B2B Blogging Excellence

I was privileged to moderate the BtoB magazine Social Media Awards Breakfast in New York last 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?

Cahill and Franke persevered. Some technology companies 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 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.” Few bloggers do that better than Jim Cahill.

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.

How to Integrate E-mail and Social Media Marketing

As hot a topic as social media has become, the fact is that most of us still live in our inboxes. The challenge for e-mail marketers is to incorporate new tools into their programs as a way to gain subscribers and deliver messages through additional channels. I just finished creating a brand-new presentation on this topic entitled “Social Marketing With Email.” Click here to see it on SlideShare. I’d be pleased to present it to your e-mail marketers or local professional organization either on-site or remotely. Please contact me if you’re interested.

Tip of the Week: Google Searches via RSS

Did you know you can save Google searches as RSS feeds? A lot of people don’t, but Google quietly slipped that feature into its search results more than a year ago. I only just found out about it.

The feature works only through Google Alerts. When you set up a search query in Google Alerts, you have the option of specifying “Deliver to: Feed.” You can then click on the feed icon to grab the address or view the results directly in Google Reader.
The advantage of an RSS feed is that you only have to run the query once. After it’s been added to your RSS reader, you can rerun the query simply by refreshing the feed. RSS readers also save historical results, so you can keep an archive of past searches.

Just for Fun: Incredibly Eccentric People

If you’re dreading summertime because it means more time with your crazy family, just be thankful you’re not related to any of the people on this list of 10 incredibly eccentric people. If you have a teenager in the house who is constantly embarrassed by the fact that you breathe the same air he or she does, you may want to send the youngster to this site with the message, “See? It could be worse.” You could be Hetty Green (right), the millionaire miser who allowed her son’s leg to be amputated because he couldn’t find free medical care. Also be sure to check out the other “Top 10” list at the bottom of the page.

Love Your Subscribers

Paul GillinFord Motor Company is widely considered to be an outstanding practitioner of social media marketing. Under the leadership of Scott Monty (more than 36,000 followers on Twitter), the company has created such innovations as the multimedia Ford Story website and the consumer-generated Fiesta Movement.

So I was a little surprised recently when Scott told me, “Most of the mainstream still relies on e-mail. Newsletters will be a big part of our strategy for 2010.”

Newsletters? E-mail? Isn’t that stuff so last millennium? In fact, e-mail continues to be the killer app of social media.

E-marketer reported last month that “e-mail was the top channel for distributing content to friends, with 46.4% of all shares. About one-third of shares went to Facebook and less than 6% were tweeted.” The Pew Internet & American Life Project reported last fall that more people use the Internet for e-mail than for any other activity, including search.

So allow me to sing the praises of e-mail as an engagement medium. Note I didn’t say “marketing medium.” Every marketer I’ve spoken to for the last two years has told me that e-mail blasts are delivering fewer and fewer quality results. E-mail newsletters, on the other hand, continue to be core to their strategies. Here’s why.

Social media provides a great opportunity to create awareness among groups of people you don’t know, but they pale next to e-mail’s capacity to sustain relationships. My newsletter consumes about four hours of my time each week, which is not a small investment. However, it’s an invaluable way to sustain important relationships and a pretty steady source of new business. About 30% of my subscribers open each issue and I invariably get at least four or five direct responses as well as several comments to my blog. The newsletter also generates at least a couple of new business leads every month.

Permission to Speak

E-mail has one critical advantage over all social media: It’s permission-based. By subscribing to my newsletter, you give me the okay to periodically intrude upon your inbox with a message that I hope is of interest to you. Your inbox is hallowed ground to me. While I don’t take unsubscribes personally, I do monitor them for evidence that my topics are going off-base. I respond to every reply I receive to a newsletter and I take those comments seriously. Anyone who takes the time to subscribe deserves my attention.

So let’s abstract this back to a business newsletter. I believe every company should have one. The subscription form on your site creates the opportunity to convert casual visits into conversations. It’s a chance to enhance visitors’ understanding of what you do, update them on new initiatives and demonstrate your value. A static website should catch attention; a newsletter should create a dialogue.

Think Different (As Apple Would Say)

Newsletters are different from other forms of communication. For one thing, you should make the message more personal. Your newsletter subscribers have a deeper interest in what you do than casual Web visitors. Give them your best stuff.

Subscribers should get value from a newsletter that they don’t get from a website or e-mail blast. That may be insight, an offer, an advance peek at something new or an invitation. If subscribers don’t get something special, why should they bother subscribing?

Newsletters are an excellent place to pull together your recent activities and show how your business is moving forward. Speak personally; this is a conversation, not an advertisement. Ask someone in your company to share a bit of expertise. Preview some new research before sharing it with the world. Give subscribers an exclusive discount. Share a behind-the-scenes look at a product or service that the rest of the world doesn’t get to see.

Always invite response. The “Reply” button is the fastest way to establish a dialogue. You might also give people the option to post their comments publicly on your blog or via a Twitter hash tag.

When people respond, return the favor. I can’t emphasize this enough. Your newsletter is a way to convert an impression into a relationship. Why would you fumble away an opportunity for interaction? A response doesn’t mean an insulting boilerplate message. It means a message from a human. Better not to reply at all than to leave the task to a robot.

I subscribe to a lot of newsletters just to keep an eye on what others are doing. I’m often amazed at how little attention businesses pay to optimizing the potential of their newsletters. Airlines, for example, fill my inbox with discounts and package deals. I can’t remember the last time one of them invited my feedback or tried to help me be a better traveler. Perhaps that’s why I don’t subscribe to many airline newsletters anymore.

What ideas have worked for your newsletters? Let’s keep the dialogue going by sharing some successes on the blogged version of this article. Or use the Twitter hash tag #PGCNL.

Social Media: Small Business’ Unfair Advantage

You’re competing against a billion-dollar company. It’s armed with a $10 million advertising budget and a battalion of marketing professionals. All you’ve got is your little blog.

What an unfair advantage for you.

Social media is the best thing ever to happen to small business. In my recent guest entry on the ShopTab blog, I present five reasons why that’s true.

Free Webcast for My Subscribers

Traditional marketing was all about delivering a message from the top and spreading it through as many channels as possible. That worked well in an age when mass media dominated the communications landscape, but the world has changed. Today, messages begin at the bottom and percolate up.

At 1 p.m. EST this afternoon, I’ll present a webinar entitled The New World of Bottom-Up Marketing presented by the Best Practice Institute. The event is available only to paid members of Institute, but subscribers to my newsletter can participate for *free* by registering with the code PAULBPI. Stop by and let me know what you think!

New Seminar: Twitter Demystified

A lot of people are asking about Twitter these days, so I’ve come up with a new seminar that helps explain it all. This course takes about two to three hours, depending on the detail desired, and can be delivered live or via the Web. Contact me if you’re interested. Here’s a description:

Twitter Demystified

Why do some Twitter users have 10,000 followers after one year and others only 500? It isn’t just the volume of tweets that make someone a Twitter superstar; it’s also content, focus and constructive participation in this vast and growing community.

Three years after it was introduced, Twitter still remains a mystery to many people. To newcomers it appears to be a cacophony of disjointed information, yet many businesses are finding that it is the single most valuable tool they can use to magnify a message. What’s their secret?

Twitter’s endless stream of commentary actually sits atop a sophisticated structure of technology and cultural protocols that dictate how a message can be communicated and amplified. Once you understand how the system works, the service is amazingly powerful. Success on Twitter is a matter of delivering value, interacting constructively with a community and supporting other members. It’s also a matter of knowing what behaviors are appropriate in a community that makes up its own rules.

This seminar teaches participants how Twitter works, how to become quickly productive and how to grow influence and derive value from the community. Participants will learn the following:

• The basic constructs of the Twitter service
• Important terms and concepts
• Dos and don’ts for community engagement
• How to enlist other members to amplify a message
• How to work with a follower base
• How to measure results and adjust strategies
• How to make Twitter a part of your daily routine
• Useful third-party services that complement the Twitter experience

Tip of the Week: Office 2010 for Free

The Microsoft Office 2007 suite costs a minimum of $150 for the student edition at Best Buy, but you can download the full version of the next generation of Office for free. Microsoft is making Office 2010 available at no charge through its beta program with a license that runs at least through October. The company doesn’t say if the product will stop working on Halloween, but I hope it doesn’t because I’m enjoying this new version a lot. I particularly like the OneNote organizer. Plan on going to lunch after you start the download because it takes a while. Get it here.

Just For Fun: 10 Places You’re Probably Not Cool Enough To Get Into

Although I realize that subscribers to this newsletter are among the most keyed-in people on the planet, I doubt more than a handful of you have been to any of the places on this list of restricted-access facilities, both government- and non-government-related. Virtually visit the Ise Grand Shrine in Japan, rebuilt every 20 years and accessible only by the Japanese imperial family and its high priests and priestesses. Or come imagine what is stored inside the Vatican’s Secret Archives (maybe Dan Brown was right!). Or sit down with a world-class wine list at Club 33 in Disneyland. If you’re one of the lucky few who can get into any of these spots, send me a couple of all-access passes, will you?

E-mail Do’s and Don’ts

As I write this essay, the founder of Email Data Source is telling the audience at the Inbound Marketing Summit, that email marketing has a return on investment of 44:1. I believe that, and Bill McCloskey’s words remind me that it’s been a while since I sang the praises of this venerable but highly useful marketing tool.

E-mail should be central to your online marketing plan.  It’s how you turn casual passersby into steady customers. It gives you permission on a regular basis to contact your constituents. It’s your best tool for driving website traffic and business results.

As a practitioner of e-mail marketing going back nearly a decade, I’ve learned a few simple do’s and don’ts. Fortunately, there aren’t a lot of rules. The most important ones are to be useful and to respect the access that your subscribers have granted you.

Do give visitors to your websites every chance to subscribe to your e-mails. Put a signup form on every page. If you can manage it, squeeze a promo into your e-mail signature. Remember, a Web contact is casual but an e-mail subscription is a relationship.

Do give your subscribers special treatment. Offer them exclusive offers and discounts. Some software companies now give newsletter publishers free promotional licenses to products that are one release out of date. Look for these offers and ask if you can adapt them for your subscribers.

Do use an e-mail service provider. I use iContact, but there are many others, including Constant Contact, Benchmark Email and Lyris. There are even free options. For a nominal cost, you’ll get reporting, tracking and list management you’d never be able to duplicate yourself.

Don’t deceive your subscribers. If you tell them they’re signing up for a newsletter, don’t send them promotional messages. If you say you won’t contact them more than once a month, then don’t do that. Monitor your unsubscribes. If a lot of people are leaving, they’re trying to tell you something.

Do provide a Web version of your newsletter. Mine is here. This makes it easy for people to share your content on social bookmarking sites, Twitter and Facebook. It also makes you discoverable by search engines.  Finally, it’s a way for people to respond to you.

Which reminds me: do invite response to that Web version you just created. Email is boring when it’s one way. Start a discussion.

Do sweat the subject line. Make it provocative or intriguing. However, don’t mislead people into opening the newsletter if you can’t deliver the goods.

Do keep messages brief and varied. Provide several “points of entry” to engage your audience’s different interests. Have fun. The most well-read item in my newsletter is the short “Just for Fun” blurb at the end. Do you think I don’t know that?

Do provide alternative delivery in text format. All service providers support this option. Not all subscribers prefer HTML and they shouldn’t have it forced on them.

Don’t add subscribers without their permission. There’s nothing wrong with renting an opt-in list, but scraping addresses off websites or borrowing other people’s lists can get you in legal trouble.

Don’t underestimate the value of e-mail marketing. This newsletter consumes three to four hours of my time every week. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think it was important.

And Speaking of Great Offers…

The nice folks at HubSpot have extended an offer to my subscribers that I think deserves your attention. It’s a complete text and video course that educates you in the art and science of using social media in general – and Twitter in particular – for marketing. And it’s entirely free to my subscribers. What does HubSpot get out of it? Well, you have to fill out a contact form to download the information, but there’s no obligation and you will learn a lot from the basic program.

Here’s what you get:

  • Video: Twitter for Marketing and PR – Learn how to use Twitter to spread news about your company (1 hour)
  • Video: Getting Found Online using Social Media – Learn the ins and outs of using social media for business (1 hour)
  • EBook: How to Use Twitter for Business (25 pages)
  • EBook: State of the TwitterSphere Report

HubSpot understands the value of providing high-quality information as a way to generate leads. So take them up on this offer and let me know what you think. Download the course here.

Tip of the Week: AutoPager

I find and discard a lot of Firefox add-ons, but AutoPager will be with me for a long time. This wonderfully useful little utility addresses one of the most frustrating time-wasters of Internet research: clicking through to new pages. Any Google user knows the syndrome: when you get to the bottom of a page of search results, you have to click a link to view the next page and then wait while that page loads. AutoPager automatically loads the next page in any sequence when you scroll to the bottom of the preceding page. When you’re performing a lot of Internet research, it can be a huge time-saver. Like all open source utilities, it’s free.

Just for Fun: Those Silly Tech Support People

It’s a humbling truth in life that even the smartest person among us sometimes needs help, especially when it comes to the intricate workings of computers. But what happens when the people who are supposed to know more than we do in fact know very little? We’ve found this amusing collection of tech support stories to brighten your day. The stories are dated, but still very funny. You’re very welcome.