Small Firms Again Trump Enterprises in Social Media Use, UMass Study Reveals

The Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth is out with its latest survey of the Inc. 500′s use of social media, and once again small companies outpace large ones. Ninety-two percent of the Inc. 500 use at least one of the tools studied, which include blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest and Foursquare.

Blog use by Inc. 500 and Fortune 500 companiesInterestingly, the use of blogs jumped among the Inc. 500 after four years of little or no groth. Forty-four percent of the 2012 Inc. 500 are blogging, compared to just 23% of the Fortune 500. The figure is a jump from the 37% of Inc. 500 companies that were blogging in 2011. Researchers Nora Ganim Barnes and Ava Lescault found that 63% of Inc. 500 CEOs contribute to blog content.

Also notable is the surge of interest in LinkedIn, which is being used by 81% of companies compared to 67% for Facebook and Twitter. Facebook was the big loser in this survey. Its usage dropped 7% from last year.  Up-and-comers are Foursquare (28%) and Pinterest (18%).

Growth in social media investment showed signs of slowing in this survey. Only 44% of respondents says they’re looking to spend more on social media, down from 71% in the 2011 survey. Forty-one percent say their level of investment will remain, up from 25% last year.

Sixty-two percent of respondents said social media is “very necessary or “somewhat necessary” to the growth of their company. This is the sixth year The Center for Marketing Research at UMass Dartmouth has conducted the study.

There’s lots more on the summary page, including links to downloads of the full results.

 

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Social Marketing Wisdom from the Insurance Industry – Really

I was privileged to be on a panel with some outstanding social media practitioners from the insurance industry at the 2011 Social Media Conference for Financial Services put on by LOMA LIMRA this morning. Financial services firms – and insurance companies in general – are often seen as boring, but what these companies are doing within the confines of a heavily regulated business is anything but that. Farmers Insurance for example, hasn’t accumulated 2.3 million Facebook likes by boring people.

I actually think insurance is a fascinating business. It involves taking calculated risks about the unexpected. Insurance companies need to know a lot about the world around us, because their business deals with so many variables, from accidents to earthquakes to the chance of being hit by a meteor. This morning’s audience of about 100 social media practitioners truly believe in the value of new platforms to reach their customers, although they have understandable concerns about the many regulations that govern what they can say.

Here are some notes I took away from the three speakers on my panel.

Gregg WeissGregg Weiss (@greggweiss) of New York Life says the company’s social media content strategy is driven by constantly asking, “What can we do that isn’t about life insurance?” This was a theme that was borne out in every presentation: It’s not about the company but about what motivates customers.

A sampling of what New York Life has done:

New York Life Protection Index on FacebookNew York Life has carefully cultivated more than 100,000 likes on Facebook. “We believe 60% of our Facebook fans are prospects,” Weiss said.

His best story actually had nothing to do with insurance but everything to do with using social marketing to build loyalty and word-of-mouth awareness.

He told of buying a coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts: milk, no sugar. But when he got to the office, he found the beverage was loaded with sugar. “I couldn’t drink it.” He tweeted his dissatisfaction. Within two minutes he had a reply tweet from the head of corporate communications at Dunkin’. She asked for a phone call, during which she apologized and offered a gift card, which arrived in the mail two days later. “I tweeted about Dunkin’ Donuts’ great response,” he said. “It was a huge win for them. “

His  advice to social media marketers: “Think big. Everyone in this room has the power to change things at your company. That’s incredibly empowering.”

Quotable: “The VP of Social Media at New York Life is the hundreds of thousands of people who have online relationships with us.”

And finally, “Seek a higher purpose. I hope someday to hear a story of a kid who got to go to college because a parent bought a life insurance policy from us.”


Kelly Thul (@kellythul), State Farm.

Kelly Thul, State FarmState Farm got started in social media when it set up a blog to find New Orleans-area employees and agents who couldn’t be located after Hurricane Katrina. “Within 24 hours, that blog was key to our locating ever agent and employee,” Thul said. Today, State Farm is all over Facebook, with pages for the corporation, careers, Latino customers, the Bayou Classic football event and an innovative youth-oriented forum called State Farm Nation (right), where people can “discuss life’s challenges and opportunities, connect with others facing life-shaping decisions [and] find helpful tips and information.” With 1.3 million likes, it’s doing pretty well.

State Farm Nation on Facebook

The insurance company’s YouTube channel has had more than five million views, many for its TV commercials. The ads have spawned parodies, but Thul says the company is pretty sanguine about them. “If people care enough to have a bit of fun with you, that’s OK, as long as it isn’t brutal,” he said.

State Farm evaluates social media opportunities using four criteria:

  • Relevance to business strategy;
  • Role clarity: who is responsible for talking and responding;
  • Measurement criteria;
  • Activating platforms.

These four criteria provide a framework for making a rapid and relevant decision about new platforms and opportunities like Google Plus.

Words of wisdom: “People want to be heard. If they believe you’re listening to them, they’ll like you a little more.”


Theresa Kaskey, John Hancock Financial ServicesTheresa Kaskey (@TheresaKaskey), Director of Brand Management and Strategy at the John Hancock Financial Network, joined the company without any plans to get involved in social media. John Hancock had no social media strategy at time. Today, it’s 80% of what she does. There’s been a long education and adoption process, but company management is buying in, she said. John Hancock recently launched its first blog, Build4Success, and it’s posted nearly 40 videos on YouTube. Unlike the other two speakers on the panel, who speak primarily to consumers, John Hancock Financial Network’s audience is financial advisers.

YouTube has been one of its early successes. “We created more than 80% of our launch content in one day,” Kaskey said. “We had a meeting of our advisers and brought them into a room one by one to talk about how they delight their customers.” It’s been a low-cost, high-return recruiting success.

Words of widom: A key element of successful social media programs is “It’s not about us.”

How Much Should You Pay For Content?

Underwood keyboardMarketers often ask how they can train engineers and technical people to blog, podcast and otherwise engage in deep online conversations with customers. My advice: don’t bother. You’re better off investing in professional communicators and teaching them what they need to know about your business.

The ability to communicate well in any media demands a certain amount of innate ability and it’s a difficult skill to teach. The technology trade media learned this long ago, and that’s why they have hired professional journalists to fill their pages for the past 75 years. It’s a lot harder and costlier to train  technology experts to write than it is to teach writers what they need to know to about technology.

So if you’re going to create your own blogs, white papers, e-books and such, you should probably use professional communicators to help you do it. What’s that going to cost you? Like most things in life, it depends.

Media Dividend

The rapid decline of mainstream media (more than 45,000 journalists have been laid off in the last five years in the US) has put a lot of good communicators out of work, and many can be had today for pennies on the dollar compared to what they made a few years ago. I recently noticed a bylined article by a veteran Wall Street Journal reporter on a Cisco promotional website. And I’ll bet he was happy to have the work.

The cost variable is the level of technical skill you need. If you’re in a consumer industry where the necessary level of technical knowledge is quite low, decent freelancers can be hired for as little as 25 cents/word, although the norm is between 50 and 80 cents. Demand Media, whose formulaic, keyword-driven approach to topic selection enrages many journalists, is rumored to pay as little as $.10 per word.


A word on words: Freelancers are usually paid by the published word. It seems an odd metric, but it’s the one that’s been used for decades and will probably persist until somebody comes along with a better one. Payment is based upon the published word, not the number of words the writer submits. You should always specify an upper limit.


Many journalists who were making $60,000 to $80,000 salaries working for newspapers a few years ago are happy to work for $35,000-$40,000 today. Any journalism pro should be able to produce 2,500 words/week for you. Do the math to figure out if it makes more sense to hire or freelance, remembering that a full-time employee carries less administrative overhead – but more overhead cost – than a loose staff of contractors. If you’re negotiating for basic, off-the-shelf freelance help, start with a 30 cents/word offer and work from there.

The higher the level of technical expertise you need, the more it’s going to cost you. In the computer industry, which is what I know best, $1 to $1.50 is the going per-word rate for marketing-commissioned pieces these days. I imagine that in a highly technical field, like bio-engineering, the rate is even higher. The fewer options you have, the more you’re going to pay.

Where Writers Hang Out

“I once commissioned a story from a freelancer who had an impressive portfolio of published work, but who apparently had also worked with some outstanding editors. The piece she turned in was such a disaster that I almost cried.”If you’re looking to hire professional journalists, sites like JournalismJobs, WritersWrite and MediaBistro are good places where writers hang out and look for assignments. There are several large groups of freelancers on LinkedIn, including The Freelance Writers Connection with 5,600 members. Search for others.

If you’re more of a risk taker, sites like e-lance, Guru.com, Freelancer.com and iFreelance are places to fish for talent. Try posting your needs and what you’ll pay and see who responds. Be sure to ask any prospective writer for samples of his or her work in your field of expertise. You do not want to pay a freelancer to learn your business on the job.

Hiring freelance help blind is a risky affair. Published samples won’t do you any good. I once commissioned a story from a freelancer who had an impressive portfolio of published work, but who apparently had also worked with some outstanding editors. The piece she turned in was such a disaster that I almost cried. I spent more than four hours trying to turn it into something that was at least publishable, hoping that nobody would actually read it. Moral of the story: ask for raw copy, not clips.

Going the Full-Time Route

Ginny Skalski

Cree Lighting blogger and former newspaper reporter Ginny Skalski

If you can afford to hire a full-timer, I highly recommend it. Journalists are quick learners by nature and their time to productivity is short. Staffers turn out more content per dollar than contractors, and you don’t have the overhead of legal documents, busted deadlines and flaky freelancers who simply disappear in the middle of the night

If you choose to hire a journalist as a corporate blogger, you’re in good company. Among the brands I know that do so are IBM, HubSpot, Eloqua, JetBlue, Cree Lighting and Sybase. I’m sure there are many more. Every single journalist-turned-corporate blogger I have met is happy to be out of the burning building that is mainstream media and into something with a manageable lifestyle and a boss who isn’t a screaming maniac.

If you prefer to go the freelance route, stick with a small group of reliable freelancers rather than playing the field. They’ll learn your business and require less hand-holding the longer you use them. They’ll also go the extra mile for you when you need them. Freelancers treasure steady work more than high pay. Most would rather work for a handful of reliable clients then constantly bid for the highest dollar. Paying within two weeks, rather than the corporate-mandated 60 days, will make you their best friend.

Final Note: Be Reasonable

I’ve been writing for BtoB magazine for nearly six years, some of it paid and some not. Like many media organizations, they pay less than any of my commercial clients, but I always put BtoB at the front of my priority list. Why? They’re just such damned reasonable people to work with.

Freelancers know that $2/word is no bargain if they need to produce 8,000 words and four rewrites over three months in order to get approved and paid. BtoB and I work so well together at this point that there is very little waste in our interaction. I actually make more money per hour working with them than I do with some corporate clients who pay considerably more.

The moral: The easier you are to deal with as a client, the better deals and favors freelancers will cut with you. This doesn’t mean dropping your standards, but the next time you’re ready to ship a draft back to the writer for a fourth revision in order to move two paragraphs around, you might consider just making the change yourself.

 

B2B Blogging Gets Publishing Discipline

Drill SergeantI’ve spent some time over the last week judging the finalists in BtoB magazine’s annual social media awards. This is a great chance to take a snapshot of best practices in the field, and I was struck by this year’s entries in the corporate blog category.

Blogs may be declining in importance in the consumer realm as Facebook and Twitter grow in popularity, but they are still the most valued social platforms for B2B marketers as evidenced by recent research (see p. 27 of the PDF). It’s clear to me that the best B2B companies are taking their blogging to the next level.

In every one of the entries I reviewed, marketer had applied a disciplined approach to planning and execution, leveraging editorial calendars, careful topic selection and professional communicators to deliver the message. I was also struck by the attention they paid to avoiding the temptation to use blogs as a promotional channel. (For obvious reasons, I can’t identify the finalists).

“[The] mission was to shed the traditional corporate mantra of being a marketing page by providing compelling, journalistic pieces that encouraged visitors to be a part of the discussions,” read one finalist’s entry.

Another defined the blog’s mission as being “to provide actionable and thought-leadership content for customers and prospects on…topics the company’s product helps optimize.”

Two of the four finalists had hired professional journalists to oversee content. This is an excellent idea, especially given that devastation in traditional media has put a lot of fine talent on the streets at bargain prices. All were using Twitter and LinkedIn to amplify their messages and some had negotiated syndication deals through vertical websites devoted to their industry. That’s another great idea.

Another characteristic all finalists shared: editorial planning. One entry described the process:

  • A topical editorial calendar was created that assigned each day of the week to a different type of blog post and topic.
  • A monthly editorial meeting was scheduled to review blog topics and assign writers.
  • A blog post and a writer were assigned in advance to ensure the creation of the content.

Holy cow! What do these people think they are? Publishers?

Well, yes, and for good reason. The Internet has obliterated barriers to entry in publishing and smart marketers are realizing that, with persistence and a good keyword strategy, they can beat the top business publications in search results. Why spend time and money influencing the media if you can become the media instead?

This isn’t nearly as simple as it used to be, though. As I’ve pointed out here as well as in BtoB magazine, the social media space is getting mighty crowded. Just planting your flag isn’t enough anymore; you have to do something that your audience finds remarkable.

Which means that the old disciplines that have served publishers for many years suddenly have new relevance.

Alan Belniak is director of social media marketing at PTC, a very large software company. Last October, the company announced a major overhaul of its product line and its approach to software development. Instead of blitzing the market with press releases following the October 28 rollout, it focused its energies on a multi-author blog, Twitter account and YouTube channel to deliver a steady stream of updates on topics that address a variety of customers ranging from designers to purchasing VPs.

The program is backed by an editorial calendar and a roster of bloggers selected for their communication skills and ability to address different audience segments. The team posted 30 articles in February, along with 10 videos, giving both their audience and Google plenty of reason to come back. Results: “A near vertical rise in viewership,” Alan says, and a high quality of interaction with visitors. I’m sure there was arm-twisting involved in convincing traditionalists to discard multiple levels of approval in replying to a question, but PTC doesn’t seem to be any worse for wear.

The finalists in the BtoB awards have seen similar results, with total traffic in one case growing nearly 14,000% across its blog and syndication channels in a single year from a substantial base. In fact, the most difficult part of judging these awards was choosing a winner. It’s hard to anoint a champion when so many are competing so well.

Let Your People Speak!

IBM engineers celebrate Watson's victory (from a YouTube video)

IBM engineers celebrate Watson's victory (from an IBM YouTube video)

Earlier this week I wrote an article for SocialMediaB2B.com that made the case that last week’s IBM Watson Jeopardy challenge, in which an IBM computer thrashed the two greatest Jeopardy champions of all time, was the greatest B2B marketing campaign ever.

One reason I liked it so much is that IBM let scientists – instead of corporate suits – tell the story of their achievement. This was documented in more than 30 videos that IBM posted on YouTube as well as chat sessions and group Q&A interviews on the website reddit.com.

If you want to see the passion that the IBM scientists brought to this project, watch the 11-minute summary video that was posted shortly after the contest ended. It’s clear that Watson’s accomplishments were more than just a technology triumph. Researchers reacted as if their child had just graduated from Harvard. Their passion was contagious and genuine.

Why don’t more companies let the people who build and support their products come out of the shadows the way IBM did? In part, I believe it’s fear that people will do the wrong thing. It also reflects the time limitations that developers and engineers themselves often cite as a reason to stay in the shadows. Let’s look at each in order.

Tell Stories

Effective communications is about storytelling. Ronald Reagan taught us that. People don’t respond to statistics, feature charts and positioning statements the same way they do to other people. Entrepreneurs excite us when they share their vision, yet successful companies bury enthusiasm under layers of approvals and official spokespeople.
Rick Short, Indium Corp.B2B customers have intense information needs, and their questions are often best answered by the people who build and service the products they use. Some companies understand this. One of my favorite stories from Social Marketing to the Business Customer is Indium Corp., which built a constellation of search-optimized blogs that put their engineers directly in touch with the people who buy their highly specialized products. Result: 600% jump in leads in six months. Marcom Director Rick Short (left) says his job is to “get engineers talking to customers and then get out of the way.”

Do unofficial spokesmen sometimes say the wrong thing? Sure. Does it matter? Not really. Corporations are far too sensitive to the indiscretions of individuals, which usually can be sidestepped with an apology or explanation. A couple of hours of media training does wonders.

Blogs Are the New Trade Shows

The issue of time commitments and availability is valid, but usually overstated. Many engineers are only too happy to write papers and travel thousands of miles to deliver presentations, yet writing a 500-word blog entry or recording a how-to video is seen as overwhelming.

There’s a contradiction here. Engineers naturally like to share, and they know that conference presentations are good for their careers. Contributions to the company’s social media programs potentially reach a much larger audience than a presentation at a trade show. They go to the trade show because that’s what’s always been done.

I wish more corporate marketers would adopt Rick Short’s philosophy and see themselves as facilitators rather than spokesman. They should be the ones urging recalcitrant executives to draw contributors out from behind the curtain. They should have the statistics to demonstrate that the blog reaches a larger audience than the trade show. They should be the ones positioning customer communications as a privilege, not a chore.

The best way to encourage individual contributors to participate in your social media programs is to celebrate them. That doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Recognize contributions to the corporate blog in your employee newsletter, or hand out awards for the most prolific or creative contributors every quarter along with a small gift certificate. When people see that their involvement is good for their careers, they quickly come on board.

The Changing Rules of B2B Marketing

Here is a draft of the first chapter of Social Marketing to the Business Customer by Paul Gillin and Eric Schwartzman. This chapter focuses on drawing the major distinctions between business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) markets and where social marketing has particular value to B2B companies. Your feedback is welcome. Please ignore the typos and grammar flaws that inevitably appear at this stage.

Friends know Scott Hanson as an affable native Texan with a penchant for computers, cars and poker. But to thousands of technology professionals around the world, Hanson is a celebrity. By day, he and three other technologists at Dell Computer manage the Dell TechCenter, an online community that helps enterprise IT professionals unravel the thorniest problems that occur when trying to integrate technology from multiple vendors.

Dell conceived of the community in 2007 as a way to enhance loyalty among its largest customers. Members share advice and ask questions of Hanson and the other engineers, who dispense it for free. The community is open and fully searchable, although only registered members can submit articles and comments. In 2008, about 100 people visited the site every day. By early 2010, that number was over 5,000.

Hansen and colleagues Jeff Sullivan, Kong Yang and Dennis Smith are celebrities of sorts in the community of enterprise customers, who frequently seek them out for meetings at trade shows and during visits to the company’s executive briefing center. Their celebrity is paid off handsomely for Dell: Hanson won’t provide specifics, but Dell has estimated that the Tech Center is indirectly responsible for many millions of dollars in sales each year.

That’s despite the fact that Dell Tech Center isn’t charged with selling anything. The site is free of advertising and the member list may never be used for promotions. “The last thing IT people want when they come to a technical resource is an ad asking them to buy a laptop,” Hanson says.

Those sales are generated by the affinity that the staff has developed with these key corporate customers. It’s a camaraderie that is nurtured by personal contact. In the early days of Twitter, the Dell TechCenter staff had set up a common Twitter account as a secondary channel of communication. But it turned out that customers wanted to speak to people, not brands. The Twitter initiative really gained traction when Hanson became @DellServerGeek and Sullivan became @SANPenguin. Suddenly the discussion became more personal and the people behind Dell TechCenter more real to their constituents.

Welcome to the new world of B2B communications. Dell TechCenter and other initiatives like it are microcosms of the changes that are sweeping across corporate America as a consequence of the rapid growth of social media tools like blogs, communities and user-generated multimedia.

Companies like Dell, which does 80% of its sales volume with corporate customers, are ideally positioned to take advantage of these new channels. In fact, B2B companies were among the earliest adopters of social media. Technology leaders like Microsoft, IBM and Cisco had hundreds or thousands of employees blogging as early as 2005 and those same companies are now expanding their footprint into social networks like Facebook, YouTube and, overwhelmingly, Twitter.

Microsoft used a video program called Channel 9 to show its human side to a market that saw it as a closed and secretive company. B2B technology companies have also been among the most creative users of social channels to reach the highly skilled people they need to hire in competitive labor markets. Recruiters have found that social channels are far more effective in identifying prospective employees than recruitment advertising sources and that prospects came into the hiring cycle with a better understanding and more enthusiasm about the company they were hoping to work for.

Yet B2B applications of social media get remarkably little attention. Perhaps that’s because their focused communities of buyers pale in size to the millions who flock to Facebook Official Pages for Coca-Cola and Nike is. Perhaps it’s because glitzy video contests and games don’t resonate with the time-challenged professional audience. It doesn’t really matter. Few B2B companies seek the consumer spotlight and their audiences, which may spend millions of dollars with them, are more interested in substance than in style. Fortunately, B2B social media is all about substance. Continue reading

B2B Blogging Excellence

I was privileged to moderate the BtoB magazine Social Media Awards Breakfast in New York this week. There I got a chance to meet some remarkable people who took chances on social marketing before it was fashionable and won. I first noticed Jim Cahill’s blog four years ago, so it was a particular pleasure to meet him and hear his story.

Jim CahillIt took two years for Jim Cahill and  Deb Franke to convince the management at Emerson Process Management that a blog was a good idea. Their reticence was understandable. It was 2005, and blogs were widely perceived to be the domain of teenage diarists and scandal-mongers. Why would anyone want to get mixed up with that? And why would they want to read about equipment that manages large industrial plants?

They persevered. Some technology copies were creeping into the blogosphere at the time and clearly enjoying good results. Cahill and Franke eventually overcame objections by arguing that, as communications people, they understood the pitfalls and how to manage them. Emerson Process Experts was born.

Four years and a more than 500 entries later, Cahill is enjoying a new job as head of social media at Emerson Process Management. Process Experts was named Best Corporate Blog by BtoB magazine in 2010 and Cahill is now leading the company’s charge into Twitter and Facebook while institutionalizing best practices among all the Emerson Process Management divisions.

The blog has brought numerous business opportunities into Emerson, including an invitation to bid on a large, new plant that could total hundreds of millions of dollars. “I have the e-mail from that company on my wall next to a sign that asks ‘Is there any value in blogging?’” he laughs.

Even after four years, Emerson Process Experts remains an enigma in a heavy industry that has done little with social media. Topics like “Sensing Liquid Levels with Vibrating Fork Technology” may cause the average visitor’s eyes to cross, but the elite engineers who run giant process control systems can’t get enough of this kind of technical wisdom.

And for a blog this specialized, the traffic is pretty impressive. About 2,000 visitors stop by on an average business day and 15 to 20 messages land in Cahill’s inbox every week. While most are routine, a few gems inquire about business opportunities. After replying with a thank you message, Cahill forwards them on to the sales team.

Search Engine Magic

One reason is the search engine magic that blogs deliver. Search on “process control” or “process management” and Emerson ranks in the top five results. Even rarely used terms like “compressor surge control” deliver Emerson on Google’s first page. The secret is the lack of competition. As an established presence in a community with few other bloggers, Cahill is a big fish in a small pond. And as we know, Google loves blogs.

Cahill approaches his job with a reporter’s eye. He isn’t an engineer, but with more than 20 years at the company, he understands the lingo and is able to write in the customer’s language. “When I pass people in the hall, I’ll ask if they had any recent customer interactions that were interesting,” he says. “I’ll dig into those stories and use the language that the experts used to solve the problem. Those stories are rich in the keywords that customers use.”

His advice to prospective b-to-b bloggers: “Be prepared to stick with it for a while; it takes a couple of years to build up your presence. Listening is a key skill. Blogging isn’t just pushing out information, it’s responding to the interests of your market.”


Thanks, also, to my other panelists: Kirsten Watson of Kinaxis, Mary Ann Fitzmaurice Reilly of American Express OPEN and Petra Neiger, whose team at Cisco Systems created the wonderful My PlanNet simulation game for network managers.

Blogging Essentials: the Slides

Here’s a substantially updated version of a presentation on blogging essentials I’ve been delivering to business clients over the last couple of years. The full presentation runs about three hours live or via webcast and focuses  on helping bloggers deal with some of the more common problems of publishing, including generating ideas and  unique angles.

Update: Alan Belniak from PTC has a nice series of blogging guidelines on his Subjectively Speaking blog.

Full description:

This is a crash course intended to quickly bring bloggers up to speed on today’s best practices for achieving the greatest mileage from your blog posts. Topics include:
  • How influence works in the blogosphere
  • Major applications of corporate blogs
  • Developing a content model
  • Generating ideas and unique angles
  • Writing compelling headlines and entries
  • Positioning and voice
  • Why top business blogs are successful
  • Unique characteristics of b-to-b markets
  • Tricks for generating buzz and recognition
  • Working with multiple media

View more presentations from Paul Gillin.

New Media Demands New Leadership

I don’t go to the South by Southwest conference for the sessions as much as for the people. The most interesting conversations usually happen outside of the conference rooms. One discussion that stuck with me this week occurred after a presentation by MIT’s Andrew McAfee entitled “What Does Corporate America Think of 2.0?”

While I was waiting in line to introduce myself to Mr. McAfee, I eavesdropped on a conversation he was having with the young woman in front of me. She gave her age as 28 and said she had recently been hired to coordinate social media at a real estate company where her bosses were mostly in their 50s. She was clearly demoralized and frustrated.

The young woman had been brought on board to get the realty company up to speed in the new Web technologies. She understood that conversational marketing requires a culture change, but her management wasn’t interested. Her bosses, she explained, saw social technology as simply another way to distribute the same information.

For example, she had been ordered to post press releases as blog entries and to use Twitter strictly for promotional messages. She had been told to get the company on Facebook but not to interact with anyone on its fan page.Her communications with the outside world were to be limited to platitudes approved by management.

I felt bad for this young lady and also for her bosses, who will no doubt lose her in short order. I suspect they hired a social media director in the belief that she could create new channels for them, but they didn’t understand the behavioral change that was required on their part.

Open Leadership

A couple of nights earlier, I attended a dinner given by Altimeter Group, whose founder, Charlene Li, co-authored the ground-breaking book Groundswell. Charlene was handing out galley copies of her forthcoming book called Open Leadership. In it, she suggests that management strategies must fundamentally change in the age of democratized information. I’ve only read a third of the book so far, but I can already tell that it will cause considerable discomfort in corporate board rooms.

In the opening chapter, Charlene notes that “to be open, you need to let go of the need to be in control… you need to develop the confidence… that when you let go of control, the people to whom you pass the power will act responsibly.” This notion of leadership replacing management will shake many of our institutions to the core.

The traditional role of management has been to control and communicate: Managers pass orders down from above to the rank-and-file who are expected to do what they are told.

In the future, communication will increasingly be enabled by technology. Employees will be empowered with information and given guidelines and authority to do the right thing. Middle managers won’t be needed nearly as much as they are today. Organizations will become flatter, more nimble and more responsive because information won’t have to pass up and down a chain of command before being acted upon. This will result in huge productivity gains, but progress will only be achieved when top executives learn to let go of the need to control and to accept the uncertainties of empowered constituents.

No Pain, No Gain

The real estate company’s mistake was in believing that it could participate in a new culture without changing its behavior. It saw social media as a no-lose proposition; distribute the same material through new channels but don’t accommodate the reality that constituents can now talk back. Any company that takes this approach will fail to realize the benefits of the media. Once its customers realize that their opinions don’t count, they will stop engaging with the company. That doesn’t mean they won’t do business with the company any more, but the benefits of using the new media will be lost.

I have never advocated that all companies adopt social media. Each business has a different culture, and some adapt more readily to open leadership than others. If employee empowerment and institutional humility don’t fit with your style, then social media is probably not for you. You may do just fine for several years without changing your practices. But if you choose to play in the freewheeling markets enabled by customer conversations, then you’d better be willing to let go of control.

Over time, I believe all companies will have to give up the belief that they can control their markets, because interconnected customers are an unstoppable force. In the short-term, however, businesses need to do what feels right for them. If you work for a company that can’t adapt itself to the concept of open leadership, then start circulating your resume. These days, there are plenty of businesses that are eager to change.

Integrating Social Media Platforms? Let’s Talk

Photo by Adam_T4. Click for profile.

Photo by Adam_T4. Click for profile.

I’m undertaking a research project to assess the value of integrated social media marketing programs to a company’s overall strategy. I have a sponsor for it (who has to remain anonymous for the moment because of an upcoming product announcement) and am seeking others.

Here’s the premise: One of the big changes we’ve seen in the social media marketing landscape over the past year is that companies are beginning to expand beyond using point social tools such as blogs and Facebook fan pages and building multiplatform programs that incorporate elements like video, podcasts, social networks, Twitter and branded customer communities. Early feedback indicates that there may be a multiplier effect that comes from integrating these programs. In other words, when you tweet your blog entries, you get better results than if you had used each platform independently of the other.

This research attempts to assess what best practices are emerging at these early stages. In my dreams, it’ll also yield some kind of formula for calculating this multiplier. There are two parts to the research:

  • A survey; and
  • One-on-one interviews.

I invite everyone who coordinates social media efforts for a business with multiple employees to take the survey by filling out the form below. It probably takes about 20 minutes to complete if you respond to the optional verbatim questions and less than 10 minutes if you don’t.

I’m also seeking marketers at medium to large companies to consent to an in-depth telephone interview of approximately 30-45 minutes’ duration. I’ll ask you to will expand upon some of the information you provide on the survey.

I’m hoping you’ll agree to go on the record for the phone interview, but I’m flexible if that’s a problem.

Please contact me by any of the means listed below if you’re interested in helping with my research, or just add a comment at the end of this post. Thank you!

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paul@gillin.com

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Paul Gillin