Business.com Earns Click Quality Accreditation


Business.com Receives MRC Click Measurement Accreditation
At Business.com, we’re dedicated to providing high quality traffic to our advertisers.

As such, we’re very pleased to announce that Business.com is one of the first four pay-per-click industry leaders, including Microsoft (adCenter and Atlas Media Console), to earn click quality accreditation from the Media Rating Council (MRC) certifying full compliance with the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) Click Measurement Guidelines. See our press release here.

The MRC accreditation means Business.com advertisers can be assured that the clicks they pay for on Business.com are generated by real people with a real interest in the product or service being advertised.

Business.com has been an active member of the IAB’s Click Measurement Working Group over the last three years, working with other industry leaders to finalize a clear, standardized definition of a “click” and how clicks are measured and counted, including the identification of fraudulent or other invalid clicks. Published in May 2009, the IAB Click Measurement Guidelines also include auditing and certification recommendation for organizations involved in performance-based advertising.  To earn MRC click quality accreditation, a company must undergo a through MRC-drive audit of its operations and review of the findings by the MRC Audit Committee. Once granted, click quality accreditation by the MRC certifies that an organization has provided full and complete information to the MRC regarding all details of its operation, conducts its processing and reporting substantially in accordance with representations to its clients and in compliance with IAB guidelines, and submits to annual audits of its systems by CPA firms engaged by the MRC.

Suffice to say, receiving MRC click quality accreditation is a lot of work but well worth the effort as part of our commitment to click quality and good measurement practices. While Business.com is one of the very first to earn this accreditation, keep your eye out for more announcements as other leading companies offering performance-based advertising commit to full compliance with the IAB’s Click Measurement Guidelines.


Interview: Top 5 B2B Online Community Myths with Impact Interactions' Mike Rowland


In this  interview with Mike Rowland of Impact Interactions, a consulting group advising B2B companies such as Cisco on social media and online community strategy, Mike covers the top 5 myths about building B2B online communities and then offers his top tips for successful community building:

 

Myth #1: B2B online communities must have a serious tone

MR: When you look at B2C communities, the perception is that they are fun and entertaining, but B2B communities have to be cut and dry. But for B2B, the facilitators, like in any community, need to haveboth a sense of humor and people skills to be effective. They don’t have to be serious and focused all the time. B2B doesn’t have to stand for “no fun.” That is not true. Think “measured fun” – for example, the kind of discussion that happens at the watercooler.

Myth #2: New B2B online communities need a presence on all major social networking sites

MR: We see communities that get launched with webcasts, blogs, Twitter, Facebook. If you are in too many places at once, you fragment your audience, and they never link all of your efforts together. Start small with your feature set, so you can aggregate people first, before giving them multiple tools. Too much focus on tools, rather than the behaviors you’re trying to get, can backfire.

Myth #3: B2B online communities need active moderation to start but eventually run themselves

MR: When building a B2B community, you should expect that your company will always need to be actively involved. When companies stop actively engaging in community, it alienates people. If you see zero responses, it feels like the company doesn’t care. For example, I’ve seen cases where companies will launch an open Q & A channel, but they don’t set up a team of subject matter or community experts. It becomes a virtual wasteland. Companies underestimate the work communities take.

Companies think that there’s a magic formula, and that once there is active community participation then the company can pull back because they are no longer needed. That’s not true. Companies must maintain their activity level, not just at launch, but have a plan for what they’ll be doing in three months, and into the future. Don’t expect to start out heavy, then back out substantially. B2B relationship-building is much more intense than B2C – you can’t just back out.

Myth #4: B2C and B2B online communities have similar participation rates

MR: The 90-9-1 participation ratio (90% lurkers, 9% intermittent contributors, 1% active participants) that community managers often cite as a benchmark is a myth, at least for B2B communities. In my experience, that ratio doesn’t fit well. That model doesn’t take into account what the community is trying to accomplish. In a B2B support community, if users don’t see their issue and need support, they post it – it’s different than a gossip community where there may not be a high user incentive to post as opposed to lurking. Support communities still have lurkers, but the intermittent contributor participation percentage can be as high as 25-30%. On the other hand, active participants in B2B communities can be more like 0.1% or a tenth of what community managers expect to see in B2C.

Myth #5: Social networking site metrics indicate the health of B2B communities

MR:The main problem with participation in B2B Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIngroups and so on is that you’re able to identify active participants and intermittent contributors, but you can’t see who’s just reading. Social networking site follower or friend counts can also be misleading because not all of these people could even be considered lurkers. Instead, use social network sites as beacons to point traffic to your site so you can measure community participation more actively.

Mike’s top tips for building B2B online communities:

MR:What does the audience hear from you over time to make you want to take action? You can’t just blitz people – you have to be providing info over time – it’s more about brand awareness. B2B companies are playing catch up a lot – but things are moving faster now. Dell and Cisco are examples of B2B companies on Twitter – that’s a big growth market.

To B2B companies getting started, ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish. Lead generation/sooner-faster sales, support? Companies need to put that into a goal – and really think about their business objectives. What would the KPI’s be? Success indicators can come from CRM, the community, the website, the ecommerce website.

After that we start talking about tools. What are you offering? If it’s perceived that you’re not offering something of value, you’ll have a low conversion rate. And –- how good is the user interface and navigation? With each extra step you lose more people. How passionate are people regarding your product or brand? Higher passion equals a higher energy rate for your online community.

We get asked questions like — for 100,000 visits per month, how many registrants should we have? It depends. There are so many variables. Compare the percent of registrations to traffic. The ratio is dependent on value exchange –- what are you offering?

An example of a passionate B2B community is Cisco Networking Professionals. The power of that brand is a combination of everything they do in the marketplace –-good products, people, treatment of customers – and how they get the message out – that ties directly into their community metrics.

A smaller company without brand awareness can use social media to get started –- online community must come later. Create an executive level blog to set the tone –- talk about where the company/industry is going. Set up Twitter –- feature your blog and call attention to yourself as a company that’s willing to communicate.

Everyone thinks they’re a social media expert. The key is to understand people, not tools. Understand what drives behavior, and why they’d want to interact.


6 B2B Online Community Takeaways from OCU 2009


Online Community Unconference 2009

Online Community Unconference 2009

At Forum One’s energized gathering of online community professionals at the Online Community Unconference in Mountain View last week, there was great interest in B2B online communities compared to last year’s conference (marketers are starting to realize that B2B companies need social media too). Mike Rowland of Impact Interactions, a community consulting group, led a well-attended session on B2B communities and their characteristics based on his six years of experience helping major B2B companies such as Cisco, Intel, and SAP establish relationships with their customers and prospects using online communities and other social media.

Here are Mike Rowland’s six key takeaways for building B2B online communities:

1) Building B2B online communities takes more than copying B2C practices

Clearly defined objectives and a focus on driving business results are the hallmarks of more successful B2B online community efforts. You can’t get there by simply adopting B2C community practices without reference to whether these make sense for your business or target audience.

2) Question the 90-9-1 participation ratio 

B2C community managers typically expect that 90% of visitors will be lurkers, 9% will be intermittent participants and 1% will be active participants (90-9-1). In the B2B space, according to Rowland, the typical ratio is closer to 99-0.9-0.1 – B2B online communities will have about 1/10th the active participants of a B2C community at comparable traffic volumes – but participation rates are all over the map. In support communities where people can ask a quick question and get a quick response, the 0.9% intermittent participant rate expands.

3. Don’t confuse traffic and behavior with value

Its easy to get excited about traffic to your B2B online community, or from seeing members interact to address issues or challenges. However, don’t confuse traffic and behavior with value to your business. Is your B2B online community generating more revenue for your business? More leads? Lowering support costs? Raising awareness? Providing key insights into your customer base? Understand the business reasons for creating your community in the first place and keep your eye on those metrics.

4. B2B online community participants are buyers

Survey research from multiple B2B online communities shows that 60+% of members say that something they read or saw in the community influenced them to buy. This is a theme Forrester’s Laura Ramos also mentioned in our B2B social media with her.

5. Use Twitter and Facebook to direct traffic to specific landing pages

Give B2B social media and community participants a clear call to action and take traffic to specific landing pages. Keeping track of traffic, leads, revenue, etc. from each third party application is also critical.

6. Young B2B communities take significant work to build

B2B communities don’t just emerge in the field of dreams sense – if you build it, they will come.  Given the community participation ratios above, B2B communities are much harder to build than B2C communities. Companies must to be prepared to work to build relationships and grow the community over time. While you will put in more work at first, and an active B2B online community will require somewhat less effort over time, don’t expect to just sit back and watch as your community grows astronomically. It takes work, but the business value derived may be well worth the effort.


Twitter for Business Case Study: @B2BOnlineMktg at 90 Days


NOTE: This is part 3 of Business.com’s case study about using Twitter to share interesting, valuable insights about B2B online marketing through our account (http://twitter.com/B2BOnlineMktg) and, in the process, build awareness of Business.com as a key online resource for solutions to business challenges. Also read part 1 ( @B2BOnlineMktg at 30 days) and part 2 (@B2BOnlineMarketing at 60 days) for more background. 

Business.com's B2BOnlineMktg Twitter Account Stats On June 3, 2009

Business.com's B2BOnlineMktg Twitter Account Stats On June 3, 2009

I hesitate to say this, but I think we’re starting to get the hang of Twitter for business – why it makes sense as a business communication channel, how it fits into our marketing plan, the most relevant metrics to track, how to build a strong follower base (without simply following everyone else on Twitter and hoping for a reciprocal follow), what makes a compelling business “tweet” and much more.  I can’t cover all these topics in this post, but I’ll hit the highlights below and we’ll provide more details in future posts (which we’ll tweet via http://twitter.com/B2BOnlineMktg, of course!).

First, an update on Twitter metrics from our first Twitter post on March 2, 2009 through June 2.

Key Stats for @B2BOnlineMktg at 90 Days

Followers: 2,043

Following: 197

Tweets: 404

Tracked clicks on tweets: 6,257

Top 10 @B2BOnlineMktg tweets by number of clicks over the last 30 days:

  1. 5 situations where B2B marketers should AVOID social media – great summary http://ow.ly/4N6D (via @btobmarketing(134 clicks)
  2. Improving conversion rates in a world where “99% of business buying is covering your butt.” http://ow.ly/59nU #b2b #marketing  (84 clicks)
  3. US companies to more than double investments in web analytics over next 5 years – new Forrester report. http://ow.ly/ao2R  #wa  (69 clicks)
  4. Case study – Customer reviews drive 196% increase in paid search revenue for Office Depot (via @whatworks) http://ow.ly/59P6  (61 clicks)
  5. Good laugh for B2B marketers – 7 Infectious Diseases of B2B Marketing (via @michelelinn @RossGraber ):  http://ow.ly/6vPi  (60 clicks)
  6. 3,600 LinkedIn users speak – Twitter most important platform for brands to master. http://ow.ly/anO1 (via @SocialMedia411(59 clicks)
  7. Integrating online and offline B2B marketing strategies – register now for May 11th webinar http://ow.ly/5hGO  (42 clicks)
  8. Love this one – reminder to dig a little deeper into marketing research stats before quoting. http://ow.ly/5hAv  (41 clicks)
  9. Get the latest update on 2009 B2B Marketing Trends in this MarketingProfs webinar – May 6, 11 AM PDT/ 2 PM EDT http://ow.ly/4Dp2  (37 clicks)
  10. The 6 Dangerous Fallacies of Social Media – http://ow.ly/9h3M #socialmedia  (36 clicks)

Drive More Clicks From Business Twitter Users

Over the last 30 days we focused on identifying underlying patterns in how business people use Twitter. To do so, we spread our tweets across days of the week and different times during the day. We also varied the time between tweets and tweet length in characters. Looking across 182 tweets from both our business user-focused Twitter accounts (@B2BOnlineMktg for B2B marketers and @whatworks for business people in general) from May 4th through June 3rd, 2009, we found some interesting patterns…

Average Lifespan of a Business Tweet = 4 days

If you measure the lifespan of a tweet by the number of days on which it receives at least one click from a Twitter user, then business tweets don’t live very long. On average, our tweets with a clickable link received at least one click on four separate days with a range of one day (not a very popular tweet) to 23 days (home run!).

Lifespan of a Business Tweet

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best Day to Maximize Business Tweet Clicks = Monday

I noticed this phenomena pretty quickly after starting our @B2BOnlineMktg Twitter account in early March and our study bears it out – if you want to capture the attention of business people with your tweets, make sure you’re tweeting on Monday (and Monday morning, in particular) or Tuesday. Tweets we sent on Monday garnered nearly 10 clicks for every day with a click (e.g., if a Monday tweet received at least one click on four different days, we’d expect about 40 total clicks on that tweet). The middle of the week is, well, weak, as is Sunday.

Twitter Business User Click Activity by Tweet Day of Week

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best Time of Day for Business Tweets = 3 Distinct Windows

Its tempting to think of the social media guru who tweets throughout the day to stay connected to their followers and up on the latest news. That’s the exception, rather than the rule, for the vast majority of business twitter users who may check Twitter and/or post a few tweets at opportune times during the day – the same times they might stop to catch up on email, read a few posts on favorite blogs, etc.

Our tweets with the highest click activity were posted in one of three periods:

  1. After 5pm PDT / 8pm EDT – when people on the East Coast may start getting back to work after an early dinner or putting the kids to bed
  2. 11am-noon PDT / 2-3pm EDT – when attention wanders in the mid-afternoon on the East Coast and before lunch in the West
  3. 5-7am PDT / 8-10am EDT – when people first start sitting down to work and catching up on email/blogs/Twitter before meeting start for the day

Twitter Business User Click Activity by Tweet Time of Day

 

 

 

 

 

 

Optimal Time Between Business Tweets = 31-60 minutes

In our 60 day update one of the pieces of advice we gave was to tweet frequently but leave room for your tweets to breathe. Again looking the average clicks per day with a click, the optimal space between business tweets to attract the most clicks is either 31-60 minutes or 2-3 hours. Tightly packed tweets just don’t appear to attract as much attention as tweets with more space between them. I’m not certain what causes the dip in click activity for tweets between 61 and 120 minutes but I suspect it has to do with missing prime Twitter activity time on the East and West coasts (we may look into this in a later post).

 Twitter Business User Click Activity by Time Between Tweets

 

 

 

 

 

 

Optimal Business Tweet Length = 91-100 characters

I found this very interesting, and I’m not sure I have a great theory as to why tweets between 91 and 100 characters should draw the most clicks from business twitter users. This length is about a line and a half for people actually visiting Twitter to check their tweet stream, and I’m sure it varies for different Twitter monitoring applications. This length also allows plenty of room for others to retweet without modifying the tweet itself, something that’s a lot more difficult when you get in the 120+ character range. While it makes sense that tweets under 70 characters long don’t attract much activity – if its hard saying something interesting in 140 characters, try it in less than 70 characters some time – the fact that the 131+ character tweets attract the second highest click activity isn’t clear. It may have to do with the benefit of retweeting or mentioning others in your tweets, something I’ll cover in a later post.

Twitter Business User Click Activity by Tweet Length

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Now that we’ve shown our data, what do you think is behind the business twitter use patterns above? Any business Twitter stats of your own to share?
 
 

B2B Social Media – The Business.com Case Study


As 2008 unfolded, our team at Business.com closely monitored exploding interest in B2B social media.  The Business.com site is designed to help people find solutions to business challenges through resources like the leading online B2B directory and over 30,000 business how-to guides, and we were intrigued by the potential to connect with our target business decision maker audience through various social media channels.

Like the rest of the industry, we learned from experts like Forrester’s Laura Ramos as they chronicled how early adopters were leveraging social media. We religiously downloaded Marketing Sherpa special reports to glean where business-to-business brands were finding measurable success.  We also created our own B2B social media case study that looked at what players like Intuit and Dell were doing right. By year’s end, we were chomping at the bit to dive in!

Our first steps? Defining clear, scalable goals. After all, social media might be a new platform but it’s still marketing, folks.  We determined our primary goal is  building awareness of the Business.com brand as a source for business solutions and driving higher quality traffic to our site.  Our short term goals included determining the key differences between B2C and B2B social media and figuring out just how much effort is really involved in making an impact with B2B social media.

What Works for Business blog

With those critical guide posts staked in the ground, we got to work.  In the first half of 2009, Business.com launched two corporate blogs. Each blog targets one of our key audience segments. What Works for Business is the user-facing resource penned by our own small business expert, Dan Kehrer.  B2B Online Marketing is our advertiser-focused blog serving up actionable online marketing tips and best practices for B2B marketers.

Over the course of the last five months, we’ve achieved steady growth in the audience for each blog. By testing design, editorial content, plug-ins and posting frequency, we also gained invaluable insight into our audience’s needs and habits. Having two  blogs has given us the opportunity to test different approaches and compare results.

What Works Followers

To help drive readership and engagement of both blogs, we also joined all the cool kids on Twitter. We started an account that corresponds to each blog, @B2BOnlineMktg and @WhatWorks. We tested key variables – number of Tweets each day, time of day, content of tweets, scheduling tweets, hashtags, etc. We began “following” key social media players like Chris Brogan (@chrisbrogan) and subject area thought leaders like Anita Campbell (@smallbiztrends) for small business, Galen DeYoung (@GalenDY) for B2B SEO and Stephanie Tilton (@StephanieTilton) for B2B writing/case studies to better understand the Twitter universe (plus find great content to retweet). We even worked hard on creating compelling tweets, a process akin to writing great headlines given the 140 character limit.

Don’t get me wrong.  We aren’t always sure what we’re up to is the optimal approach but, hey, that’s what learning is all about and we’ll continue to stumble here and there.

Like most marketers, the biggest challenge we’ve faced has been pinpointing the “right” social media metrics toVisitors to B2B Online Marketing Blog measure success. Recently, we’ve been focusing on total branded impressions delivered, Twitter follower growth, click through rate on tweets and blog repeat visits to directionally guide our B2B social media efforts. We’ve found tools like HootSuite, Twinfluence, and Radian 6 to be invaluable. In fact, they have become a bit addicting since they show the immediate impact (good or bad) of our efforts.

I think most companies who are honest admit their social media efforts are a bit of an experiment, defined by trial and error. We’ve been particularly surprised/frustrated/overwhelmed by how important the volume of blog posts is to attracting a consistent following and solid search engine rankings. Cranking out quality content is obviously not easy to do with everything else on our plates.

B2BOnlineMktg on Twitter

One of our key lessons learned: the importance of clear editorial planning. Don’t expect to do a lot of big posts. Instead, intermix longer ones with more frequent smaller ones. We also recommend finding people on your marketing team with a mix of writing skills. For example, some people are great at writing short summaries of topics, while others can’t seem to write less than 1,000 words to save their lives.

As we begin the second half of 2009, we plan to apply some of the brand extension tactics that the likes of Comcast and Dell discussed at last week’s TWTRCON conference in San Francisco. And we will continue the P.O.S.T strategy that Laura Ramos touted in our recent interview with her.  Here are our social media do’s and don’t’s :

  • Don’t take on too much- Social media takes significant time to execute well and see results.  Focus is critical. No one – including IBM, Cisco, Intel, or other big B2B names – has been successful trying to tackle blogging, Facebook, Twitter, message board participation, etc., all at once.
  • Do use social media as a content play for your brand-  Refine your content strategy  by monitoring key word searches, plugins like “Share This” and Twitter hot topics to gauge most the popular topics in your area of expertise.  The key is not just blasting out your message but creating SEO-friendly and unique content that your audience is looking for online.
  • Don’t spam - Spam is a big problem online and only getting bigger thanks to all the social media testing going on out there. Producing quality content is vital to long-term success.   Don’t sacrifice quality for a few more followers or blog visitors.  Period. Remember your company’s reputation is on the line.
  • Do figure out what works for you – We’re standing on the shoulders of social media giants, testing out ideas and seeing how they work for us. As we’ve found, some general social media best practices apply to Business.com but some don’t (or apply in unique situations). No one knows YOUR brand and your better that YOU. Look at social media outreach as an opportunity to open a dialogue with your core audience and find out what they want from you. Every company has to experiment with social media and find what works best for them.

Look for more details in future posts as we share important insights from our social media initiatives and visit our collection of best insights and advice about B2B social media strategy and tactics.

In the meantime, tell us: what are your B2B social media do’s and don’t’s?


Interview: B2B Social Media Insights from Forrester's Laura Ramos


Forrester B2B Marketing Analyst Laura Ramos

Forrester B2B Marketing Analyst Laura Ramos

My Company is Blogging and Tweeting: So Now What Do We Do?

Recently, I had the great pleasure of talking with Forrester’s B2B marketing guru, Laura Ramos, about the emerging social media landscape and opportunities for B2B companies to build better relationships with their customers and target prospects.

The idea for the interview came from our own ambivalence at Business.com about social media – we started experimenting with blogging and using Twitter for business in late Q4, 2008 but I, like so many other B2B marketers I meet, wanted to get the “big picture” perspective on the B2B social media opportunity from one of the leading researchers in this area. Laura’s groundbreaking study, with G. Oliver Young, of how business technology buyers use social media was a wake-up call for B2B marketers, and I think her insights below provide much needed perspective for any marketer looking to better understand B2B social media:

Q: I’ve had this experience, and I’m sure you have it all the time – an experienced B2B marketer comes up to you and asks “I keep hearing about social media, Facebook, Twitter and all that. Is any of this relevant for B2B marketing today?” How do you respond?

Laura Ramos: Social media is clearly relevant for B2B marketing today for two reasons. First, at Forrester we’ve studied how B2B buyers participate socially and found that participation is much higher than U.S. adults in general. Second, business buyers are always looking for new sources of information and are actively turning to social media channels these days for information to support their purchasing decisions.  Using social media to engage your target business buyer audience may seem daunting, but it’s possible to be successful if you focus first on your audience and what you want to accomplish by engaging with that audience socially.

Q: How is B2B social media marketing different than B2C?

Laura Ramos: Today, most of the B2B social media is buzzing around the front of the sales funnel – about driving awareness. However, I expect that B2B social media will ultimately have a much bigger impact on the end of the funnel – on things like customer loyalty and advocacy.  For example, take the idea of customer references which are so integral to much of business buying. With social media, you can give customers a way to engage with other customers and like-minded individuals and talk about how to best use your products and services. Seeing a community like this is a much more compelling experience for prospective buyers than a written case study or a brief call to a pre-selected happy customer.

In addition, because trust is so important in business buying, I think we’ll see the user side of B2B social media gravitate to gated, private experiences. Rather than throwing out your question to the world as folks do today on so many social media networking sites, you’ll direct your question to people in specific industries, specific roles, etc. or be able to filter responses to your question by these characteristics. In B2B, it’s about connecting with ‘people like me who have experience I trust’ – not strangers.

Q: How has Web 2.0 changed the B2B marketing landscape and sales process?

Laura Ramos: The landscape has changed a lot and will change more. I see B2B activity shifting from using social media in ‘broadcast mode’ to get the word out like you might do with a press release, to actively looking for prospects on social media sites.  There’s tremendous activity right now because social media is a novelty to the B2B world. However, novelty does not last over the long haul.  For B2B companies, social success will be about creating community – offering your customer base different levels of access for different levels of participation and advocacy. The relationship is what’s important, not the channel.

Q: It’s a challenge for B2B marketers to look at a new communication channel and not immediately focus on how we can use that channel to broadcast our message. You’re saying we need to make that shift in mindset from pushing information out to thinking about how to use social media technologies to foster interaction among our community of customers and prospects. Is that right?

Laura Ramos: That’s correct. Business buyers get hundreds of emails a day and then there’s Twitter, Facebook and everything else that contributes to information overload. You can keep layering on more messages from more channels, but then folks start to tune out. People are going to want to listen to people they know they can trust, and not just people they know directly, but people that have similar backgrounds, experiences or who faced similar challenges in the past.

We advise our clients to start with objectives and think about how social media will change your relationship with customers. In B2B, the first objective is listening. A lot of people want to jump right into talking but they that when they do, no one listens or talks back.  For example, look at many corporate blogs. Who’s the audience? Everyone online? That doesn’t work, so blog authors find it hard to get people to listen and comment. B2B marketers who get blogging right succeed because they have a very clear understanding of their target audience.

To listen the right way, marketers need social monitoring tools to help them figure out what’s being said about their company and brands online and in traditional channels. It’s important for B2B marketers researching social listening tools to understand that there’s both a technology and service component to these solutions right now. While it can seem straightforward to just search for brand mentions, you can easily miss much something important since people use jargon, abbreviations, etc. and the tool and service should help you sort all of that out.

Q: Are many B2B companies using social monitoring tools today?

Laura Ramos: Not many but the number is growing. Nielsen BuzzMetrics, TNS Cymfony, Visible Technologies, and Radian6 are ones I hear mentioned most frequently.

Q: I’m seeing two different perspectives on B2B social media during the current recession – on the one hand there’s great interest, but we also know that companies are cutting back on marketing programs without proven ROI. Do you expect the vision of social media as an efficient communications channel to drive rapid adoption in B2B, or do you expect companies to hold back?

Laura Ramos: Our data shows that both buyers and marketers believe they need to move to more digital channels. Social media channels definitely attract interest because of the economy, but B2B companies that get started find social  media to be relatively expensive terms of resources and time commitment.

Q: So it sounds like you’re seeing companies wrestle with the question “We need to do this but how to do we get started in this challenging environment?”

Laura Ramos: It’s actually very easy to get started with social media by starting a blog, creating a Twitter account, participating in discussions on social networking sites or starting a wiki.  The tough part is figuring out what the second step is. Starting a blog is easy, but it’s a different story when you realize you need at least 1-2 high quality posts per week, need to engage readers in discussion, build traffic, and keep them coming back.

Q: What advice would you give to a B2B company that wants to develop a social media strategy?

Laura Ramos: Follow Forrester’s POST methodology. People, Objectives, Strategy, Tools. I’ve already mentioned people and objectives, so strategy is about how you’re going to measure and execute. Unfortunately, many marketers want to jump to the tools first. Instead, go check out your own Web site – that will become the center of your social media universe. If your Web site is all about broadcasting how great your company and products or services are, rather than inviting engagement and participation by your customers and prospects, then your Web site is not going to be a place community members are going to want to hang out. Forrester has done over 1,000 website reviews – many of these B2B sites. Our scores on B2B Web sites show they lag behind B2C sites because they promote the company and products too much and fail to engage an audience. Consumer sites have had to be more engaging, because they are more transaction-focused. The best Web site experience helps people achieve their goals, it doesn’t talk non-stop about your features and capabilities. So fix your Web site – it’s not about usability, it’s about making hard business choices.

Another thing  is segmentation. Who are you going to talk to in these social channels? Most high tech companies just want to address whomever comes by – they don’t want to limit their positioning by providing clear value messages targeted to specific segments. However, you simply can’t talk effectively to everyone. What are you going to help them achieve? When you are more precise about segmentation and targeting, your marketing – and social conversation – gets better.

Q: What are some good ‘get started now’ tips for B2B marketers who want to take the social media plunge?

Laura Ramos: First, pick an audience. Understand who you’re going to talk to. Listen, talk with them online and use those experiences to shape your strategy. Don’t be afraid to go out and talk to sales and support people in your company as well to get a better understanding of your target audience. You don’t always need fancy tools to get started, and you can do a lot with TweetDeck, Google Analytics, and systematic searches on your product names. This will tell you whether you need to invest further in tools that I mentioned earlier.

Second, put together an editorial calendar for any social activity that creates content. Know not only what you want to say now, but what you want to say later and how you’ll build upon those later topics or issues. Always know where you’ll take it next.

Q: Do you have examples of B2B companies that are doing really well with social  media today?

Laura Ramos: IBM is a great example of a company that started using social media to broadcast but now there’s a real interest in how to create community – a logical next step with a tech audience used to online forums and bulletin boards. I see IBM making the transition from ‘let’s use these tools for tech talk’, to ‘let’s have our customers tell our story.’

Cisco is engaging in social media and communication as well, and is proving to be a real B2B social media  innovator as they launch products only on digital channels. Early on, I would say, Cisco also focused too much on broadcasting their message and not enough on measuring sales results. For example, they launched a product on Second Life but when we asked, ‘How many more units did you sell as a result?’ they couldn’t really give us an answer, because it is hard to trace the impact of this social activity through their channel. Did they sell a lot of product? Sure. Did social media help to do that? Don’t know yet.

Q: Great question since there’s debate about whether B2B companies should look at social media as simply an awareness driving activity or whether there must be a tangible connection to revenue. What would you say – should B2B  companies let social media off the hook for driving sales?

Laura Ramos: No, I don’t think we should let social media off the hook. As engagement and community activity increases, the positive vibe influences sales, becauses there’s proof that shared experiences of loyal customers are real and prospects can see that the claims the company makes about its products/services are trustworthy.

That said, I think that it’s hard to connect social media to revenue. I don’t want to appear critical about Cisco, because understanding social media’s impact is a hard thing to figure out. Cisco’s launch goals focused on awareness and consideration, but the challenge they faced is one every company eventually faces – you only have so many dollars to spend on marketing, so how do you split these across the marketing mix? To answer this, companies will need to know if a dollar spent on social channels gets you more revenue than a dollar spent on traditional channels. I’ve only seen IBM demonstrate that they can measure how social activity helps them to increase event attendance and extend event lifespan and value.

In B2B marketing, we always focus on the sales funnel – how do we attract and close deals. What we don’t realize is that inside customer organizations, there’s another funnel, but it’s flipped around. A small group of employees figure out they have business problems they must solve, and they need the products or services they apply to solving those business problems to get wide adoption inside their firms. How do we, as B2B marketers, help not only our direct customers successfully deploy new technology purchases, but also help their organization adopt the new technology more quickly and effectively? Social media holds great promise in B2B for creating this type of internal community and for efficiently sharing those ideas that make it possible to speed up the adoption process and create lasting customer loyalty.


B2B Technology Buyer Social Profile Tool


Do you market to business technology buyers? Considering how social media may fit into your marketing strategy?

If so, you’ll be interested in Forrester’s free B2B technology buyer social profile tool below (and also available on the Groundswell web site). To help B2B technology marketers better understand the social media habits of their target audience, Forrester developed this tool using data from their groundbreaking study of the social media habits of over 1,200 business technology buyers.

To use the B2B technology buyer social profile tool, simply select the company size and primary purchase category for your target audience. Go ahead, try it out…
 

 

To help you interpret the results, here’s how each of the Forrester Social Technographics(r) groups are defined based on the social media activities in which they participate (do at least one of the activities at least monthly):

Creators – publish a blog, publish their own web pages, upload video they create, upload audio/music they create, write articles or stories and post them online.

Critics – post ratings or reviews of products/services, comment on someone else’s blog, contribute to online forums, contribute to and/or edit articles on a wiki

Collectors – use RSS feeds, “vote” for web sites online, add tags to web pages or photos

Joiners – maintain a profile on a social networking site, visit social networking sites

Spectators – read blogs, listen to podcasts, watch video from other users, read online forums, read customer ratings/reviews

Inactives – none of the above