Brain Vibe

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There Is Revenue in Social Media

social media revenueRight now the value of a social network is tied to ad dollars.  Facebook allows you to place ads.  LinkedIn charges for job postings.  Blogs have ad text and banners.  Ad dollars is what is making social media go round.  The notion that social media is about the party is no longer the case.  It may not be as obvious or it may be very obvious, but Twitter, Facebook pages, LinkedIn contacts, and blogs all have agendas and it is about making money in some shape or form.  On the internet, free to the user has generally been the norm.  I’m not convinced it has to be.

One of the first social media venues was online games.  In 2007, online gaming reached $8.6B.  People pay monthly fees to access, entertain themselves, and interact with others.  They derive value from the experience and equate that with what is in their wallet.  It is one of the biggest growth areas on the internet. Another interactive experience that in some ways is also social is e-learning.  Here, the market hit $17.5B during 2007 in the US alone.   By the way, B2B companies are already tapping into this with their training offerings.  Contrast these markets with social networks like Facebook that is free and a membership the size of the US, and you realize the revenue potential and loss.  Granted, global internet advertising had reached $45B in 2007 according to the Kelsey Group.  So it is understandable that getting a piece of the internet advertising pie seems easier and more appealing.  Google built an empire on this.  Combine that with the fact that the internet is ‘free’ to the user and you know how to follow the money trail. I say, this is short sighted.  The ROI for ad spend will be less than what you can get from a direct revenue model.  The other aspect, you aren’t Google and your business model is about selling your products, not advertising another company’s offerings.

The value in social media for the user is not unlike that of online gaming or e-learning.  There is opportunity to be had by putting a dollar figure on the experience.  Social Networks are micro communities and associations that provide a value.  There is a place for these communities to be fee based and to continue to be true to the experience.  Other’s have implemented a for fee experience and are successful:  Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, BusinessWeek.  Associations give access to their members and communities as part of the annual membership fee.  This has allowed these venues to maintain integrity and continue to provide information and experiences to subscribers.

B2B is looking for ways to generate value and revenue from social media.  Simply looking at it in terms of the Marketing Funnel and lead conversion is only a part of the potential.  Leveraging the interactive and informational quality of an experience and you have the potential to have direct revenue generation.  There is also the opportunity for new forms of revenue generation evolved from information service providers like LexisNexis and Elsevier.  They sell full or limited access to high value content and community networks.  Services may aggregate memberships in trade associations and sell full or limited access to online forums and content.  Meeting services can act as conduits to extend trade show seminars and key notes into virtual experiences people pay to access.  In each of these 3rd party offerings companies derive direct revenue while building credibility and relationships.  Afterall, customers pay to attend events, if there is enough value, they’ll pay for access.

B2B needs to start thinking out of the box in tying social media to direct revenue generation.  Social media experiences have value in more ways than an advertising vehicle.  With the right value proposition, customers will pay for access.  It is all in how you create and package it.  Now that is marketing!


Filed under: b2b, CMO seat, networking, social media, , , ,

B2B Social Media: Got Your Toe Wet, Now It’s Time to Swim

You tweet, blog, have a Facebook page, and created a Ning community.  That’s great.  Nice first step.  Now what?

The great thing about social media is that the barrier to entry is not the platform any longer.  You have the ability to test drive ideas within or outside your online current environment before committing. That just didn’t exist as you built your web presence in the past.  In some cases you can shift existing resources as you phase out old interactive practices, although I wouldn’t bank on this as social media is more content intensive and requires consistent monitoring and responding to increase and maintain value. To take your interactive customer experience to the next level, it will require pulling the learnings you’ve had with Twitter, blogs, social networks, and social bookmarking and begin to sector out those that truly worked to drive sales, reduce churn, and contributed to market influence and leadership.

Many times, we’ve created our social media experience parallel to our overall web strategy.  Marketing campaigns still drive traffic to product and solution offers in landing pages or on a website, or they specifically focus on growing a community.  The website is still a place to become educated about the company, products and solutions, and there may be a link to a social network that has blogs and discussions.  The problem is that your website strategy and your social media strategy now need to become integrated.  You’ve built your communities, now what do you want out of them?  You need to drive qualified leads and incorporate successful practices into an integrated interactive strategy.  Remove the website and social media silo.

Here’s how:

Content Conversion: A key staple of web content and marketing content overall is the white paper and case study.  Marketers covet this content and leverage it as a call to action in direct marketing campaigns.  Typically in PDF format users are required to register to download.  It is used so much because it works well to get qualified leads into the funnel.  However, the missing link is the SEO factor.  In PDF format you don’t have the keyword rich content to attract paid and natural search visitation.  You don’t have the ability to build upon SEO through conversations, linking and authority.  It is time to open up the white paper and case study to a blog format leveraging the reach you get with social media at the same time continuing to require registration to comment, bookmark, or RSS subscription on the content.

Trackbacks: Creating thought leadership and product/solution leadership has always been tightly controlled on our websites.  It is all about what we want you to know.  We’ll through in an industry analyst study that showcases our solution or our perspective to create credibility and plop a sidebar banner in to get to the content.  Although, the content is usually a PDF contained in our CMS system.  There are a number of customer networks and media/analyst networks that have blogs and discussions on our business.  We even have created our own.  It is time to integrate those discussions into our website content through trackbacks.  This allows page content to stay fresh maintaining and improving SEO over time as well as allowing forums for customers researching more avenues to learn about what we have to offer.

Social Bookmarking: Leverage social bookmarking within your website to allow visitors to bring people to your website.  This will do a couple of things.  First, if you want people to bookmark you’ll be forced to produce highly relevant and valuable content on your site moving past the online brochure.  Second, allowing your content to go viral will expand your reach.

Content Commenting: Let people comment or create discussions.  Having customers provide ratings or feedback can be good in helping customers make decisions.  Even if a comment is not glowing but is constructive, it may provide insight for customers to consider when choosing.  You may want to populate comments from support or customer forums that show how the solution solved a problem or configurations necessary for specific customer environments.  Then, open it up to visitors to ask questions or drill into the forum discussions.  This is a cornerstone in online retail and is a proven factor driving conversion.

Forums: Normally a behind the scenes venue in your customer portal or industry networks, take that same venue and apply it in your website experience.  Allow visitors to discussion their needs for a solution and what they are experiencing in their business.  Rather than keeping this separate, by integrating into your website experience it encourages engagement connection with you, your customers, and other prospects.  It could be a similar format as LinkedIn groups or Twitter Twibes.

The point of all this is that stand alone widgets, networks, and branded social media venues in the long run won’t serve your business well.  An integrated and seamless approach will add value to your website experience and improve customer conversion by linking to your marketing funnel strategies.

Filed under: b2b, customer relationship, sales 2.0, social media, social media marketing, , , , , , , ,

B2B Social Media: The Silent Majority Opportunity

B2B Customer Silent MajorityThere is a huge silent majority out there.  Are you speaking to them?  I think you should.

This has been an issue with social media in B2B that I keep coming back to.  There are those of us that produce content, those that comment, those that share, and those that just are there on the fringe – the silent majority.  As marketers, free press (engagement) is typically measured more in actions and thus the measure of social media success.  But, what has me thinking is, are those that are most vocal and interactive really representative of my market or who I want to convert?  I know that they have influence by their ability to advocate the brand and spread my message.  Though, it makes me wonder if my message is really being shared in the manner that I would intend.  Ah, the loss of control.

But, I digress…

There is a part of me that thinks social media and how we measure effectiveness may be a bit flawed.  Taking a step back and looking at the B2B decision process, social media is not proving to be a big conversion component at the bottom of the funnel.  It is really a thought leadership component.  As such, while I certainly want to engage those visiting say in a blog or community, I think that the silent majority may actually be my real customer.  I’m not even determining how I’m influencing them or who they are in how social media effectiveness is measured today.

Here’s why I care about the silent majority.  They are the ones that are probably in a serious research phase as they assess their business and ways to improve it.  They are the ones that don’t have other motives outside of becoming more knowledgeable.  It may not be in their best interest to publicly communicate their opinions or questions as it could expose their strategy to competitors, thus they are closer to considering next steps.  They share content rarely, but when they do it is highly relevant to their purpose.  I think the silent majority is actually the closest to being converted, and we don’t even track them well.

Initial thoughts are that we should look at members/subscribers and content sharers that are active in visitation but less so in direct engagement – taking a bottom up analysis rather than top down.  This may point towards more qualified leads to engage in direct marketing activities and other traditional conversion tactics.  We might want to look overall at our social media and begin to track metrics that point towards research behavior that resembles behavior of those ready to engage in the sales process in order to determine potential effect on marketing conversion.  Thus, giving a window on our social media’s effect on conversion.

What do you think?  What is your strategy for the silent majority?

Filed under: b2b, customer relationship, sales 2.0, social media marketing, , , , ,

Inside Out B2B Social Media Communities

It seems that in order to feel connected in social media communities, the trend is to create micro communities within a network.  Where a year ago it was all about how many Twitter followers and Facebook friends you have, this year we are looking to build more intimate and meaningful neighborhoods.  It makes sense.  After all, working a room takes a lot of effort.  Ultimately, you are trying to have meaningful conversations and exchanges.

Here’s the thing,  if you are thinking about building a customer community, there are a lot of great ideas and discussions that hopefully will come out of it.  Outside of providing better avenues of service, exchanges between you and your customer and customer to customer are valuable insights into a customer’s needs, decisions, and challenges.  Why would you want to keep that just in the community?

E-tailers got it right when they incorporated rating systems and customer comments on products to help drive more sales.  In a business-to-business community, sharing opinions and advice with potential customers on the main website can help further engage browsing visitors and improve lead generation.  Locking support forums behind customer community gates might seem like a good idea because you don’t want potential clients scared off when investigating your solutions.  However, isnt it better to have them engage in the forums to help further understand how your solutions fit their requirements and have customers and community leaders help out in the discussion?  If they go to other communities and forums where you aren’t present, you and your customers don’t have the ability to influence their opinions.

I suggest that part of your social media marketing strategy takes into account ways to break down the social media silos you may be developing when trying to service various segments within your interactions.  Just as you create dynamic content on your website with Twitter streams, podcasts, and video.  Think about how conversations and insight within the customer community can optimize and improve engagement and interest on your website.  Include comments and opinions from the customer community.  Include dynamic case scenarios of how to overcome the challenges of implementing your solutions with forum and blog discussions.

Let your customer’s voice shape your website.

Filed under: b2b, customer relationship, social media, social media marketing, , , , , , ,

Social Media for B2B is a Game Changer

Forget about the question of if you should or shouldn’t leverage social media for B2B marketing.  Forget even that you can see a direct link to ROI.  If you aren’t blogging, networking, and conversing with your customers and the market through social media, you lost already.  Why?  Social media marketing in B2b is what a website was back in the 90’s, it is the game changer.  If you use social media you have credibility and authority.  Without it, you are a wall flower.

Customers want to hear your voice.  They want you to be a thought leader.  It is more than the stale white paper.  It is about the tone and interaction you are willing to subscribe to when you engage in social media marketing practices.  A community, a blog, you tweets, they all help you create authority simply by stepping out.  

The number one role of marketing in B2B is to convince your customers that it is worth spending hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars on your solutions.  If you aren’t credible, authoritative, and a leader, chances are slim a customer is going to consider you.  Just being aware of you as a provider isn’t enough.  The benefit of social media marketing is that as much as it improves awareness, it ultimately establishes you as a player.

And, if you really have to prove quantitatively that social media marketing is improving ROI (of course you do!), stop looking at awareness.  Track the movement of your brand across leadership, credibility, and mindshare.  Chances are, your social media marketing efforts are paying off here.

Filed under: b2b, communication, customer relationship, marketing/advertising, social media marketing, , , , ,



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