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October 15, 2008

The Role of Social Media in B2B Marketing

For those of us who keep an eye on trends in social media, it seems as if EVERYONE is jumping on the social media bandwagon. From Barack Obama and John McCain's use of the technologies in their campaigns, to major IT companies like IBM and SAP's social efforts, one might easily get the impression that social media is everywhere.

world_background_v-.jpgSocial media isn't really everywhere - only 35% of B2B marketers participating in a Forrester Research teleconference currently use social media in their marketing efforts. With so few statistics available to those looking to learn more about social media's effectiveness, and no real way to test social media without investing time and money on pilot programs, B2B firms have little motivation to change how they do business and embrace potentially risky marketing methods.

In B2B Marketers Eye Social Media, Web 2.0 Tactics, , Forrester Research's Laura Ramos addresses the various difficulties faced by B2B marketers when considering whether or not they should incorporate social media tactics into traditional B2B marketing campaigns. Using data gathered from 300 B2B marketing professionals, Ramos outlines the 4 main components of social media that challenge B2B marketers and prevent them from embracing social media:

1. Social Media is still only emerging in the B2B marketing space.

2. B2B marketers don't know how to measure the success of social media.

3. Without an easy way to measure the impact of social media, B2B marketers are playing it safe and sticking with what they know.

4. B2B marketers don't understand how their customers are using social media, how their customers might want to use social media, or how to reach their customers and learn about their thoughts on social media.

Do you have these same issues in deciding whether to incorporate social media into your B2B marketing campaigns? Has your company embraced social media as an effective marketing tool? Have you determined how best to measure the impact of social media on your users, your ROI, your sales and conversions? Do you even know if your customers are already using social media in other areas of their lives, or if they would welcome the introduction of social media tools in their B2B decision making process?

It's certainly important to ask yourself these questions when thinking about how social media might fit into your marketing strategy. At the same time though, you may not be able to answer all of these questions until you take the leap and present your users with social media in your marketing efforts. When people are given the chance to participate in that which interests them, they seem to respond by getting involved.

Consider starting small - here are a few ways to get started with social media without completely overhauling your entire marketing strategy:

1. Add tagging or bookmarking capabilities to your website so users can tag, save and share your content.

2. Start a company blog and encourage user participation through comments.

3. Allows users to access your marketing content (new whitepapers, enewsletters) vis RSS feeds.

4. Create a presence on social networking sites and invite your users to add you to their networks.

5. Incorporate multimedia content (such as videos and podcasts) into your marketing efforts.

If you want to learn more about how companies are implementing social media into their marketing campaigns check out this Social Computing Magazine article, 130 Social Media Marketing Examples from Major Brands. You can also find useful information on social media marketing in SEOmoz's article Social Media Marketing Tactics, or in Marketing Pilgrim's Social Media Marketing Beginner's Guide.

October 02, 2008

Search and Google Aren't Synonymous

search.jpgThere has been quite a bit of disappointment over Google, Yahoo and Microsoft searches, and their agreement in censoring search results as part of China's Golden Shield Project. According to Wikipedia the Golden Shield Policy is the censorship and surveillance project operated by the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) of the People's Republic of China. Because of this policy, some people have ceased their use of Google, Yahoo and Microsoft searches, and are looking for alternative search engines to fill the void.

In complying with the Chinese government's censorship policies, the following appears when a censored term is searched using the popular search engines: In accordance with local laws, regulations and policies, part of the search result is not shown. (translated). And while the search engines have been censoring their results for several years at this point, the censorship controversy has been in the news recently due to the recent Beijing Olympics and the heavy media presence in the country.

Even though the problem encountered by journalists covering the Olympics had more to do with IP addresses being blocked (for "controversial" sites like Amnesty International and BBC China), the renewed interest in China's Internet policies has served to push the search engine censorship issue back into the mainstream. You can read more about what exactly Google (and other search engines) censors in Google Censorship - How it all Works, an informative article on Narender, an Internet marketing and creation oriented blog.

I've compiled a list of search engine alternatives that can be used as an alternative to the big 3 who operate under Chinese regulations.


dogpile_revised.gifDogpile
is a search engine with a twist - instead of indexing the results for one search engine, it compiles and indexes results from 6 separate search engines to return a robust selection of results. Owned by InfoSpace, Dogpile has been around since 1996, and has won awards for customer satisfaction. Be warned however! The list of search engines that Dogpile uses to compile their results includes: Google, Yahoo! Search, and Live Search. I guess it's not a great alternative if you want to go totally Google-Yahoo-Microsoft free.

Ask.com is one of the larger search engines, and has been around since 1996. Formerly AskJeeves (home to the online butler who was supposed to answer your questions), the Ask.com algorithm provides relevant search results by identifying the most authoritative sites on the Web.

FactBites has an interesting take on returning search results - instead of simply returning a site's description, it presents real, meaningful sentences related to the topics you're searching about. So instead of simply directing users to the self-created descriptions about the websites they're searching, FactBites digs a little deeper and gives you a more informed look at their results.

Mahalo_revised.gifMahalo (which means thank you in Hawaiian), bills itself as "the world's first human-powered search engine," and prides itself on better organizing the information they compile so that searchers save time and find what interests them quickly and easily. Search terms are organized into pages (like Fashion or Gadgets), and sub-topics are further categorized into lists on each main page. This kind of search is great for looking for topics to blog on (something I spend plenty of time doing), or for researching specific products.

ChaCha is a potentially cutting-edge earch engine that allows users "to ask any question in conversational English and receive an accurate answer as a text message in just a few minutes." ChaCha is a cool mobile tool, as you send text messages to the engine, and receive responses on your mobile device. Once your question is received, it's routed to the most knowledgeable ChaCha Community Guides (real people!) who are required to pass tests before they're able to work answering queries.

cuil_revised_2.pngCuil is a brand new search engine (launched on July 28, 2008), and claims to be the biggest search engine on the Web. Based out of Menlo Park, California, and founded by a former Google executive, Cuil claims to have indexed 120 billion Web pages - three times more than any other search engine. I checked out Cuil, and while this blog didn't come up in the top 10 search results when I entered the name (Accelerating IT Sales), the user interface is a pleasure, and I could see myself overlooking the ranking issue and giving the engine a fair shake.

There are plenty of other search engines out there just waiting to be discovered by those who are tired of, or want something different from Google. You can find comprehensive lists of search engines in this Wikipedia article, including topic-specific and niche engines that you might otherwise never hear about. Happy Searching!