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January 12, 2009

Explore the Web with Alternative Browsers

Web browsers are integral to everyday life for anyone who spends any time on the Internet. Whether you work for an online company, spend your days blogging and tweeting, buy everything from clothes to airline tickets online or connect to friends, music, and your community on the Internet, you do so within the confines of a browser. Most people use the same few browsers, and probably don't think much about what their particular browser choice offers (or doesn't offer) when compared to other browsers. Since the space in which you interact with online content does help shape your online experience though, I thought it'd be interesting to present alternatives to the most used browsers.

Almost everyone - 98.09% of web users - access the web using three basic browsers - Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and Safari according to research from Net Applications. The Net Applications graph below shows 2008 web browser market share in the 3rd quarter. It's interesting to note that the introduction of Google Chrome in September of this year actually altered the browser share landscape - when I looked at the data for the entirety of 2008, Chrome didn't appear. When I looked at the data for the third quarter however, Chrome made a slight difference in the browser shares.

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So what do the "Other" browsers offer that differentiates them from the Big Three?

Released as a beta product in September, Google Chrome is attracting attention with its simple design and open source code. Designed to support web applications that run within the browser and prevent the entire browser from crashing if one tab crashes, Google Chrome solves problems that other browsers have not yet fully addressed. Google Chrome also has helpful features - like the ability to open web applications via desktop shortcuts (instead of through the browser) - that offer users flexibility in how they access their favorite applications.

A multi-platform supported browser that works on Windows, MacOS, Linux, Solaris, QNX, OS/2, FreeBSD, and BeOS, Opera browsers are available for the desktop, on advanced mobile devices (such as Blackberries), and even on low-end phones. Opera offers advanced web browsing features that include advanced tab management, customizable web searches, a "Speed Dial" feature that allows you to access your favorite websites using visual bookmarks that appear when you open a new tab, an email client that indexes and sorts your messages for you.

Though not listed in Net Application's data, Flock is another browser that connects users with social networks and Web 2.0 features. Powered by the same technology that runs the Mozilla Firefox browser, Flock integrates photo, video and social networking services right into the browser. When using Flock, it's easy to create blog right from the interface, subscribe to and read RSS feeds in the window, and log-in to your favorite networks and communities automatically when opening the browser. Flock has also developed the Gloss Edition browser, which is the first browser designed specifically for people interested in fashion and entertainment.

As people reach the limits of interacting with the Internet and its content, companies are bound to jump in and offer new, different, more personalized and ever-increasingly niche ways of working online. What browser you choose (and which add-ons you install) can change how you view the web and how you view the world. If you've never experienced browser beyond Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox, consider checking out one of these alternatives. To learn about browsers not mentioned here, check out the Wikipedia article dedicated to the subject.

December 12, 2008

How B2B Marketers Can Monetize Social Media

If you've been trying to introduce social media and networking tools and create an online community centered around your company, products or services, there's a good chance that you've hit walls when it comes to explaining how exactly these new products can be monetized. While B2C has leveraged the power of social media and social networking with great success, B2B is still struggling to justify the investments required to develop, host, and manage social tools and communities on their websites.

In most companies, new product ideas are welcomed and products are developed when there is a clear path to ROI - if something isn't fiscally viable, it probably won't last long in many marketing departments. Since social media and networking is still relatively young, there isn't a vast repository of information that explains how social media usage can be measured, benchmarked, analyzed and monetized - especially in the realm of B2B.

This creates a catch-22 of sorts for many B2B marketers - all kinds of companies WANT to employ social media tactics in their marketing strategies, but no one has the cold, hard data proving that doing so will result in a positive ROI. Until someone takes the plunge (and reports on their findings) however, no one has the ammunition to prove the profitability of using social media as part of their marketing campaigns.

You can sense the impatience of some of the media industry's most influential players in this roundtable video produced by FOLIOMag. In this video, Creating Community media insiders discuss (and sometimes argue) why social media is so important, and how it can be monetized when partnered with existing lead generation efforts.




Some of the benefits of social media highlighted in the video include:

1. The ability to use social media to extend your content (by allowing users to create their own content, comment on existing content, and share your content via bookmarking/tagging tools), extend your reach (by breaking down your website's "walls" and connecting to users via widgits and sharing tools), and increase your site's stickiness (by giving users a reason to stick around and interact with your site's offerings).

2. The chance to give your customers what they want, all while gathering deeper information about your audience. This allows you to deliver content with greater relevance and selectively target users with the data they've openly provided.

3. The opportunity to grow your audience by attracting social-savvy users (and their friends), establishing deeper relationships with your users (by responding to their messages, comments and content), and moving away from the current "broadcast" method of communication (1-way communication from you to your users).

4. The competitive advantage of being able to deliver an increased level of depth, quantity, and quality with your leads based on the new kinds of information able to be gathered via the social tools.

5. The capability to reach new advertisers by offering social media as a product on its own merit, or as a part of an integrated marketing campaign.

If you're interested in learning more about how you can measure ROI and monetize social media as part of your overall marketing strategy, the resources below should help you get started.

Social Media ROI Resources
from Constructing Social

Online Community ROI: Models and Reporting - Research Study Posted
from Bill Johnston: Online Community Strategy

A Marketing Charts Study: Marketing Execs Must Realize and Learn to Use Power of Social Media

Frogloop's ROI Calculator: Is It Worth It? An ROI Calculator for Social Network Campaigns

The Online Marketing Blog post: Social Media Analysis and Tracking

November 18, 2008

Using Social Media to Shorten Sales Cycles

Social media and online communities have exploded over the past few years, but most B2B marketers still haven't figured out how social media can be implemented and monetized as part of their overall marketing strategies. With stable revenue sources already in place, insignificant budgets for developing and building new (and untested) marketing tools, and little data on the ROI of social media, B2B marketers are sticking with traditional online models (including lead generation and banner advertising) and resisting the inclusion of social media tools on their sites and in their campaigns. staircase.jpg

If your company is already running a website that, through email marketing, SEO tactics, and organic traffic, attracts return visitors regularly and requires users to register to view content, than adding social media and networking tools is a logical next step for growing your business. By providing loyal users with a website focused on serving their needs and hearing their opinions, you build stickiness into your site, encourage increased engagement with your content, and gain priceless insight into what your members are researching, testing out, engaging with, and most of all - thinking about purchasing.

B2B marketers already know that the buying process is lengthy, especially when big businesses are making the purchases, and everyone from the development group to the CFO is involved in making the final decision. This process means that B2B buyers seek out content, share their findings with colleagues, engage with various kinds of research materials, and consume educational materials until a consensus is achieved and a purchase is made.

If marketers already know that the B2B buying process lasts anywhere from 3 - 18 months (depending on the size/revenue of the buyer & the costs involved), and that successfully navigating this process requires offering a range of content and content delivery methods that appeal to potential buyers, than creating a venue where users return regularly, engage with your content, and express their needs (via created content, forums/commenting, reviews, and content consumption) is an ideal way to identify and target users with appropriate and timely messages that ideally help shorten the sales cycle.

By implementing social tools on your site, the quantity, quality, and type of user data that can be collected and analyzed changes, and you gain access to previously unavailable information that can guide you in targeting, customizing and delivering content delivered to users right as they realize that what you've delivered is exactly what they need. While you may need to develop new ways of tracking and reporting how users interact with your site, your efforts will pay off in the form of new types of data that can be used for marketing purposes, included as part of your lead scoring efforts, or offered to clients in an effort to increase your overall cost-per-lead.

In these challenging economic times, vendors are looking for as much information about their prospects as possible, so they can leverage the data and reach out to niche markets, segment their leads according to their stage in the buying cycle, and arm themselves with a better understanding of each of their leads. Allowing users to express themselves via social media tools, self-submit personal information related to their buying needs, and engage with content on their own terms allows leads to fulfill their own research and education needs, and provides sales with a more complete picture of their prospect. Armed with this kind of full-bodied data, you can potentially remove yourself from having to nurture leads through parts of the buying process, and shorten the sales cycle.

Opening up B2B sites to social media has the potential to be a win-win situation: users benefit when they content more deeply, and engage with your content, and sales benefits when they are handed sales-ready leads who have nurtured themselves through the buying process by actively engaging and interacting with your marketing materials. People want their voices heard - and by offering social media on your site, you show users that you really are listening and responding to their needs.

November 03, 2008

The Basics of Content Jacking

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There's a new criminal in town, and it's out to get your content! As the web expands, and content creators face increasing pressure to develop new, unique, interesting and accessible content for the masses, content theft increases too. Content jacking is the unauthorized, unattributed redistribution of content from its original website to another site, and content thieves will sometimes post articles without permission, or even scrape entire websites and steal all of the content contained therein. Either way, content thieves break copyright laws and can even damage a website's site rankings or reputation, depending on how they use the stolen goods.

In his blog Social Impressions, blogger Reem Abeidoh writes about his experience having his content jacked in Keep Your Sticky Fingers Off My Content! Having found out his content was being stolen after checking out his Google Analytics data, Abeidoh contacted a fellow blogger, who quickly initiated a campaign aimed at getting the offender (a site called inter alia) to remove the stolen post from his blog. Within a short period of time, Abeidoh's extended online community members had left 15 negative comments on the offender's blog, and stories were submitted to Mixx and Digg that pointed out the plagiarism and encouraged people to comment on inter alia's site about their cyber crime.

MIchael Stelzner, author of Writing White Papers, discusses Content Jacking in a post titled, Contentjacking: The New Cyber Crime. In his post, Stelzner mentions how an entire article of his was reposted on another blog. In the comments following his post, most bloggers agree whole-heartedly that content jacking is definitely a crime, although there was no true consensus in determining what should (or can) be done to stop the practice.

While some Content Jackers may unintentionally break the law in their theft (not everyone is familiar with the ins and outs of copyright law after all, and we might extend the benefit-of-the-doubt to some unknowing folks), the practice of Page Jacking is almost always done maliciously. Page Jacking, according to The ABC of SEO, is, "the wholesale rip-offs of multiple pages, (and) even whole sites." In their highly informative article titled, "Page Jacking," the good people who run The ABC of SEO define and really explain what it means, and what you can do, when your website is hijacked.

Apparently, some nefarious types will redirect websites, so that users land on their site instead of your site, and essentially steal your online presence, search engine ranking, and organically-generated traffic. To do this, the offending site can use a cloaking technique that serves to redirect your site traffic. According to the article, when this is done, you may not realize it unless you notice a drop off in your site traffic or in your search engine results.

Learn more about how you can stop content theft in The 6 Steps to Stop Content Theft from The Blog Herald, and in Thwarting Content Theft from SEO Chat. You can also find about more about stopping content theft in social media in the SEO 2.0 article titled, How to Spot Content Theft on Social Media and Elsewhere.

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.

September 22, 2008

BtoB Online Goes Interactive with the Lead Generation Guide 2008

bb-logo_revised.gifThe recently released the BtoB Online Lead Generation Guide 2008 provides a comprehensive overview of the B2B lead generation industry's recent innovations and upcoming trends, and is published in an interactive format that puts their own suggestions regarding content usage into action.

The interactive guide has a range of features that allow users to search, bookmark, customize, and generally manipulate their experience with the content within. To explain all of the features, the guide contains a narrated tutorial that points out and explains each of the features available.

The fact that BtoB Online published the guide as more an interactive tool than as a document is interesting, and could signify a change in how content is distributed online. In the past, most similar publications have been offered as PDFs, or made available via a website. In choosing to distribute this guide as a tool however, BtoB Online is signaling the need to produce and distribute content that users can tweak to meet their needs.

By selecting any number of navigation options from the top-of-page navigation bar, users can select exactly how they want to view and use the content. In addition to deciding how I want my pages to appear (thumbnails or full-size viewing, 1-or-2 pages visible), I can select the "Links" option and see a list of all of the URLs on the page or in the guide! The publication also contains a fairly in-depth search feature, the ability to bookmark pages and have the bookmarks appear in my browser bookmarks/favorites, and social networking functionalities.

The inclusion of a "Share" option in the navigation bar is a big step for the B2B crowd which has been slower than the consumer sect in the full adoption of social networking within the industry. By addressing social networking in the very make-up of this guide however, BtoB Online is acknowledging the momentum that social networking has gained in the past year, and invited the use of social networking across the industry.

The guide can be embedded into blogs as a custom widget, shared with friends via an easy-to-use message containing the URL, or submitted to social networking sites such as Stumbledupon, Newsvine, and digg, among others.

In addition to the new interactive format, the guide also contains a host of valuable information for anyone working in the B2B lead generation industry. From advice on lead scoring and lead nurturing to resources for those looking to find out more about lead management vendors or understand the industry through statistics, the guide is packed full of useful tools.

August 13, 2008

Viral Video as a Brand Builder

I received an email recently with a link to a YouTube video that, once I'd checked it out, made me think differently about how viral video can be used to market or promote just about anything, regardless of its connection to the video's content.

In this video titled, "Where the Hell is Matt? (2008)," a young man named Matt dances in 42 countries on 7 continents, and with adults and children, various animals and even fish. He doesn't advertise anything in the video, conveys no obvious marketing messages, and is seemingly unconnected to anything other than himself. At the end of the video however, there is a brief message thanking Stride Gum for making the whole thing possible.

Wanting to know more, I went to both Matt's site, Where the Hell is Matt?, and to the Stride Gum site to find out how this gum company is connected to this dancing guy. It turns out that Matt made an initial dancing video several years ago, which was passed around the internet by friends and was eventually viewed by someone over at Stride Gum. According to Matt's website, Stride contacted Matt and asked if he wanted to travel around the world on their dime and make another dancing video.

From what I can tell, Matt isn't chewing gum in his videos, he doesn't talk about gum, and there's no pitch for viewers to go out and buy Stride Gum. Instead, Matt and Stride Gum have produced and released a really cool video that, according to the counter on YouTube, has been viewed 3,250,510 times! Of those 3 million plus viewers, there's no doubt that some of them watched the video and wanted to know how this dancing American and this gum company were connected.

By sponsoring this kind of video, Stride Gum took a leap of faith that the video would take on a life of its own on the internet, and that (at least in some instances), the company would gain some brand recognition once viewers got to the end and saw Stride listed as the sponsor. I'd never heard of Stride Gum until I watched the video; now I know the name, know what the company makes, and will look for the brand the next time I go to buy some gum.

Instead of trying to build their brand by forcing Matt to wear a Stride Gum tee-shirt, by making him chew gum and dance, or by having him shout the company's slogan (The Ridiculously Long Lasting Gum) at the end of the video, Stride Gum let Matt make a message-free video, and counted on the fact that people would want to know more about their company once they'd finished watching. In this instance, less is actually more, and Stride Gum wins by leaving the corporate message out of the viral video.

Other companies might try similar tactics in using video to promote their products. While it may seem risky to leave your message out of your marketing content, it could also pay off. If you're considering using viral video as a marketing tool, think about Stride Gum's strategy, and consider creating content that builds brand by making great videos that everyone wants to watch.

July 28, 2008

The Power of the Olympic Brand

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When it comes to brand awareness, the Olympics must be one of the most successful brands of all time. Perhaps we're drawn to the Olympics out of national pride triggered when we listen to our National Anthem during metal ceremonies, or maybe it's the memories we have of watching the Summer Olympics on our summer breaks as children that draws us to the games. Regardless of why we watch, the fact is that over half of the countries entire population does just that. Somehow the 5 rings are stuck in our minds, somehow the Olympic brand remains powerful for most of our nation.

In an article aptly titled, More Than Half of All U.S. Adults Will Be Watching The Olympics, from the Center for Media Research, Scarborough Sports Marketing claims that over 128 million US fans were expected to watch the Olympics Opening Ceremony on August 8. while 67% of those polled expressed having at least some interest in the athletic events. The Summer Olympics rank up there is popularity with the NFL (National Football League, but clearly, you already knew that), and the Winter Olympics - neither of which has the distinction of taking place during the summer months when there are tons of other activities to compete for their attention.

According to a Harvard Business Publishing article by Stephen Greyser, The Three Levels of Branding at Beijing, the Beijing Olympics are being dubbed the, "the branded Olympics," and are comprised of 3 separate levels of branding: that of the Olympic Sponsors, that of the Olympic Brand itself, and that of China. Each level has its own commercial pull and recognizability, and each level of branding can draw upon the strength of the other 2 levels in order to exponentially increase the overall Olympic brand.

Olympic Sponsors are even given a leg-up in getting their messages across, as the Chinese government has restricted some of the ad space in Beijing to those officially sponsoring the games according to the New York Times article, Olympic Sponsors to Benefit Under a Tougher Stance in China.

Obviously, not all of our attraction to the Olympics is organic - the fact that Olympic Sponsors, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and the host country itself are all working so hard to develop the Olympic brand, and associate themselves with it suggests that we're watching in part because the rings are branded in our minds, and in part because we're being told to do so from all directions. According to the BrandCurve article, Can the 2008 Summer Olympics Break the Summer Slump?, advertisers are pumping all kinds of money into promoting the games, and NBC (the US television host of the Beijing Olympics) is counting on people to pick up the message and run (to their television sets) with it. Another BrandCurve article, The Olympics - Branding on a Global Stage, discusses how host countries have come to embody the entirety of the Olympic spirit, and how they use the opportunity to showcase and brand their country, culture, art, history and people.

With so much riding on the Summer Olympics - for the host country, the IOC, the Olympic Sponsors, and of course the Olympians (and their families, friends and training partners), I feel like I'd better finish this post up and go tune into the games myself. After all, you wouldn't want all of that branding to go to waste now would you!

Beijing Official Logo: Credit: BOCOG

June 24, 2008

Wireless Social Networking Poised to Take Over by 2020

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According to iSuppli - an applied market intelligence firm - a revolution in technology is afoot!! In a June 4 article titled, Wireless Social Networking Revolution Poised to Reshape Tech Industry, iSuppli indicates that wireless social networking technologies are poised to generate $2.5 trillion over the next 12 years, and that those companies who jump aboard the wireless social wave now stand to "lead in the technology business," while others may fall behind or become irrelevant.

In the article, iSuppli suggests that, as mobile devices become more embedded in our every day lives, their use as content delivery devices will skyrocket. At the same time, the availability of increased processing power, the expansion of wireless networks, and the ease and speed of wirelessly downloading content will turn the ever-present smart phones, PDAs and cell phones into our primary content viewing devices. And with so many people already turning to their iPhones to download videos from YouTube and following friends via Twitter and Pownce on their cell phones, it's no big leap to think that these devices will soon become central to downloading ALL of our electronic content.

According to iSuppli, the impact of wireless social networking will be felt across all areas of the industry - from semiconductors and processors to memory/storage capacities, devices and software. According to the article, as mobile devices are designed to better accommodate social networking needs, "...semiconductor companies will be compelled to deliver highly integrated processors that combine numerous high-performance, multi-threaded special purpose cores." This means that the expansion of social networking into the mainstream of society and business will generate new business opportunities as companies strive to meet the technological needs of this ever-evolving segment.

So how are businesses that haven't even integrated mobile content-delivery into their business models supposed to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to building wireless social networking into their organizations? The adoption of new technologies can be painstakingly slow, even among technologically-savvy industries; because of this, companies will have to develop a method that simultaneously incorporates mobile marketing and social networking into current business models.

In order to effectively implement wireless social networking, organizations that are currently dedicated to producing, managing and delivering online content need to take social media and social networking with the utmost seriousness. By ignoring the drumbeat of social networks, corporations signal a lack of understanding in regard to the future of technology. After all, social media and social networking are going to go away. The early adopters have already incorporated these technologies into their business models, and it's time for the rest of us to wake up and start letting our users connect to one another on their own terms and via whatever devices they so desire.

June 13, 2008

Content Delivery Methods Matter

mobile_rewvised.jpgAs the digital world changes to incorporate social communities, mobile devices, rich media, and user-generated content into the mainstream, marketers must evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of their users. While many B2B marketers have already heard this call and responded - consider how many podcasts, webinars, eSeminars and even Virtual Tradeshows exist that were unthinkable several years ago - there are advances that still need to be made, especially in how content is created and delivered.

1. Think Niche. Instead of reaching out to mammoth groups of users who may be interested in the topics you're presenting, give your users the change to sort themselves into small, category-specific groups that can be targeted with highly relevant content. Instead of letting users select from a few general categories related to your offerings, give them sub-choices within those categories. Once you know that a user is interested in learning about highly specific solutions within a larger category, they become highly qualified prospects when it's time to really promote your solutions. Users want to personalize their online experience, and offering them the option to define their interests in-depth allows them do this while giving you insight into their needs.

2. Mobile devices will as important as computers for content delivery. As it already stands, 64% of IT decision makers use their mobile devices to access electronic content. This number is only expected to go up as mobile networks become faster and are able to deliver content quickly and to a range of devices. If you're not already developing mobile versions of your website, landing page and marketing materials (enewsletters, email marketing messages), you need to start doing so now. When users try to access your website or open your enewsletter on their mobile devices, do you really want to lose them as a lead because their platform doesn't support your message?

3. Content needs to be convertible. Buzz Marketing (also known as word-of-mouth marketing or viral marketing) is how people are increasingly finding out about your content. People gather data from trusted sources, and their friends and co-workers fall into that category. Because of this, content needs to be packaged so it can be easily passed from person-to-person, regardless of the device they're using. While forwarding a white paper or emailing a URL that points to a video is easy, users will eventually need to be able to pass webinars, podcasts and product demos from device to device without considering that the file won't transfer. If you want your podcasts, webinars and other rich media to play, regardless of the device it's being accessed from, you need to develop these kinds of content with that goal in mind.

As a B2B marketer, one of your goals should be to make content as accessible to as many people, and with as little ease on their part as is humanly possible. This may mean re-tooling your product offerings to include mobile content delivery options, offering instant updates via micro-blog messages, or developing content that is accessible regardless of the device on which it's played. You may need to refine your focus when it comes to building eNewsletters, and consider sending more newsletters to fewer people so you get a smaller pool of more highly-qualified leads at the end of the day.

Developing new strategies for delivering content is challenging, but is essential to staying current in this evolving digital marketplace. When you do develop new products, you'll be better suited to meet your users needs and you may even attract new users when they see the cutting-edge content-delivery options that your company offers.

May 27, 2008

Users "Stick" Around with Interactive Tools

tools_revised.jpgIf you spend a lot of time moving around online, you've probably noticed an increase in the use of interactive tools on all kinds of websites. As people embrace the concept of interacting with online content, organizations are building more tools that engage users by encouraging their participation. In terms of usability, interactive tools pull users into an organization's offers and offer a kind of "stickiness" that is difficult to find otherwise. And from a marketing and lead generation standpoint, interactive tools have the potential to qualify users as high-level leads.

Users want control over their research and buying process, and it's crucial that their needs and behaviors are considered when designing marketing materials. Part of putting users in charge of this process is to provide interactive tools that spur user participation and help people feel engaged with your brand, your website and your offers.

In Redesigning Web Sites to Put Customers in Charge of Their Experience, from MarketingProfs, Jeannette Kocsis stresses the importance of designing websites with user behaviors as a guide. She lists the inclusion of intuitive and relevant tools as a key component to achieving a site that is based on user behaviors and needs. Interactive tools can also be used to convert users, and when implementing interactive tools, you have the ability to track deep, user-driven behaviors and use that data to qualify high-level leads.

Consumer marketers use interactive tools on all kinds of websites, and seem to have discovered the stickiness that comes when these kinds of tools are offered on their sites. MyShape is an online shopping site with a tool that lets users enter their physical dimensions in order to find out what "shape" they are and what clothes look best on that body type. They link their users to clothes that match their body types and allow them to shop right from there. FitDay, an online food journal site, is set up so users can enter the foods they consume and the exercise they do over the course of a day. Users can set weight loss goals, create reports based on the data they've entered, and write journal entries about their weight loss process.

What's key about these kinds of tools is that they keep the user coming back time and again. When women are shopping for clothes, they know they can find styles that match their body types on MyShape. For people trying to loose weight, FitDay gives them a place to enter their calories after each and every meal. From a marketing and lead generation perspective, this kind of stickiness is invaluable, and makes it easy to qualify and convert high-value leads. Tools that allow users to track their processes, calculate their needs, discover, compare and customize potential solutions are tools that will keep a user coming back to your site until they are ready to make a decision.

By taking a page from B2C marketing, B2B marketers can build tools that provide a deep level self-submitted user behaviors. These behaviors can be used to nurture users through their buying process and present them with relevant materials at appropriate times. Instead of responding to your marketing messages, users are now able to submit their own lead data (in their own timeframe) when they make the decision to work with your interactive tools.

May 12, 2008

Presidential Campaigns and the B2B Buying Process

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The Presidential candidates seem to have adopted the same marketing techniques used by online marketers, specifically B2B marketers. As strange as it sounds, it's possible to compare the Presidential electoral cycle to the complex sales cycle.

While the Presidential election is a high-stakes race for control of this country's government, candidates still have to rely on marketing techniques to get their voices heard and their faces in front of the masses. The Presidential campaigns are lengthy - lasting from 6-18 months - are education-intensive, and involve long-term nurturing of their target audience (voters). With so many people tuning into the race this year, B2B marketers may want to pay attention to how candidates have attracted, retained and nurtured their supporters, and how they plan on keeping them engaged from now until November.

Branding
To be a viable Presidential candidate, contenders have to create recognizable brands that appeal to potential supporters all over the country. In building their brands, candidates have a limited period of time to introduce themselves, educate the public on their policies, and prove that they can be trusted. By reaching out to voters with consistent messaging (signs, literature, buttons, commercials), providing a steady stream of high-quality educational materials (issue statements, press releases, online content, literature), and repeating their campaign's key themes at every opportunity(Change You Can Believe In; Straight Talk Express, Making History Together), the candidates have effectively created recognizable brands that seem to appeal to voters.

Building recognizable brands is also an essential component to running a successful B2B marketing campaign. When sending out marketing materials, B2B marketers work to establish themselves as trusted advisers that can be relied upon and turned to over the course of the buying cycle. To do this, marketers reach out to prospects with educational materials that are meant to facilitate the research phase of the buying cycle. By sending these kinds of materials early in the buying process, marketers build brand awareness, provide valuable research materials and hopefully establish themselves as trusted advisers.

Research & Education
With so much riding on the outcome of the Presidential Election, voters are increasingly educating themselves on the policies, backgrounds and beliefs of the Presidential candidates. To help voters learn about their issues, candidates have developed content that outlines their policies, highlights their voting records, and explains how they plan to proceed if elected. Voters can download issue statements, read press releases, watch videos and study the text of speeches on candidate websites. Campaigns also send out eNewsletters and text message updates to blast their supporters with information about the candidates.

With lengthy sales cycles involving expensive, and often highly technical products, B2B marketers have to provide a stream of educational materials to their prospects that will answer their questions as they progress through the buying process. And because different prospects have different requirements (the technical decision maker vs. the financial decision maker, for example), marketers need to develop content that will reach each kind of buyer at the appropriate point in their buying process. To do this, B2B marketers create white papers, case studies, webinars, product demos and podcasts that users can acces with ease when they're ready.

Nurturing
With an election cycle that started in early 2007 and will end in November of this year, Presidential campaigns have to nurture voters throughout the entire process. By reaching out to users with eNewsletters, text messages, events, and editorial content, Presidential candidates continuously strive to connect with and engage voters. Adding to this difficulty is the need for candidates to raise money from their supporters and motivate their base to volunteer their time, organize events and make phone calls on their behalf. So while candidates nurture voters through the process, they also have to engage people with Calls to Action.

Research on lead nurturing shows us that prospects are most likely to respond to your marketing message after you've engaged them with multiple touches (email messages, phone calls, eNewsletters, etc), and that 95% of initial leads are "green bananas" that need to be nurtured and ripened over time (with thanks to Brian Carroll). Because of this B2B marketers engage in "drip marketing" techniques that allow them to engage and re-engage prospects by reaching out to them over time and building their brand and their image as a trusted adviser. B2B marketers continuously reach out to prospects with eNewsletters, email marketing messages, engaging content and Calls to Action - though these Calls to Action generally invite users to participate in events, download trial versions of their products or watch multimedia content.

Content
Both Presidential campaigns and B2B marketing campaigns lean heavily on the use of content to get their views across- specifically audio, video and informational articles. There seems to be an overall recognition that eNewsletters and email marketing messages are effective tools for getting a message across to large numbers of people at once. And while B2B marketers are still somewhat lagging in their use of social media, Presidential campaigns seem to understand that the way to engage users is to let them participate in the process, and have widely implemented blogs, social communities, and user-generated content.

By comparing Presidential campaigns and B2B marketing campaigns, we can see how large, well-funded organizations are using the same tools to achieve very different goals. In looking at the similarities of the processes required to attain their goals however, it's clear that we can all learn from each other, and consider how some of the candidates' tactics could work in the B2B arena.

May 01, 2008

Taking a Page from Online Newspapers

If you want to shake up IT marketing, consider taking a page from online news sites such as the Washington Post or the New York Times and expanding your use of graphics, interactive tools and customizable options when presenting your marketing materials. Instead of designing landing pages and research libraries simply as repositories for digital assets, consider how you can use these spaces to grab users and engage them in a meaningful online experience.

Take for example this Washington Post multimedia module called Forced Out. This investigative piece examines the DC real estate boom, and how it's given landlords the perfect opportunity to force poor tenants out of their homes in order to make way for expensive condos. The Washington Post effectively employs rich media, including a narrated slide show, videos, an interactive map and tabs that take the reader through the Post's 3-day investigation. Social media is also used in telling this story, and the Post provides a forum for readers to discuss the articles and share their feelings with one another. This cross-pollination of audio, video, photography, the written word and interactive tools allows the Post to engage several of the reader's senses when telling their story, and encourages them to get further involved with what they've learned.

When you are able to tell the story of your product or service, you are more likely to convince people to pay attention to your message, regardless of what you're trying to sell. Marketing technology may not be as sexy or glamorous as marketing couture or alcohol, but it doesn't have to be boring either. With the increased access to rich media tools, such as videos, interactive graphics, and audio, you can develop a variety of resources that appeal to all kinds of users. At the same time, you can position those resources in a way that while their messages overlap, they also each tell your story in different ways.

While many IT marketers are already developing content using a variety of media types, their assets are often segmented by type when you visit the company websites. Even when you have the ability to search for solutions or products, the supporting assets are generally presented as a list, and not as a cohesive unit. Landing pages and Microsites are more likely to group assets by product or topic, but even they lack the storytelling effect that you find when reading online news sites.

Social media plays a role in this new kind of storytelling too, as users want to know not only what a product's story is, but also what their peers think about the story. By adding user forums, reviews and comments to your marketing zones, you express an overall confidence in your product by allowing unsanctioned voices to contribute to its story. While a landing zone, Microsite or product page on your website may not seem like the best place to allow user-generated commentary, plenty of well-known businesses are already effectively employing these techniques.

Check out news sites around the web and think about how they generate interest in their stories. And remember, even though most newspapers are designed primarily to deliver the news, most of them are probably in the lead generation business too. We can learn from each other, and learning how the media employs rich media and social media practices in their business is a good place to start.

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.

March 12, 2008

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.

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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.

Dell
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).

Hewlett-Packard
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
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
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.

Continue reading "How IT Companies Have Leveraged Social Media " »