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B-to-B Social Media in Action

February 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Newsletter

From my weekly newsletter. To subscribe, just fill out the short form to the right.

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

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.

GoGreenSolar

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.

Emerson Process Management

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.”

How To Win in the Search-Driven Media World

November 21, 2008 by  
Filed under Newsletter

Last week, I suggested that people’s information consumption habits have changed permanently as a result of tools like Google Alerts and RSS feeds. These technologies make it possible for people to subscribe to keywords rather than publications. While media brands will always matter, their importance will decline as people become more accustomed to selecting information by topic and new trusted brands emerge from the world of social media.

So what does this all mean to marketers? A lot. No longer is success a matter of placing messages in a few mass media outlets and hoping for the best. Marketers will need to segment their audiences and their media selections much more carefully in the future. That’s the bad news. The good news is that they also have the means to influence media more directly and even to become the media, if they so choose.

Segments

Let’s look at segmentation first. It’s no secret that the newspaper industry is in a terrible state. Circulation is declining between 6% and 10% annually and their audience is aging. A 2005 Carnegie Corp. survey estimated that the average age of a regular newspaper reader is now 55 and climbing. That figure is 61 for regular viewers of the TV evening news.

The trend is quite different in other media, however. Some print magazines are actually growing circulation. Runners World, for example, has added 200,000 subscribers in the last three years. In some emerging overseas markets, even newspapers are quite healthy. Also, while network television viewership is declining, some cable outlets are growing nicely.

This means you need to consider the audience you’re trying to reach and match it to the media you choose. Older customers can still be served effectively through mainstream media, while the under-30 age group requires a very different approach.

Segmentation also applies to interests. Technology enthusiasts have moved swiftly to the Web, a trend that has been dramatized by the collapse of many consumer electronics and corporate IT publications. However, traditional lifestyle media such as cooking, travel and fashion are holding up quite well. A big reason is that people interact differently with these products. Topics that are news- or transaction-driven migrate more quickly online than those that emphasize aesthetic appeal. The last time I checked, Brides magazine was still thick with ads.

You Are the Media

The more intriguing opportunity for marketers is to become the media. As I noted last week, search engines don’t have brand loyalty. The rise of super-bloggers like Michael Arrington and Robert Scoble demonstrate that trusted brands can grow quickly online. Regular readers may be tired of hearing me say this, but if you aren’t optimizing all of your business communications for search, you aren’t doing your job.

Google is now people’s first stop for information and insight on nearly every imaginable product. You can gain an unnatural advantage over even very large media brands by understanding which keywords bring people to your site and then optimizing around those terms. This is what I mean by “you are the media.”

But it isn’t just you. Other trusted brands are emerging online and those people can also be influenced to drive home your message. Using the right keywords in your communications to these new influencers can help drive your brand’s awareness through search. Sometimes you want to drive traffic to your own website, but at other times you may prefer the endorsement of a trusted third party. Again, the key factor is search optimization. Online media rely far more heavily on search visibility and external links than circulation lists. Use the same tools they use and you can piggyback on their success with astonishing speed.