people, how many are already using micro-blogs, and would they be interested in skipping eNewsletters altogether and moving on to white papers delivered via micro-blogs?

For more information about Micro-blogging, check out Mark Glaser's MediaShift post Your Guide to Micro-Blogging and Twitter, Melissa Chang's 16th Letter post, What is Twitter, or this highly informative article, Why We Twitter: Understanding Microblogging Usage and Communities.

April 14, 2008

Building Your B2B Brand

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A recent Buzz Marketing for Technology blog post by Paul Dunay asks a simple question: Is Social Media More Difficult in B2B than B2C? I've been trying to come to terms with this concept in posts I've authored recently, and am struck by the points Dunay raises about building B2B brand identity, brand loyalty, and B2B social media usage.

Dunay explains that when you hear "Ralph Lauren," or "The Gap," you can easily envision the people who wear those brands - and from there, you can create a marketing platform that might appeal to the people who wear those brands, and engage those brand loyalists as such. When you mention big IT companies however, it's harder to associate any one group of people with the brands that dominate among those companies. There is no typical Microsoft user; there is no easily identifiable group of IBM devotees or Dell disciples that you can visualize and grasp onto for marketing purposes.

Building a B2C brand, and subsequent loyalty among B2C consumers, is generally considered to be easier than building a B2B brand. Because of the passion people tend to feel for consumer purchases (consider the buzz generated when the iPhone was released), taking the next step and getting people to actually identify with their favorite consumer products (and therefore, their favorite brands) is that much easier. After all, how many people do you know who are willing to in line to purchase new virtuzlization technology or disk-to-disk backup systems for their businesses?

The market segment you need to reach when marketing B2B technology is vast, unstructured and not easily pigeon-holed. We can identify the titles of key decision makers in the B2B buying process, but we can't as easily pinpoint what brands they wear, where they buy their coffee, or what kinds of cars they like to drive. In lacking this ability, it becomes more difficult to build identifiable brand loyalty, and create meaningful social media outlets where influential B2B decision makers will feel comfortable hanging out and engaging and interacting with other B2B buyers and their content.

And while B2B marketers do have the good fortune of dealing with a relatively well-established group of B2B buyers and decision makers, B2B buying doesn't tend to excite passion the way that clothing, car or coffee brands tend to. Creating brand loyalty is an excellent way to promote unity, passion and excitement around any product - and when you're able to do these things, it becomes easier to incite your users to interact and engage with whatever media you present to them.

So what matters in B2B branding? How do you implore users to identify with your corporation, your products, philosophies and your brand - especially if you want to use that branding to instill a sense of loyalty and passion and ignite user-interaction via social media tools? Let me know your thoughts on the matter - the verdict is, after all, still out on the best way to reach this influential, tech-savvy group of decision makers who make the IT marketing world go-round.

April 08, 2008

Connect with Content via Niche Search Engines

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If you are a content creator, there's a good chance that you spend plenty of time trolling the Web looking for information to use when writing articles and blogs. While you can do Google searches to find information that suits your research needs, the results can be overly broad if you haven't mastered the art of keyword searching. Blogs are great places to look when doing research too, but sometimes the abundance of blog posts on whatever topics you're looking for can be overwhelming. With so many online search and research tools, it can be tough to find what you're looking for by virtue of there being so much that matches your research needs!

There is a new trend however, that may offer some research help - niche search communities that gather contextual information from around the web and present it in a single location. Junta 42 is a content marketing search community that is set up so content is gathered by Junta 42 community and staff members who search the web and submit the content to the site. In order to maintain a standard, Junta 42 staff members filter submitted content and ensure that community members are not simply posting anything to the site.

There are plenty of niche search engines in existence on the Web, but what sets Junta 42 apart from most of the others I found is that it is dedicated to provided content about how best to market content - and therefore best meets my own research needs. In terms of writing about marketing, it's always helpful to find tools that are designed to help me do my job - and this one does.

As the Web continues to grow, it's interesting to watch how our need to segment, filter and funnel data into smaller and smaller chunks increases. The organization of information online is challenged by the size and (lack of) overall management of the Internet. Niche search engines are invaluable to the organization of online information, as they centrally distribute very specific content, and decrease time spent searching the web. The interactive component of niche search engines like these encourages user participation in tracking down and sharing content with others, and increases the likelihood of connecting with the people with whom you share a niche industry.

April 01, 2008

Start Managing Your Online Reputation

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With so many social networking Websites and interactive options available across the Web, it's easy to lose track of the sites you're participated in or joined over the past few years. The use of social media provides so many opportunities to express yourself, introduce yourself, and generally get yourself known online, that you may need to consider what kind of online reputation you've been building over time - either intentionally or accidentally.

Without even meaning to, your participation in various online sites could have created a trail of misleading, incorrect, or less-than-flattering profiles scattered about the web. Search tools like Google Alerts or Yahoo Alerts allow people to find every instance of your name and profile online, and if you have incorrect information out there - you need to consider the impact of that information popping up when a prospective employer Googles your name, or a potential client stumbles across an out-of-date LinkedIn profile.

Think about profiles you've created over the past 5 years and ask yourself the following questions:

Since creating your online profiles have you...

• moved, gotten a new phone number or changed your email address?
• gotten married, divorced or had children?
• gotten a new job/left an old job?
• graduated from school?
• updated any training or certifications?
• won awards, joined professional organizations or community groups?
• changed industries?
• gotten a new title or changed job responsibilities?
• started or closed a company?
• expanded your online presence with a website or blog?
• changed industries or left the job market altogether?

If you answered yes to any of these, and have not updated your online profiles recently, you might consider doing a Google search on your own name and seeing what comes up. While you may think that managing your online reputation isn't all that important, if you're not engaged in a job search or looking to expand your network, you need to consider that it's better to be proactive and manage this information before you need a new job than wait and try to do it all once it's time to get back out there and make new connections.

It's already clear how important online reputations can be on eAuction sites like eBay and Amazon, where users post positive and negative feedback about their interactions with other buyers and sellers. A bad eBay reputation can get a seller blacklisted, and make participation in the site difficult. With so much in our lives being accessed online, it's starting to matter more and more what you have on your MySpace and Facebook profiles that you stopped checking 2 years ago, as well as what's on your updated LinkedIn page.

Check out these resources to learn more about how you can manage your reputation and control what others learn when they search for you online.

Reputation Repair is Mission Critical from Brand Titan

Online Reputation Monitoring Beginners Guide by Andy Beal of Marketing Pilgrim

34 Online Reputation Management Tools by Duct Tape Marketing

Remember, these are basic tips for starting the process of managing your online reputation management. I will address more in-depth steps you can take to control your image online in another post.