Brain Vibe

marketing muses to stay engaged

Has Facebook Lost It’s Cool Factor with Teens?

With the imminent IPO of Facebook and the record setting valuation, I had an interesting conversation with my son and nephews this weekend. It seems they have stopped using Facebook. The reason, Mom, Dad, grandparents, aunts, and uncles are on Facebook and, horror of horrors, they want to be friends!

So, what does it say about Facebook when those that gave rise to your business become disenfranchised and are walking away, even if slowly? Does this erode your valuation? Or, we’re these college and teen users simply early adopters and attrition is inevitable and of little business impact for the long run? Is the real opportunity the mature audience with more buying power? Either way, a changing user demographic means a changing growth projection.

Something to think about when considering that Facebook is speculated to be worth $100B.

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Filed under: social media, , , ,

The Fine Line in B2B Social Media

Social media, and more specifically social network connections with real friends and family is a much more interesting and comfortable place to be than it is for business.  How I envy even the business-to-consumer businesses where they can cozy up with entertaining and light games, gimmicks, and discussion.  Yet, while we all dress business casual these days to go about our daily work routines, we still have to put on that respectable suit in client and customer facing activities.  Thus, is the case with social media marketing.

If the intent of social media marketing is to provide greater transparency, where do you draw the line?  And, does that line move depending on how engaged and connected your customer is?

Several years back I had a conference call with an executive at a large media company.  The call was on a day that I was working at home and happened to be in the kitchen with the back slider open letting in the beautiful day.  As we were discussing the finer details of a project, a turkey chick happened to wonder up on my deck and right into my kitchen.  Wide eye’d and shocked, I ran through the kitchen to grab a broom and shoo it out.  As I did this, who happened to follow looking for the chick, you got it, mamma turkey.  Half in the conversation, and half out of my mind, I began to swing carefully at the birds to get them back out on my deck.  Mamma turkey was all too ready to defend her chick and the gobbling began, the wings flapped, and clawed feet came up.  I squealed half under my breath but of course my client was on to me.  First I had to explain that I was working from home, then I had to explain the noise and squeal.  I was mortified.  As it turned out, my client found the situation hilarious and since we had a fairly good relationship, it all worked out fine.  Yet, I was not prepared for such an unprofessional event to intrude on my business at hand.

Had this been a sales call or first meeting, I don’t know that this incident would have come across as well.  Such is the issue with social media engagement.  Since conversations are typically out there for all to see, there are going to be times when long time connections and newly created ones will interact with you and each other at the same time.   With newly engaged connections you may want to err on the side of safety and maintain the business suit, but with long time customers, jeans and a button down may be just fine. You don’t have control over what is said, only how you respond. Will you shoo away newly engaged customers if they intrude on conversations you are having with existing customers or those that are ready to enter your sales cycle?  Or, will you shoo away long time customers when you are developing a new relationship?  In social media, you don’t really have the option to ignore or push off if you want to hold and nurture your community.

The more I ponder the nature of relationship building in social media, the more I conclude that engagement and transparency may take on a more homogenous aspect and that the line moves as engaged connections move into the sales cycle, solution cycles, and support cycles.  Social media is good as a communication stream with a broad ability to form direct connections, but it won’t necessarily build deep connections where the line of transparency and relationship begins to dissipate toward arm chair discussion.

If the goal is a customer relationship that is a partnership, social media is a piece of this and can facilitate communication.  However, will it really be the primary mechanism of the relationship?

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

The Value of Social Media for B2B Purchase Decisions

digital-medium-used-by-us-professionalsUnderstanding how customers decide what solutions they need, which services they need, or what vendor to work with seems to move in peaks and valleys.  With social media on the scene and companies embracing it to get closer to customers, the question is arising again.  The real question is, how does social media contribute to a customer’s purchase decision?

Taking visitors to social media networks or connections to social media marketing efforts into the sales process has thus far eluded marketing.  The answer may be in this recent analysis provided by eMarketer.com.  While GenY is more optimistic about visitation and use of social media activities by US Professionals, Boomers and GenX think that professionals are less inclined.  This is not surprising as other statistics show an age gap.  What is important to realize is that Boomers and GenX are typically the ones making the decisions and holding the purse strings.  If they aren’t using social media to gather information about solutions, services, and vendors their purchase decision is not going to be influenced by what marketers put there.

Another revealing aspect of this study is the individual vehicles and their place in the typical workday.  Social networking, where marketers are looking to develop one-to-one relationships, are not as frequented by decision makers.  The other area to connect directly, internet forums, is also a lagging vehicle.  On the other hand, traditional vehicles such as a news site and personal email are ingrained in everyday behavior.  Social media, as a newer communication and information source, requires change in a decision maker’s behavior.  Other tools, such as mobile devices, were readily adopted due to teh fact that they mimicked and incorporated existing communication methods.  It wasn’t as much of a leap for people to make.  Social media, on the other hand, my be too different from how decision makers gather information or collaborate.

In a world where the journalist is considered a dying breed, across the board responents reconginzed the role they play in a professionals workday.  In fact, the gap is significant when compared to blogs.  This seems to point to a need to value and validated content versus opinion.  Another aspect to consider is that business journals are still able to sell online content and information.  Social media in time may become a trusted source of informtion, but today’s the number indicate that decision makers as designated by generation still rely and trust traditional sources.  Blogs, forums, and networks may still be seens as commentary and biased even is they are produced in journalistic fashion.

As GenY moves up the ranks and GenX further gravitates to social media int the workplace, things will shift.  But, this may still be several years out.   As marketers, we need to consider our audience’s preference for communication and information gathering when leveraging marketing tools that should drive sales.  Social media in business is still an immature source even as the hype has reached a crescendo.    If social media is not used regularly in a workday, it does not have the marketing power to transform engagement into sales.  Purchase decisions are complex and content and engagement needs to happen in a manner that creates trust, credibility, and aligns to the customer decision process.

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Filed under: b2b, marketing operations, marketing technology, networking, social media, social media marketing, , , , , , , , , , , ,

B2B Social Media – Has Marketing Effectiveness and Efficiency Improved?

How much effort do you need to put into social media before it pays off in B2B? The answer probably has to do with what you expect from social media in the first place. The problem I see for B2B social media marketing is that instead of 1) increasing marketing effectiveness by facilitating sales and deepening customer relationships 2) making marketing more efficient by streamlining process and resources, it may be doing just the opposite.

Marketing Effectiveness

In it’s ability to facilitate sales and deepen the customer relationship, time and again, marketers and sales are unable to translate awareness and conversation trends in social media to sales. In addition, I wonder if connection trends, comment ratios, and sharing ratios are really anything but another way to track existing customer relationships. I’ve narrowed down marketing effectiveness metrics to four (4) key themes. In each case, I’m looking for improvements due to social media.

  • Improve win/loss ratio – Sales may ultimately be responsible for this metric, but marketing is responsible for lead nurturing which contributes to it. The reality is that the awareness marketing that is happening in social media may not be doing anything but providing another outlet for the same content. Tactics such as white paper promotion and communication of offers may appear to increase leads, but views and registrations may ultimately be with the same people already existing within the customer database. In the end, is the social media marketing tactic really changing customer perception during the sales process to make them choose you’re solution more often? I’m not sure it does.
  • Shorten sales cycle – I pose that the sales cycle may actually be lengthening in social media marketing rather than shrinking. Social media appears to be focused more on awareness building than lead generation. This effort is at the beginning stages of the marketing funnel. In fact, because of the conversational nature of social media, it takes longer to convert a ‘getting to know you’ dialogue to a ‘let’s do business’ dialogue. So, instead of coordinating marketing efforts with sales engagement and the decision process, social media is acting more as a fishing net.
  • Increase sales – Due to an increased sales cycle, you may be losing time to help close a deal. Solely focusing on lead nurturing vs. lead conversion can have the affect of creating a state of purgatory for potential customers. Social media, in theory, should help expand your footprint within your customer base by improving customer relationships. However, all social media marketing is doing today is proving a facelift to existing customer forums, white-paper libraries, and transitioning web content to blog content.
  • Reduce churn – There is much buzz around Twitter’s ability to manage customer expectations and improve customer support. Thus, this translates to reducing customer defection. The issue here is that this isn’t happening in the marketing organization. This is a function of customer service. Where marketing fails is that customers are focused on their business, not yours. Conversations in social media marketing today are still more focused on ‘look at me Mr. Customer’. All the customer wants is for you to look at them. It is an effort for customers to utilize and participate in social networks and gather information in social media. There are still too many places the customer has to go to interact. We make it difficult to solidify relationships by managing multiple properties and outlets to connect.

Marketing Efficiency

There is a real hidden cost to utilizing social media for B2B marketing. It is the cost to do business. Due to the number of ways you can connect to customers, it requires a significant amount of effort to cover and manage all the properties. While you can write a single blog and push it out across multiple communities, the lack of diversity in conversations may hurt more than help. Each community probably has a different DNA. One message is not going to be relevant for all. Thus, you have to produce more content across more topics to be effective.

Another aspect of inefficiency is the art of the conversation. For social media to work, it requires a de-centralized communication web to interact with customers. Sales already has this in place as it is what they do every day. Marketing is smaller and has less resources. This puts pressure on the organization to have personalized attention to carry on a conversation. Marketing needs the ability to respond to comments, participate in groups in a conversational manner, and organize discussions and groups around a multitude of topics that customers are interested in. If you go to forums today, there are few that have real conversations happening. Mostly you see blogging and promotional content being posted. This is because it takes a huge amount of bandwidth to truly be interactive with your customers.

Lastly, there is inefficiency to how marketing manages relationships across multiple social media platforms. Again, the number of venues creates chaos in the ability to recognize a single customer. Efforts are duplicative and can create problems in a cohesive conversation and message. Marketing technology needs to be streamlined to better manage relationships.

What’s Next?

As social media marketing has been the buzz and huge shifts are being made to transition and leverage its potential, B2B marketing organizations need to be mindful of what their business charter is and how they meet their goals through effectiveness and efficiency. Social media is just part of the mix, and as with any marketing effort, you don’t want to put all your efforts into one tactic. If not properly monitored against key business benchmarks it can quickly de-focus your marketing efforts and lead to poor performance.

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Filed under: business intelligence, performance management, , , , , , , , , ,

A B2B Twitter Neighborhood

Twitter MailanaB2B marketing will not be effective in social media if it continues to focus on goals of awareness.  Mailana, a nifty tool to analyze strong conversational relationships on Twitter shows that a circle of influence is a tight one.

ReadWriteWeb exposes The Inner Circles of 1o Greek Heroes on Twitter using Mailana.  By typing in someones twitter name it produces a network graph and a ranked list of who a person converses with.  RWW was interested in the top 5 of people like Evan Williams, Kevin Rose, and Shaq.  They make the premise that this shows the influencers of the influencers.  Which makes sense since the more you interact with someone, the more likely you would take into account their opinions or have similar opinions.

Outside of this being a bit creepy and verging on stalking, it is amazingly interesting.  What struck me is just what type of people a person is most likely to converse with on Twitter.  It seems that there are varying degrees of personal and professional as well as the range of insulation and outreach.  Not that this should be much of a surprise but, for all the talk about the “socialness” of social media, connections for some of the biggest influencers have a high degree of professional connection and insulation.

For B2B word-of-mouth marketing, the inner circle is a tough thing to crack.  Depending on who you want to connect to, and what you want to talk about, marketing has to not only learn how to hold conversations but also be a lot closer to the customer and conversation.  This new marketing technique moves marketers closer to sales activities than broad stroke marketing activities.

Many are focusing social media goals on awareness generation and next on engagement.  It seems to be more about driving activity on the vehicle than a focus on a business objective.  At this high level, marketing is just not going to be effective to change opinions.  You are starting at square one.  To make social media work for you, focus on thought leadership and building relationships through reciprocating interactive vehicles.

You probably have a pretty well established market presence unless you are just starting out.  In this instance, you are probably already working your network and partners heavily.  So, leverage those existing relationships to crack the inner circle.  Always incorporate customers into your social media outreach. Identify ways to expand your customer advocacy programs to social media.  Always ensure you incorporate customers into your webinars and demos to encourage and expand conversation.  Never go it alone.

Another way to leverage your social media community venues is to engage customers during the sales cycle or customer advisory sessions within these venues.  Conference calls with presentations and demos are integrated in your social media sites.  Hold your regular customer advisory calls within the community.  Use your community as the place to interact and people will recognize that this is the place to do so.

At the end of the day, who your customers turn to to make decisions isn’t any different than it always was.  Mailana now makes it easier to see who they are.  Who are your customers talking to?

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

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