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?

Takeaways for B2B Companies from the PR Week Social Summit

Moderating at PR Week (photo credit: Stacey Strothard)

Moderating at PR Week (photo credit: Stacey Strothard)

Yesterday, I moderated a panel at PR Week’s Social Summit on social media management and where it fits within the public relations department. My panelists include Nicola Dodd, Cancer Research UK; Craig Hepburn from Nokia; and, Justin Hunt, Social Media Leadership Forum.

Some thoughts on where we are going this year and topics I planned to discuss based on my research included the following:

  • Big data meet content marketing. It’s no longer enough to have an editorial calendar, you need to better understand the content that works
  • Authenticity, trust continue to be critical. This is further highlighted in this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer.
  • Real-time marketing matters and not just for the Super Bowl. Today PR departments need to constantly monitor social channels for trends, issues and opportunities.
  • Where does social sit? Does anyone own it? How does is work across functional departments?  Altimeter found although 78% of companies have a dedicated social media team but only 26% of companies say they have a holistic approach to social.
  • Social media jobs are in abundance: SEO Specialist, Social Media Strategist, Online Community Manager, Social Media Marketing Manager, Social Media Marketing Coordinator, and Blogger or Social Media Copywriter are many of the job titles companies are looking to hire.

We didn’t talk about everything I wanted to ask the panel, but two things stood out to me from the panel discussion

Content: Everyone seems to be getting their arms around content and how to manage it. Both Nicola and Craig spoke in terms of their teams and how they have essentially formed news organizations. I continue to believe that content can be extremely useful to differentiate your B2B business, whether that’s through thought leadership, innovation, humor or customer service. Successful brands big and small recognize that content is an extraordinary piece of their strategy and planning, thinking and responding like a news organization makes a difference. This year, brand journalism remains a top priority for organizations and it’s something to embrace.

Culture: A topic that we kept coming back too during the panel, and one that seemed to be a theme of the event from other speakers, involved the importance of corporate culture in adopting social media. Has social media changed your culture forever? Does being a good place to work impact a company’s results? From my own experience and being involved with an innovative culture I firmly believe it matters. If you want to know more about the importance of culture this report from McKinsey — Givers Take All: The hidden dimension of corporate culture — is worth reading. You should also read this from Mitch Joel on social media and corporate culture.

As a side note, Nicola’s team worked on release of Play to Cure™: Genes in Space and it’s worth a look if you are interested in health sciences or gamification.

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

How to Think Like a Content Manager

Three Ways to Explore Big Ideas

Who are Your Content Superheroes?

Social media management

 

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

Who are Your Content Superheroes?

More and more the focus around communications centers on content. While the platforms for communicating to our stakeholders remain important, having the right content to talk with customers and tell our stories remains one of the main topics of most industry journals.

superheroes

Content members assemble!

I started reading Chief Content Officer when it first was published as the growth in online discussions started to rapidly rise. One of my favorite issues was the November 2012 feature on content heroes — three people who are doing unique things to build strategy around content. If you are the least bit interested in content I suggest you read the story (and the magazine).

I’ve written before on my lessons learned and the ways to leverage content, but that didn’t answer the challenge of where to find it and who can help.

Where does content for your organization or clients come from? How do you mine it? Who can help? If you are trying to do this all from within your communications department you are no doubt going to fail. From my experience, if you want to build great content your customers will read then you need to identify content superheroes. And just like in the comics, finding the identities of these heroes is not always easy.

Here are a few ways for you to find the superheroes you need to develop great content all year for your organization.

  • Sales staff: Look no further than the people in your organization who are talking with customers daily. If you don’t know the people or teams who are the key components of your business goals and drivers you need to find them. Some people will find you because they want to help and they understand that getting their name around good content will help their sales efforts; others will be harder to find and identify. I would suggest you take them for coffee, connect with them on LinkedIn and use whatever CRM tool your organization leverages. And make sure you are sharing with them not only the content your company is posting, but become a vital industry resource for them. This is going to take time and effort, but in the long run you will quickly build up a team of ultra-content providers. I consciously make an effort every week to connect with someone on our sales team to run ideas by them for blog posts and research.
  • News and blog content: Once you have identified some of the key people in your company and you have begun building thought leaders around your business goals, you should continue to look for third-parties who can help shape ideas and thoughts. These superheroes come in the form of bloggers who are deep experts in your product and service offerings or news outlets that report on your industry. For me, Google Reader has become my content headquarters and Twitter lists let me follow a number of content providers by topic.
  • Your content team: Don’t underestimate the power of your own team as we all have superhero qualities. Regular editorial meetings to discuss and plan content around news events, conferences and other information will help you shape your strategy and develop new ideas. And if you’ve done your job and connected with your sales team and reviewed third-party sources, you should see your content evolve into richer and more appealing context over time.

If you consider yourself a master of content and knowledge for your organization I hope this post will help you discover new ways to contribute to your powers. With an evolving economic environment and new tools to collaborate with stakeholders, the challenges for communicators may never be greater. Or if you just want to become your own superhero then try the Marvel Superhero Creator.

Good luck in your adventures.

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

What drives your social media strategy?

Tuning into your industry

Social media management

Blogging isn’t supposed to be easy

Five lessons learned after five years of B2B social media

 

 

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.

A Brave B2B Social Media Book

A couple weeks ago I published here a Q&A with Kipp Bodnar and Jeffrey L. Cohen on their new book, The B2B Social Media Book: Becoming a Marketing Superstar by Generating Leads With Blogging, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Email and More. Here’s my review of the book itself:

Kipp and Jeffrey have chosen to bravely go right to the heart of the matter: how to apply social media for B2B lead generation. While there’s more to social business than lead generation, it’s refreshing to read a book that says it’s okay for social media to bring you more leads. It will help us earn the budgets from senior executives to further develop social channels. As they said in the book, “Social media marketing isn’t about hugs, kisses, rainbows, or any other fluffy happy words.” Engagement, in a marketing sense, needs to lead either to new sales or repeat sales.

Kipp Bodnar and Jeffrey L. Cohen

Kipp Bodnar and Jeffrey L. Cohen, Authors of The B2B Social Media Book

The authors correctly note that compelling content is essentially the fuel that makes social media marketing work. They explain how to leverage blogs as central hubs of content to move prospective customers to the all-important Call to Action that leads to positive ROI for social media investments (“Tweeting a landing page doesn’t kill a puppy.”) They also correctly note that reach is underappreciated in B2B. In most B2B segments, we do need online advertising, media relations and other reach-generating tools to introduce new audiences to our content and value propositions.

That said, there are certainly creative alternatives to corporate blogs. Facebook can be used in similar fashion.  Sophisticated social hubs like Cisco’s The Network also work, though they are much more expensive to maintain. A blog is a great way to start. And of course, ideally, you’d use all these things.

I would also argue that the chapter on calculating ROI is overly simplistic, especially if your business model is built on long-term customer relationships.

Finally, it’s also important for readers to understand there are realms of social media program management that are just as important and that are beyond the scope of this book, including customer service and customer relations, employee communications, and corporate reputation management to name a few (think topics like social media crisis management or online customer communities for ideation). In practice, a marketer must collaborate effectively with these parties to thrive in this interconnected world.

But that’s not what this book is trying to cover (and in fact, Kipp hinted that perhaps B2B customer communities could be their next book). From tradeshows to Twitter to the mobile Web, Kipp and Jeffrey have given you a crisp tome on bringing real accountability to B2B marketing to generate tangible results in social media. Remember that engagement is a means to an end for a marketer, not an end in itself. This book is a very good guide.

Content Marketing Proves to be a Large Part of B2B Marketing Programs [MarketingProf Data]

Highlights of the findings of a study released last month by MarketingProfs and the Content Marketing Institute addressing content marketing for the B2B industry indicate that content production has become and will continue to be a major piece of the marketing mix for B2B marketers.  We’ve seen a huge increase in content marketing – specifically writing (eBooks, blogs, white papers, etc) – from B2B clients (many of them requesting just content) at Other Side Group over the course of the last 12 months, so some of these numbers don’t surprise me, but looking at trends and shifts as a whole is very insightful.

There are several key takeaways from the report.

Content marketing is almost universally used. 90% of B2B marketers used some form of content in their marketing program in 2011, and no individual industry reported lower than a 70% adoption rate.

Content type and its perceived effectiveness is varied.  Marketers are using a mix of content creation and content curation in their programs.  Visual content – in-person events, webinars, video – seem to be the most successful pieces of content, while informational/written pieces – case studies, eNewsletters, white papers and blogs – are also considered very effective as whole.

Creating valuable and consistent content proves challenging. Among B2B marketers largest challenges in content production are creating content that engages prospects (41% of respondents reported this as their largest challenge), and creating enough content (20% stated this as their largest challenge).

More budget is being spent on content marketing, and a lot of that is going to third-parties. While the above stat has changed little from 2010, 60% of respondents said they were going to be increasing spend on content marketing over the course of the next 12 months.  To boot, 62% of B2B marketers use outsourcing for content marketing, a substantial increase from last year’s 55%.

QUICK SUMMARY: B2B marketers are finding content marketing extremely effective, and are willing to put more money behind content marketing programs in order to overcome the challenges they see as most inhibiting.

Navigating the Legal Road Map of Social Media

Navigating the social landscape brings a number of challenges. What content should you publish? Do you use platforms like StockTwits that target investors? Do you create private or public LinkedIn groups? And what about those influencers?

Know your way around the law and social media

Know your way around the law and social media

One thing we also cannot forget is collaborating internally. I’ve blogged before about making sure you have talked with InfoSec so both of you understand each other – your goals and their risks. Another department to work with is legal. Mashable has a new post on the five predictions for social media law in 2012. If you haven’t read it you need to, but don’t stop there. If you are continuing to try to convince legal about mapping out the opportunities and value of social media you should do the following:

  • Understand the concerns: Is legal worried about intellectual property? Privacy? Reputational risk? If you don’t know – or just think you know — now is a good time to sit with legal to discuss.
  • Find a legal champion: Someone on the legal team may already use social media (e.g. LinkedIn). Discover who you think may be someone that can help you understand the concerns before you go into a formal meeting.
  • Do your research: The Mashable post is helpful and a good start, but dig deeper. You should have a firm grasp of the concerns and issues so that you can alleviate the risks and make everyone more comfortable.
  • Find working solutions: There are always ways to be more flexible, so be prepared to work with your colleagues and have a variety of idea.
  • Create a dialogue: You can start with the Mashable article and forward it to your legal team. If you start positioning yourself as someone who understands their concerns they will be much more open to listening to you.

If you enjoyed this you may also want to read:

What’s your “I” in social media?

Why LinkedIn’s Company Pages Now Matter More

Are You Using StockTwits?

Do we need a social index for businesses?

Your Game Plan: Focus on Fans

There’s a lot to be said for comparing social media strategies these days and supporting your favorite team in sports. In fact, much of the reason sports teams do so well in using social media is that they understand the value of a loyal following. They also understand the value of winning, and one way of viewing how you can help your clients succeed is to get them into a sports mentality.

In fact, one thing Facebook got right early on was allowing people to be “fans” of brand pages. It’s a concept I think they should have kept rather than replace with the “Like” feature. Like a team in sports, companies don’t want people to “like” them, they want fans who defend them in a crisis, support them when new products are announced, and who constantly sing the praises (not literally, but employee bands still seem popular) of a company when they perform well.

Here are ways to start making fans out of your followers:

photo

How are you attracting and keeping fans?

Find out where they want to talk with you: Prior to the rapid growth of social media customers more than likely relied on email from you to know what was happening. With so many choices now at their disposal, you need to decide how to best communicate with them. A customer who uses LinkedIn may not be on Twitter or Facebook while others still rely on email newsletters to know what is happening. As social CRM tools become more sophisticated you should be able to start understanding more about where your clients are learning about you and what type of information they want. If you need ideas here’s a relevant post from Eloqua on some new year’s resolutions for talking to your customers.

Actually talk with them: The worst thing you can do is ignore your fans. Living in Chicago it was easy for me to see this with the Blackhawks hockey team and how the fan base changed when ownership changed from father to son — and with that change you saw a huge momentum shift in support for the team.

Find your “off the field” captains: The captain on the playing field rallies the team and helps make key in-game decisions. There are also captains in the stands — the leaders of fan clubs who organize events, keep fans informed and become a key part of the organization. Finding the people online who can do the same for you is just as important and you and your team should embrace them, help them and learn from them. There are a number of ways to look at influence and I wrote about that before when I spoke about defining ROI.

Deliver on content: Just as a winning team in sports needs to field its best players in order to succeed, a good B2B marketing company will deliver content that wins. There are a number of ways companies can now do this via Twitter, a blog or research as some examples, and providing original and relevant content is key. As the concept of content marketing has grown it will continue to be important for most B2B companies.

Have a strategy: The best players don’t always win championships. Nearly every winning team has a smart leader who has a strategy. Don’t just think that doing all of the things above will instantly gain you the following you want. I encourage you to think about what you want to accomplish, how you plan to achieve it and how does it fit with the overall strategy of the business. If you need to get better at developing a strategy one suggested I made earlier was to start playing more games.

While we encourage you to start thinking more like a sports team, please don’t share your favorite team with us in the comments — we don’t want to divide our readership. But we do want you to be fans of our blog and we hope you subscribe to us via email or follow us on Twitter.

If you enjoyed this you may also enjoy reading:

Getting Your Degree in Business Acumen

You are What You Read

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