LinkedIn Showcase Pages Put More Focus on Customers

I’m a long-time believer in using LinkedIn Groups to create communities for B2B brands. In fact, I’ve been using the group pages for more than six years to post content, connect our people with customers and focus on building conversations. During that time, I’ve noticed that not all groups are created equal; some have very good, active dialogues, while others just linger in a one-way discussion.

LinkedIn adds Showcase pages.

LinkedIn adds Showcase pages.

I’ve always believed that LinkedIn is a great platform for targeted, private discussion groups. Making groups private helps to target topics around specific issues, keep out competition and vendors, and allows you to treat these forums like your own focus group.

But LinkedIn’s new Showcase pages now complement the groups, helps to clear up the clutter on company pages, but could ultimately end up competing with – and possibly ending – most company group pages. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as we try to navigate our way through and manage the growing amount of content on LinkedIn.

I’m excited about this latest offering from LinkedIn since it can help narrow the conversations and topics, which ultimately is what a good B2B sales or marketing person needs to do. Here are my four reasons why I like the new Showcase pages:

  1. The administration feature allows multiple stakeholders to own and manage these groups. B2B companies can now provide multiple owners to pages, which makes sense as social media grows in importance. In addition, well-organized B2B companies will leverage product, marketing and communications teams to oversee showcase pages. This continues to showcase the need for B2B companies to better organize and manage content across functional disciplines.
  2. The sponsored post option is a major bonus at targeting customers by region, title, company and industry. LinkedIn continues to win the B2B marketing game as it focuses on connecting buyers to sellers and sellers to buyers better than any other social platform.
  3. As Mashable points out, Showcase pages allow companies to narrow content onto a specific product or offering and target end users. More targeted content should lead to more insights into what people want from your brand and marketing content, and should allow you to better track what you are trying to measure. And the simple “Follow” or “Unfollow” button makes it easy to start/stop seeing the feed. It’s a small feature, but is definitely more easy than joining or un-joining a LinkedIn group, and face it, any way to make the user experience easier is a plus.
  4. While several posts have pointed out here and here that this is a great way for brands to build content, I actually take the view that this is betters news for customers. Which is the point, isn’t it? This move from LinkedIn actually makes it easier for customers to follow the content they actually want from B2B brands. So, yes, it does help companies, but over time the real focus moves toward connecting with customers. And that’s exactly the point LinkedIn was trying to make.

So far I really like what I see in terms of the ease of use, the consistent look with Company Pages, and the focus on having an easy end-user and brand experience. Like any new social iteration, it will take time to figure out how to leverage the pages and make them of use to your customers. Should you do them across every product line? Or just your services? Do you even need them? And how will you build awareness and community around them? These are all questions you should be thinking about in the coming weeks as B2B companies roll out Showcase page.

Now I’m just hoping LinkedIn would bring back its event/calendar feature — I guess I can’t have everything — but there are alternatives.

We continue to get inundated with new technologies and platforms  As a reminder, my golden rule is do a few things and do them well. You will be better served as an organization and a professional by doing so.

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What Does Twitter’s IPO Mean for B2B Communicators?

Recent news of Twitter’s IPO have many stakeholders in social media wondering what’s next. In fact, we should see the IPO filing today or tomorrow according to Quartz. If you plan to read the entire filing, here are five things BuzzFeed says you should look for when going through it. There’s already been lots of speculation on what future Twitter will be, from an emphasis on users to search. There was even a plea for Twitter to just stay weird.

Twitter recently upgraded its mobile app, but what's next post IPO?

Twitter recently upgraded its mobile app, but what’s next post IPO?

So where does this pending IPO leave B2B companies? Some things could change, some may not. Here are three important things B2B communicators need to keep an eye on in the next year.

Advertising. Everyone will be looking very closely at advertising revenue from Twitter’s filing. One thing I hope the company does is put more of a focus on B2B companies and helping them find leads and develop targeted campaigns. While B2C companies (even unhappy airline customers) buy ads to sell new products, coupons and discounts, B2B companies that find value in a platform will invest for the long term and remain committed. LinkedIn is discovering this with its promoted posts. I hope that Twitter does as well.

Influencers. Twitter has already done several things to promote influencers; from verified accounts to a recommended list of people to follow. This FT story summarizes that fact pretty well. The good thing is that Twitter recognizes that its influencers give the platform credibility and an important trust factor. B2B companies need to keep finding ways to leverage what Twitter does here. In the coming year, B2B companies need to learn how to expand on Twitter’s success to be influential by both targeting key accounts and defining/redefining their own.

Expansion of services. No doubt, as a public company they will be pressed to expand services and offerings. This means M&A and there are plenty of attractive targets for Twitter to consider. Keep a careful eye on what they are buying now and will be buying. Personally  I would like to see more investment in analytics and search. While there are a number of free tools for Twitter analytics, I don’t find any of them very useful for B2B (hence, why they are free). As Twitter expands its efforts into advertising and mobile it would serve B2B marketers well to see deeper metrics and statistics to help us use Twitter better.

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

Why LinkedIn’s Company Pages Matter More

Don’t Overlook the Power of LinkedIn Groups

What are Your Future B2B Digital Plans?

When Dealing with Big Data Ask the Right Questions

Can B2B Brands Inspire? 

 

 

 

 

A Discussion on Trends in B2B Social Media

I was fortunate enough to be interviewed by review on the topic of social media for B2B brands. Some of the things I was asked to discuss include many timely topics around managing big data, integrated social media into both the business and communications strategy, and why having a voice online is vital. You can read the full interview here: The Social Side of B2B.

You want watch my discussions here:

Bringing social media into B2B

Social media in B2B marketing: know your goals

The review is an interesting publication and some other recent stories I enjoyed reading include mobile media in India, Christina Allen of LinkedIn talks about how university students are using social media, and smart cities.

In the coming week I’ll also be discussing more about B2B social media and financial services at the following events:

Investor Relations and Social Media: How to Utilize Social Media to Build a Community – September 19 (Social Media Leadership Awards)

Social Media as Market-maker: Does it Improve Corporate Communications or Confuse the Markets – September 20 (CIPR)

Social Media and the Markets: Information Worth Sharing? – September 23 (Social Media Week)

If you have questions or topics for any of these panels you can write them in the comments or reach out to me on LinkedIn and let me know.

 

 

 

Do B2B Companies Need Social Media?

This question was posed to me by Paul Gillin for a Q&A I did with him for BtoB Magazine. There are a number of ways to define the word “need” but it is a good question for companies to begin when they think about starting or expanding social media.

The mistake and trap B2B companies get into is the idea that social media should equate to sales. While the ultimate goal of communications should be to help drive revenue, there are many ways that social media can be used that are just as critical to a brand. Without getting into the tactics of how to do social, here are three ways to think about how social media can build on a company’s efforts.

Don't get so focused on social media to help sell that you can't see the forest for the trees.

Don’t get so focused on social media to help sell that you can’t see the forest for the trees.

Recruiting. Recruiters and job seekers more and more are turning to social media to look for a job. Because of this, they are trying to follow and discover more about your company. Whether you use social media to directly recruit employees or not job candidates are researching you online to learn more about you and to decide if they want to be associated with your firm. In addition, tomorrow’s leaders of your organization have grown up with social media. They too are looking online and deciding if they should work for you or your competition.

Crisis communication. When something goes wrong with your organization people more and more are turning to social media for the news or to see what people are saying. In addition, if you are focused on media relations remember that news stories about a crisis will quickly spread online. If you are there to respond as quickly as possible you can learn to leverage social media to your advantage.

Education.Think of your social channels as an extension of your website and event activities. Using social media for brand awareness to celebrate your wins, promote your news and talk about what you are doing can make a difference as you work to build on your brand.

Don’t get into thinking that social media is just about sales. There is more to using these channels than just a sales tool and you need to help your management and sales team understand that your group of stakeholders is much broader than just customers. We continue to see ways that social media is changing the way we consume and communicate information, as B2B brands we need to be listening and a part of these streams and discussions.

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Still pitching to use social media?

What drives your B2B strategy?

Tuning into your industry

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: 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: 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.

Where Does Facebook Fit in Your B2B Communications Plan?

It’s been a media frenzy for Facebook surrounding it’s recent IPO and reaching one billion users around the world. Some now believe that Facebook’s target is on professional users, which is a good thing for B2B communicators.

Facebook has done quite a bit to make its branded pages more useful for B2B companies. FacebookIn particular, the recent changes to add promoted posts and global pages are not just tools that B2C companies can leverage. But can it compete in the B2B space with LinkedIn? And what about new entrants like Pinterest and Google+?

I recently had a chance to answer several questions from Arik Hanson about Facebook and how we leverage the platform. You can read the full interview here: Social media case study: CME Group

 

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The Three I’s of Social Business Media

While we continue to hear more about social media and the ways companies are leveraging these tools, I want to point out the significance of the business purpose for using them. As these tools have evolved from communication experiments to integrated marketing tools the next phase we need to watch will be the transition to how Twitter, LinkedIn and other tools become part of an organizations’ business processes. As we expand the use of new technologies and how to integrate them into communications, the emergence of social media on such a broad scale is making it more attractive to use them in the mainstream operations of management and business.

Influence, Information, Interpretation

Influence, Information, Interpretation

Part of this transition will cause frustrations. We fought early on to prove how useful these tools are to the business (“Social media is nice to know, but my kids only use it”), and now the business function is realizing the potential (“Thanks for getting this started for marketing, but I’ll take it from here.”). But businesses will need to evolve with the growing use of social media among customers and the rise in data — how will you play a part in that change?

I believe this transition over the coming years can be successful through following what I call the three I’s of social business media: Influence, Information, Insight, Interpretation.

Influence: If you want social media to “have a seat at the table” or to be taken seriously by management, you’re going to have to focus on developing influence with key internal stakeholders. Your number of followers that you’ve built up are great. The Google analytics looks strong. The feedback from your community is positive. But none of that matters if you aren’t talking to the right people and communicating what this means. You need be able to actively participate with the people who matter internally and get them to understand why social media is making a difference; to the company, the brand and to them. The bottom line is that if you want social media to have more of an influence than you need to spend time with the people that are important to the business. How do you get there if you are not already? You can focus on two other I’s.

Information: Business leaders thrive on information from customers, about competitors, on legal matters and trends. We continue to be awash in data from social media and how we use that data is important. If you are not getting closer to the data and the people and tools that help you track what is happening than I suggest you change that now. Successful business leaders know that information is key. A quote I often reference is, “The most valuable commodity I know of is information.” Information allows business leaders to sort and sift through data in order to find out what’s happening in their world. And good data can you answer the question, “What are we trying to achieve?” But information alone won’t get you there. You also need the next I.

Insight: I do believe that having unique insights is extremely useful for someone to be successful in business. That means over time you need to continue to work on developing your analytical skills in order to answer questions and provide ideas. In addition, you need to get really good at asking the right questions. Being able to look at data, understand the trends you are seeing, and then provide interesting thoughts on how to help the business will help you stand out. From my experience, really good business managers like working with and using people who can help them read into trends and what those trends mean for the company’s future. In addition, they value unique viewpoints that may actually differ from what they are seeing. Having the communication skills to interpret the economic value of what you are seeing from social media activities can be a powerful opportunity for you.

There is no doubt in my mind that social media can and will play an important role in the business function of a company. I continue to see examples from large and small companies alike that are leveraging these technologies and their ability to connect with people to create unique advantages. Taking it to the next level requires time and resources, which I know not everyone has these days. I challenge you take some time to think about what it is that can help you make a difference, learn from the many best practices and examples that exist, and then see if the three I’s make a difference for you.

 

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Three Things B2B Communicators Can Learn from the Olympics

One of the benefits of living in London was the opportunity to attend and be a part of the Olympic events. We were fortune enough to attend three events and my oldest  daughter’s school spent a full day at the Paralympics.  While attending the athletic events was a great experience in and of themselves, we were also caught up in the ongoing festivities. In fact, my son last night pulled out his Olympic athlete trading cards to tell me stories from the summer and how his favorite athletes performed.

Are you going for the B2B gold?

Are you going for the B2B gold?

Witnessing such an amazing global event has made me think about some lessons learned for B2B communicators. Here’s are three key takeaways I’ve made from being so close to the Olympics.

Make one event a truly unique experience. Every four years pundits think that the opening and closing ceremonies will never be as good as the last. Whether you watched the ceremonies live, on television or followed the stream on Twitter, these events proved to be amazing. So how can you take your trade shows or executive events more memorable? Not everyone can hire the Pet Shop Boys or Spice Girls, but you should consider choosing one event each year and go “all in”. If it’s done properly, your customers will notice the investment you’ve made in them — time and money — and they will be talking about it online, at the water cooler and with others in the industry for some time.

How can you leverage Social Media: Social media should rarely be a standalone communications activity. The Olympics demonstrated how using social media can be used to leverage photos, news stories and service updates. While none of our organizations can compare to the size and attention of the Olympics, the lesson to be learned is that content matters — visuals tell stories sometimes better than words; news shared across multiple platforms can reach your audience, and inviting others to participate and share on your social platforms. We rethink these strategies constantly and so should you.

Customer service goes a long way. One of the brightest spots for London during the Olympics was the overwhelming kudos given to the City for the great service and help from its volunteer staff. Focusing on customers does make a difference and it’s the simple things. Do you respond to their inquires in a timely fashion? Does your staff go the extra mile at trade shows to be helpful? Do you reach out to them with new ideas? How do you share news and trends with them? Look at some of the best brands you admire today — B2C and B2b — and I bet you they almost all have a “customer centric” approach to their business. What are you doing to make that part of your firm’s culture?

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