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Let’s look at three examples of companies that are using social media for business-to-business(b-to-b) applications. All us different tools and all are effective in different ways.
Wikibon.org is the kind of Web 2.0 project that could disrupt a big industry. It was started two years ago by David Vellante, a veteran IT analyst who used to run the largest division of International Data Corp. Wikibon challenges an IT research model that has traditionally had customers paying tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for access to elite analysts. Traditional IT research is top-down. Wikibon is bottoms-up.
Think of it as open source advice. The more than 3,000 people who have joined Wikibon’s enterprise storage community share their expertise with each other and learn from a core group of about 40 independent consultants and experts who use the wiki to showcase their services. It’s a classic Web 2.0 give-to-get formula. The experts share their knowledge in hopes of getting business from the corporate IT specialists who visit the site. Before Wikibon, these experts had severely limited promotional channels. With Wikibon, they have an established community of prequalified business prospects.
Members have contributed 20,000 articles and edits to the archive, Vellante told me. What’s more, the time people spend browsing this rich information resource is “Facebook-like. We’re getting 20 to 30 page views per visitor.” Wikibon may not put Gartner out of business, but it is a challenging the assumption that good information has to be expensive and it’s giving some small b-to-b firms a way to reach an ideal prospect base.
If you’ve ever done business on eBay, you know that its peer rating system is one of its great innovations. RatePoint is one of an emerging class of companies that is bringing this concept to the open Web, and GoGreenSolar is using customer reviews to its advantage.
GoGreenSolar is a small Los Angeles-based firm that sells green energy products. About 60% of its business is b-to-b. A few months ago, the company contracted with RatePoint to install a customer ratings page on its website at a cost of $18/month. RatePoint acts as a kind of validation service, verifying that customer reviews haven’t been tampered with and providing a means to arbitrate disputes. GoGreenSolar has about 20 reviews on this site, all but one of them five stars. The ratings pages quickly became one of the site’s most popular features, says founder Deep Patel. In an increasingly competitive industry where customer service is a differentiator, the ratings are helping GoGreenSolar stand out.
Patel says one of the hidden values of the ratings program is the opportunity for follow-up engagement with customers. By encouraging buyers to post their comments, “We have an opportunity to have a dialog after the transaction. That’s a sales opportunity,” he says. “People who leave reviews often come back and buy more.”
Though GoGreenSolar hasn’t had many negative reviews to worry about, Patel even sees opportunity in the occasional dissatisfied customer. The rating system is an opportunity to fix the problem and turn the customer into a source of repeat business, he said.
You probably aren’t going to stop by the Emerson Process Experts blog for a casual read. Here’s a clip from a recent entry: “The valve supplier typically supplies the safety valve torque requirements and required leakage rates. The actuator supplier provides the torque-to-supply pressure tables. The good news for those of us a little rusty in our advanced math skills is that the equations are algebraic and the simplifying assumptions err to the side of conservative volume sizing..”
Did your eyes glaze over? This tech talks would baffle the typical visitor, but it’s music to the ears of the plant engineers and process control experts who regularly visit the blog started three years ago by Jim Cahill (left), marketing communications manager for Emerson’s Process Systems and Solutions business. It’s one of my favorite examples of good b-to-b blogging.
Emerson Process Experts is superbly focused; it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a technical resource to a small but very important audience. Cahill is fluent in the language of the industry, but he’s also a good writer who organizes and expresses his thoughts clearly.
What’s the benefit to Emerson? The company has become a trusted source of advice to customers and prospects. Its plentiful links to other sources of information ingratiates the company with publishers. And 190 inbound links haven’t hurt its search performance: Emerson is the number one commercial link on Google for the terms “process management” and “process control.”
New Conversation Monitoring Service is Free During Test Phase
If you’ve been itching to try out one of those conversation monitoring services – the ones that tap into millions of blogs and discussion groups and pick out mentions of your company – you now have a chance to try one for free. BuzzGain is an online service for identifying chatter on blogs, photo-sharing services, video services, Twitter and traditional media. It’s co-founded by Brian Solis, a PR guy who’s very savvy about new media. According to the pitch I received, this test isn’t open to the general public: “They’re launching BuzzGain in the true spirit of public beta…They want to listen to and learn…While it’s in Beta, it will be free for everyone.”