Where is Your B2B Blog?

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A blog can help you focus and narrow your content for your brand.

In case you missed the news, the blog turned 20 years old this year. That’s pretty significant since many of us are still working on our Twitter and Instagram strategies and both of those platforms are less than ten years old. And the blog is far from dead as Neville Hobson points out, in fact, it’s future looks pretty good.

The challenge is that blogging can be a daunting effort and as I wrote before it is not supposed to be easy. It takes time. It takes resources. It takes creativity. It takes perseverance. But the long-term benefits of blogging far outweigh the short-term pains.

I don’t want to complicate this topic or oversimplify it either. There are a number of posts on this topic if you search Google. So, whether you are about to start a B2B blog (or digital magazine) or you want to sit down and review your existing one (always a good idea to step back), here are three reasons why blogging matters and should be central to your B2B communication efforts.

Show you are a leader. No matter what industry you work in, there will always be issues and hurdles for you and your customers. A blog can help take the mystery out of some of these issues — regulatory, complexity, cultural — and let you build a community around topics that matter to you. In a competitive world thought leadership does matter and make a difference in the sales cycle, and both your external and internal customers want to know your position and where you stand. Your blog platform allows you to showcase your opinions and views.

 

Show you are interesting. Blogs help you tell stories. Plain and simple. And that is a huge benefit as B2B companies need to demystify their operations and focus on being understood. Ultimately, a blog will help you build awareness and engage prospects. In addition, you can be more creative with your efforts by integrating graphics, photos and video. We often use newswire services to build a multi-media package for news, and now that can be done regulatory with your own resources. Your blog now allows you to become a brand newswire.

 

Show you are respected. There are two ways to do this both on the front end and in the back office. On the front end, you can leverage your blog for guest posts and views from outside of your organization. Using third-party endorsements has always been a key value point for communicators and organizations. Blogs allow you to tap into your global network and help not only draw readers into your content but also influence your audience. In addition, on the back office you can measure  the effectiveness of third-party content through your data. And data is an ever-increasing initiative to measure what’s working and what’s not working. In addition, other social data allows you to search and find influencers to connect with and contribute content.

What B2B companies fail to understand is that a blog can be extremely flexible. Whether you want it to be video or image intensive to explain how things operate or Q&A focused to make it conversational, a blog allows you the freedom to build on your culture and image. And because of this flexibility you and make it what you want and have it help you tell your story. Some B2B blog examples to follow for inspiration: AccentureCiscoCME GroupGEIntel and Manpower.

Call it brand journalismcontent marketing or blogging. It doesn’t matter in my opinion. What B2B companies need to grasp is that context matters. You can hardly get context from a tweet or an image.

Looking for more help? Here are 10 lessons learned from Hans Kullin from 10 years of blogging. And from Velocity Partners here are a number of ideas for blog content.

Additional content to read (added March 5, 2014):

Embrace the Executive Blog — CIO.com

What I’ve Learned as a Writer — Zen Habits

How to Write Faster — Hootsuite

If you enjoyed this post you may also want to read the following:

Can B2B brands inspire?

Craft work — what’s your B2B expertise?

Who are your content superheroes?

Social media management

Do most online communities fail?

SXSW: R “Ray” Wang on Customer Engagement

I had an opportunity to sit down with R “Ray” Wang, CEO of Constellation Research, in San Jose a month ago, and discussed his 9 Cs of Customer Engagement. As I have a SXSW Interactive video sharing those 9 Cs courtesy of Software Advice and CRMSoftware.tv, this now gets to be a SXSW post!

Video: 9 Cs of Customer Engagement

Wang brings strong B2B credentials, having been a top enterprise apps industry analyst before becoming a founding analyst at Altimeter and now CEO of his current firm. Constellation has concentrated particularly on disruptive technologies like gamification, social CRM, enterprise social media and digital content marketing.

sxswThe 9 Cs break down this way:

  • People-Centric Values: Culture, Community and Credibility
  • Delivery and Communications Styles: Channel, Content and Cadence
  • Right Time Drivers: Context, Catalyst and Currencies

You an watch the video for a discussion of these in more detail or read more on Wang’s HBR blog post from last year.  I’ll highlight a couple of particular note.

First, Content.  He rightly observes we are in danger of drowning in it and tuning out. I saw a survey of B2B marketing pros indicating their No. 1 concern was generating enough content for their content marketing efforts. The bigger concern to me, given we’re buried in content, is whether it’s any good. Which means what? It has to add value, it has to not be about your product – nobody cares – and it has to be creative and compelling. Too often that last factor is taken for granted. After all, this is business right, so it doesn’t need to be entertaining.  Well, as the classic Corning Day Made of Glass video shows, you can make a dry video and get 500 views or you get get 21 million that entertains as it educates.

Second, Catalyst. For B2B marketers, we are engaging ultimately to sell or reinforce loyalty (to sell). How we give our audiences a catalyst to take the next step needs to be handled deftly and in appropriate proportion. I come back to Bodnar and Cohen’s 10-4-1 rule (my interpretation is basically 10 curated, 4 original content, 1 marketing call to action as a general guide). The 1 only works if you do the 10 and the 4. But the 1 – the call to action tweet or button to landing page or post – needs to be both compelling and super simple for the audience to follow through on.

Watch the video or read the post for more on the other seven. I welcome your thoughts!

SXSW: When Creative Content Projects Go Awry

Sometimes all you need is 15 minutes.

In a mini session at SXSW Interactive yesterday, Craig Peters, CEO of Awasu Design, provided some great tips to keep creative content projects (digital or not) on track. As this has become an increasingly important part of what we do in this era of branded content, I paid close attention.

The premise is this: We act like our clients (and even if you’re in-house, you most definitely have clients) know all about the steps involved in launching a website, developing a video, whatever. Why should they? And so then we’re surprised when we go through the wireframes in a roomful of people, and things start going badly. We may get the “product” produced in the end, but can be left with a sense that the overall engagement wasn’t what it should have been.

Complexity of the engagement story can vary. This example is fairly simple. Courtesy Awasu Design.

Complexity of the engagement story can vary. This example is fairly simple. Courtesy Awasu Design.

Peters, in “How Design Leads Set Up Projects for Success,” simply contends that we partake in a little storytelling for our own projects. Ever deal with “swoop and poop,” in which a well-meaning exec drops in on a project to provide that’s either off-base or inappropriate for the project stage? That doesn’t have to happen if you lay out the story of the project for all the stakeholders at the beginning, letting them know what’s going to happen and how we’re going to get there.

Of course, he has a couple tricks to help, which is nice. These include neat little one-pagers describing said wireframes and other parts of the project (why we do them, what’s going to happen, etc.) as well as a variety of timeline formats that visually and creatively tell the story of the engagement. I’ve provided samples here for your enjoyment.

One-sheet overview of a wireframe explaining what happens and why. Others can be created for stages like mock-ups or usability testing. Courtesy Awasu Design.

One-sheet overview of a wireframe explaining what happens and why. Others can be created for stages like mock-ups or usability testing. Courtesy Awasu Design.

One more day for me! Love to hear your own SXSW experiences, either here or via twitter.

Aaron

SXSW: Vertical Communities Seeing Growth

I attended a SXSW session yesterday called “Professions Go Social,” which looked at how new profession-based social networks have emerged to extend B2B social networking beyond LinkedIn, moderated by Altimeter Group’s Rebecca Lieb. Some of the networks are doing quite well.

For example, Jay Hallberg, the co-founder of Spiceworks, said they have built a community of more than 2 million SMB IT pros, supported by 1,500 advertisers.  Spiceworks designed a very user-friendly place where these pros can talk to IT vendors about what to buy, and also talk among each other. It’s sort of an iTunes for IT. Hallbert says there are no barriers put up to discourage IT pro engagement – no freemium tricks, no charge for charge for support, just totally free.

Another panelist, Kirk Simpson, is a co-founder of Wave, which makes small business financial software, but also launched the Wave Pro Network as a community for these professionals to connect with real professionals in accounting and bookkeeping.

One of the key points was that these specialized communities have been built with the unique workflows of their industries or professions in mind, something a LinkedIn can’t do. I had an opportunity to develop a proposal for a company that wanted to market to golf course superintendents, a niche community if there ever was one. Do they have their own vibrant online community? You bet they do, TurfNet! Their forum not only covers niche topics like irrigation system pressure monitoring, integrated with educational webinars, and with a mobile version for an audience often on the course rather than in an office.

The key with all these sites is to get to a point where a lot of pros feel like they need to be on them. From the in-depth conversations I had with golf course superintendents, I know Turfnet made it, and they actually use a paid membership model. Hallberg indicated that reaching three percent of the addressable workforce segment might be the point at which those positive network effects kick in.

 

SXSW: Consumerization of IT Trend Shows No Sign of Slowing

I was able to hit two sessions yesterday afternoon in the Four Seasons here at SXSW, apparently ground zero for us more sober “enterprise” types, one on enterprise mobile apps and one on gamification + Big Data (“datagamify”). What connected them, in my mind, is the consumerization of IT. This is the concept that employees are increasingly expecting their experience with technology in the workplace to be as simple, fun and engaging as their experience with technology in their personal lives.

Long crowds await the SXSW Interactive opening keynote.

Long crowds await the SXSW Interactive opening keynote.

Eric Lai from SAP observed that 80 percent of the Fortune 500 has adopted iPhones and 65 percent of them iPads. Predictably now, the fastest growing category of apps in the Apple App Store is enterprise apps, and by 2016, that market will be worth more than $7 billion a year (IDC data). And yet Alex Williams from TechCrunch noted that most of these enterprise apps are ugly and that hurts usage. Employees don’t want manuals to learn how to do things anymore.

Meanwhile, the gamification advocates are motivated by a sense that life is a game. Plotting your career, for instance, is viewed in some ways as a game. We can now use apps and Web experiences to enhance these gaming aspects of our lives, to encourage our audiences to learn and engage.

One of the areas where these trends both come into play for B2B is around online customer communities. I suspect that tolerance for complicated, dry, blandly designed internal and customer communities by the users of those communities will wane. It won’t be enough to have one that functions.  Making it work – in other words, generating great engagement – will require more attention paid to elegant design and fun experience.

SXSW: We Still Need to Get Together in the Real World?

How ironic that 25,000 digitally connected interactive pros have to fly to Austin each year to network with each other and find out what’s new, right?

Actually, it’s not ironic at all that SXSW Interactive should be so valuable to them, and it’s worth understanding why as we consider the continuing value of customer events and trade shows in the B2B marketing mix.

SXSW Interactive Opening Party 2012 - Credit: JoJo Marion

SXSW Interactive Opening Party 2012 – Credit: JoJo Marion

Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman point out in their excellent book, Networked, that research shows we are actually seeing more friends offline at least once a week. Moreover, heavier Internet users appear to be the ones most significantly increasing the number of friends they see in person. The Internet and social technologies do not replace in-person meetings. Rather, they reinforce relationships and create new relationships that must be strengthened by at least the occasional in-person meeting. Otherwise, those ties remain weak.

Meanwhile, virtually every study I’ve ever seen shows the most influential source of information in B2B purchases comes in the form of word-of-mouth from people the buyer knows and trusts.  The more we can strengthen and reinforce the relationships within our customer communities and from our best customer advocates to other people, the better off we’re going to be! (Assuming, of course, we have an awesome product or service that’s generating said advocates.) It’s the power of our audiences talking to each other, not just brands talking to audiences.

Bottom line:  Creating and activating a strong customer community means using periodic live events – organized for networking and engagement – to grow strong relationships, and then sustaining them with smart social media engagement strategies the rest of the year.

B2B Voices @ SXSW

Kate and I will be down in Austin the next few days with 40,000 of our close personal friends to see what’s what at that SXSW Interactive thing. I’m going to be paying particularly close attention to the conference from a B2B point of view of course. (Follow me on Twitter!)

I’ve noticed that although social media has been a hot topic now for a few years, it seems like it’s becoming more disruptive to the status quote just over the last few months. For example:
• Increasingly we’re incorporating paid into our traditionally earned media focused campaigns. It’s now the norm.
• Agency roles are getting all mashed up. The client doesn’t care what you call yourself but only whether you can be effective at helping them grow audience engagement.

Instagram Co-Founder Kevin Systrom interviewed by TechCrunch Co-Editor Alexia Tsotsis at last year’s SXSW Interactive Conference. Photo by Carlos Austin

• We’re getting better access to the website analytics we need to understand how our communications programs are changing who comes to the website and what they do when they get there.
• We’re measuring success not just by the volume of mentions but on the nature of conversations.
• We’re getting far more analytical and tech tools are becoming more sophisticated.
• Brand journalism is absolutely exploding.

In addition, we (as an industry) are also shifting conversations beyond just “new ideas” to changing business processes and organizational structures within agencies and within client marketing and communications teams. This change management focus is a natural function of moving beyond pilots and tests to full scale program and campaigns.
So that’s the lens through which I’ll be looking at everything down in Austin. Stay tuned!

How to Share a Great Story

I believe very strongly in an approach to campaigns that my agency, Weber Shandwick, calls Content Fusion.  It basically says instead of starting with, “Hey, we need a news release about X,” we should start with the story and THEN determine the all the ways in which we can tell that story effectively.  It works like this:

  1. Every company (or brand) has stories to tell.
  2. Every story can be told in a variety of formats – video, text, images, audio.
  3. Every formatted story can be carried in a variety of content vehicles – news releases, blog posts, ads, bylined stories, etc.
  4. Every story ultimately finds a home in a variety of destinations – including “owned” spaces like your website, “shared” spaces like your Facebook page, and “earned” spaces like a news site or third party blog.
  5. Social sharing and compelling content should lead to conversation that refreshes the story and continues to spread it through the online ecosystem.

I get asked, however, whether this works for B2B or just for Coca-Cola?  And if it does work for B2B then does it only work in theory or can you actually get the organization to embrace this approach?

First answer:  Yes, it works brilliantly for B2B. Look at the pick-up of this video about 3D printing.  Only it’s not really about 3D printing is it? It’s about people. Content Fusion is only as good as the story.

Second answer:  To do this well, the organization’s marketing and communications leaders need to empower people to think outside their “lanes.” If a client comes to me needing a media relations solution, which I still hear all the time, then we’re already in trouble.  There’s nothing wrong with media relations at all – it’s critically important for most organizations. But now we’re already in a box. We’re already cutting ourselves off from two-thirds of the possible destinations for our story.  We’re also probably not being given the budget to create compelling content because you wouldn’t go to all that work and investment just for media relations.  It only makes sense when you have the whole online ecosystem to work with.

I get excited when a client says something like this:  “We have a problem.  We need to launch into a new market space, and we’re not known for that, and the influencers and potential customers might view our intentions with some skepticism. What should we do?”

Or this:  “We really need to build our reputation for understanding how the consumerization of information technology is disrupting businesses and how to harness that disruption for good.”

Give us a communications or a marketing or corporate reputation challenge and give us the freedom to literally architect a solution and see what we come back with.  Hopefully we’ll come up with an amazing story, package it in multimedia fashion, publish it from Sharepoint to YouTube (or whatever is appropriate), and support it with paid search or social ads plus some good media relations work to ensure it’s seen, then finally we’ll listen to our audiences to discern how they’re engaging with our story and be prepared to respond or adjust fast. That’s how it works.

10 Topics for My Social Media Marketing Class

10 Topics for My Social Media Marketing Class

I’m doing my third go-around this spring teaching Transformative Social Media Strategies, an executive education course at the University of St. Thomas Opus School of Business. This time I’ll be joined by Roman Gaponenko (@romanholiday), a colleague of mine with a particular passion for measuring all this social media work. The fun starts May 2 and runs Wednesday evenings for four weeks in downtown Minneapolis. We work hard to give B2B and B2C both their due.

Here are just 10 of the observations that I hope to talk more about over the course of the class:

  1. For all the activity everyone’s undertaking in social media, so much of it is not especially strategic.
  2. When marketing people own social media – which is common – they are often unprepared for the next United Breaks Guitars.
  3. It’s rare to have the persona of the company align well with the persona of their social communications – and super cool when it does.
  4. Let’s not confuse being an influencer with being popular.
  5. A community manager for a consumer lifestyle brand brings a very different skill set than a community manager for a group of golf course superintendents. But both are skilled positions.
  6. Social is becoming VERY global.
  7. Social media requires organizational alignment and executive sponsorship to scale and have real impact.
  8. Opportunities for marketers to bring the “real world” and social world together are immense!
  9. There’s a fine line between viral and not.
  10. Watch out for the impact of Big Data on social media marketing.

We’re going to have fun.

In Search of Great ‘Future of Work’ Stories

I’m happy to be leading a judging team again this year for the Constellation Research SuperNova Awards and encourage everyone to check them out and see if you have a program that fits. Deadline is May 31!

The focus is on leaders and teams who have overcome the odds to successfully apply emerging and disruptive technologies for their organizations. Vendors, the focus should be on your customers. This year, my category is Future of Work, which is an interesting topic open to lots of creativity. Maybe the best way to look at the subject is to look at what a few of our judges have been writing on the subject, either in general or in their industries of interest, on some of their blogs. I’ll publish more of these in a bit so you can meet some of the other judges.

I'm leading the Future of Work judging panel. Please enter!

Yvette Cameron, Analyst, Constellation Research – Thriving in the Future of Work

Thriving in the future of work requires evolving traditional ways of thinking. It involves moving beyond standard “hire to retire” processes to those that “engage and inspire.” It demands an evolution from transactional systems to engagement and experiential systems, bringing context to people-centric applications to drive agility and flexibility.

Dennis Howlett, Blogger, Irregular Enterprise – Of Chickens and Eggs

In my experience companies rarely fail solely because of outside economic conditions or other externalities. They fail because they crush themselves from within. What made them great ceases to serve them going forward but because we can’t truly see into the future we always rely upon the past. It is the path of least resistance yet the path that is so fraught with the very risks the business is seeking to avoid.

Charis Palmer, Editor, Business Spectator – Running Gartner’s Post-Modern Tech Gauntlet

Gartner’s “postmodern business” is like Salesforce’s social enterprise, on steroids.

It’s Gartner’s way of describing what it will take for CIOs and IT managers around the world to shift their thinking to cope with the consumerisation of IT, and the massive trends of mobility, social media and cloud computing.

A world fuelled by what Gartner global head of research Peter Sonderguard calls the explosion of information, collaboration and mobility, enabled by the cloud. 

Valerie Khoo, Founder, Sydney Writers Centre

Watch some of her take-aways from SXSW!