End of quarter

Me: “I’m interested in your solution but I have no idea what it costs, so let’s start there.”

Rep: (hemming and hawing redacted) “… so we start at $20,000 a year.”

Me: “Whoa. Sorry for wasting your time. You obviously offer a lot more than I need and that is so far out of my budget that there’s no point in even doing a demo.”

Rep: “What were you thinking of spending?”

Me: “Nothing else we use in this category is more than a couple of hundred bucks a month. I’m not negotiating, really.”

Rep: “I could do $5,000 a year.”

Notes from the B2B social media panel at SocialFresh

I’m in Charlotte, NC today for the Social Fresh social media conference. I’m on the Social Media B2B panel with Nathan Gilliatt and Jeff Cohen, moderated by Kipp Bodnar.

When we met a few weeks ago, we decided we wanted to share stories, engage the audience and interact with them, so we decided not to make slides. I know that’s the cutting-edge view these days but for a guy like me with a corporate background, being told we’d be presenting without slides makes me only slightly less uncomfortable than being told we’d be presenting without pants.

Since I don’t have a slide deck to share with you, here are some of the questions we identified in advance, and the answers I wrote out in preparation.

Let’s get this out of the way. What do you say to B2B folks who say their customers aren’t online?

Everybody needs to be the expert in their own market, so if you tell me your customers aren’t online, I’m not going to stand here and tell you you’re wrong. But these days in nearly every business, at least some of your customers are going to be online. If they aren’t yet, they will be sooner than you think. And even if you don’t think your customers are online, are your competitors?

What are some successful practices you have seen or used to ensure that your social media strategy aligned with business objectives?

You need to think of social media as a set of tools, not as a strategy in themselves. Presumably you already have established objectives for your business, and you probably also have a marketing and communications plan. Don’t think, “What is our social media strategy?” Think, “What is our established marketing strategy and how can social media support that?”

Don’t just get on Twitter for the sake of being on Twitter. Look at your marketing campaigns and see if Twitter can support them.

Are you going to a trade show? Do you have a goal of getting a certain number of people to your booth? That’s a measurable goal and something you can support with social media. Does the show have a hashtag? Is there a Facebook event page for the show? Those become other avenues, in addition to the ones that have been successful in the past, that you can pursue.

Social media isn’t always the best option from a marketing standpoint. How do you define the ROI before you decide to execute?

Don’t abandon anything that’s working for you in favor of social media. Think of social media as another tool. Make sure you have a measurable objective before you start. “We want to increase web traffic to our marketing campaign landing page by 30 percent over the next quarter.” That’s a measurable objective.

What social media tools are you going to use and how are you going to track them? Once you establish the metrics and the method of measurement, and if you take the time to do it in a comprehensive manner, you’ll see what kind of results you get. Then you’ve established a benchmark. And let’s not underestimate the importance of establishing benchmarks.

If you’re just getting started in social media, then “Establish a benchmark” is a valid objective.

The big question: Who should “own” social media in an organization?

I have two answers for that. The first is, it should be owned by the person or people who are most enthusiastic about social media; the ones who are champing at the bit to get started. Because if you force it down the throat of someone who doesn’t know or care about social media, it’s just going to become another chore, and you won’t see any progress.

Now that’s not always practical, so my politic answer is, “It depends,” both on the size and type of your organization, and what you hope to accomplish with social media. Ultimately you want to make social media tools available to everyone in your organization who has a role in communicating a message.

Marketing folks should be in charge of how they use social media to support marketing campaigns and generate leads. The external comms or PR folks should be responsible for the reputation monitoring and management aspects. Your sales folks should be using social media tools for prospecting, getting market information and building and maintaining relatioships. Your tech support and customer service folks need to take responsibility for doing those tasks in social media.

But if you have to start with overall responsibility in one place, my bias is toward the marketing communications or PR folks, because they should have an overall view of your branding, messaging and communications objectives.

Is there value in allocating resources to educate customers about social media?

Absolutely. If your customers are interested in social media and want to get started, if you show them how to do it, you’re creating a built-in audience for your message. My father jokes that he’s a Mac guy because the first computer he ever used at work was a Mac, and he imprinted on it the way a baby bird imprints on the first thing it sees when it comes out of the shell. If your customers learn how to use Twitter because you teach them, you can be pretty sure they’re going to follow you.

If you’re worried that your information isn’t getting through the noise to your customers, create a campaign to show them how to use RSS feeds, and make your feeds easy for them to get.

And even if you’re not very active yourself yet, I think there’s a tremendous value in saying, “Are you curious about social media? So are we. Follow us on Twitter, or subscribe to our blog, and we’ll figure it out together.”

When is social media wrong for B2B?

Again, everyone needs to be the expert in their own market. If you’re not sure if social media is right for your audience, you need to do some research, whether it’s web research and reading analyst reports, or just asking your customers directly.

But it’s true there are times when social media isn’t going to be a viable option. If you have a lot of customers in government, for instance, you might find they can’t use social networks at work. If you’re in a very traditional industry and your major customers block access to YouTube, for instance, you wouldn’t put a lot of time and effort into a video campaign.

Do I ask for permission or forgiveness?

That depends on your company and your boss, but speaking as someone who works for a company of 11,000 people, it’s much easier for me to do my job when I have consensus, and when I have a reputation for being someone who can be trusted to take all the relevant factors into consideration before beginning an initiative.

What is the most important thing companies should know about starting a B2B focused blog?

Find someone to write it who is really excited by the prospect, not someone who should do it based on their title or position and isn’t really interested. Ideally it would be someone who already has a blog about your industry. Then make it a part of his or her job and make sure it’s built into that person’s job description, so they can make it a priority and keep it active. Because I still believe a dormant blog is worse than no blog at all.

What should folks read to stay current on social media and thoughts on its marketing applications?

ChrisBrogan.com, mashable.com, socialmediab2b.com, ConversationsMatter.org, socialmediatoday.com, the Marketing Over Coffee podcast.

What should folks tell their boss about what they learn from this panel?

If you think you don’t have time to get involved in social media, look at all the information you share every day either through email, on the phone, in conversation, in meetings, the articles you forward to you friends. You could be sharing all of that on a blog, on Twitter or in a social network. Once you get started and develop your “social media muscle,” you’ll start finding more and more to share.

You don’t have to do everything, but you can’t do nothing, so do something.

Originally published on Conversations & Connections, my SAS social media blog

Five steps for getting started on Twitter

I got a lot of positive comments on my Four Step Plan for Getting Started in Social Media. It reminded me that people are at all different levels of knowledge and interest in social media. When you spend all day thinking about it and using it, it’s easy to forget that lots of people still want the basics.

So, here are some basic steps for getting started on Twitter:

What Twitter is good for

• Many of the advantages of blogging in a short, quick format.
• You can support your other communications channels and activities by promoting them on Twitter.
• Hashtags allow you to gain a presence in and around events, conferences and issues.
• Twitter search can show you who’s talking about what.
• It’s still a relatively small community in many professions, allowing you to make connections.

What Twitter is not good for

• Twitter is a tool, not a strategy.
• You have to be interesting to get followers; it’s not the place for heavy-handed sales pitches.
• It’s a firehose, and it’s getting worse. You need filtering tools to find the value (TweetDeck, Seesmic Desktop, Hootsuite).

Getting started on Twitter

• Create an account, using your real name, and set up your profile.
• Use the search function to find people to follow in your industry, and follow who they’re following.
• Get to know the standards of the community and the way people use it.
• Think about all the useful and interesting information you encounter every day.
• Start contributing.

Originally published on Conversations & Connections, my SAS social media blog

Stop telling me what to do

If you’re active in social media, especially if it’s part of your job, you’ve probably gotten used to the feeling that you’re doing everything wrong, or that you aren’t doing enough. In the past few weeks, I’ve been told – directly or indirectly – that a Facebook fan page is vital to our brand and we need to get one ASAP, that we’re using Twitter wrong, that we need a much more aggressive video strategy in social media, that we need to radically expand our blogging program and that I shouldn’t be allowed to have my job because I moderate comments on this blog, instead of making them open. I’m sure I could think of more.

That’s one of the hazards of reading the social media thought leaders, and the people who, for whatever reason, can do whatever they want in social media. If you, like me, are trying to integrate social media into a large company, you have a lot more factors to consider than a startup with five people or a small company with a one- or two-person marketing department.

We have 11,000 employees around the world. We have a marketing division, a legal department, an HR department, an IT organization, an external communications team, an internal communications team, a creative services department, and others who have a vested interest in how we communicate, how we present ourselves as a brand, and how we behave online.

Things don’t happen overnight.

That doesn’t mean we don’t have a sense of urgency, or that we don’t understand the value of social media. But it does mean that it takes some time to make major changes.

I try to keep that in mind when I read about the next big thing we aren’t doing yet, or just as accurately the next big thing from six months ago we’re still investigating. Or the thing we’re doing wrong, or that we aren’t pushing hard enough. We have to set priorities and address what makes the most sense for us, and that means we’ll never be doing everything we could, or doing everything the way we’re “supposed” to be.

If you’ve never worked in a big corporate environment, it’s easy to say, “Just go for it and see what happens.” If you’re in it on a daily basis, you know that consensus takes time but yields the strongest results.

Feel free to accuse me of making excuses. But I’m not speaking to the mavericks and the consultants and the gurus and the startups. I’m speaking to the people who have jobs like mine in companies like mine.

There are a lot of experts out there who will tell you what you need to do. Read what they have to say. Study the success stories and case studies from companies like yours. Keep up to date with the news and trends and tech.

But only you can decide what will work best in your organization.

Originally published on Conversations & Connections, my SAS social media blog

SAS Global Forum showcases the value of social media for events

Originally published on Conversations & Connections, my SAS social media blog

I’ve been back from our annual user conference, SAS Global Forum, for three weeks but I’m still amazed at what I saw. Even in this economy more than 3,300 dedicated SAS users came together to learn from each other. It was my first time attending the event, and one of the most remarkable professional experiences I’ve had.

This year’s event was a test bed for a number of social media activities as well, and we learned a lot. Here are some highlights.

The Crowdvine networking site set up for the event drew more than 200 members, which is a great base to build on. The Netvibes aggregator page brought together all the social media assets (blogs, blog searches, Twitter searches, video, photos, etc.) into one place and received positive comments from visitors. The SAS Global Forum blog at blogs.sas.com was extremely active, with 76 posts as I write this. The SAS video team put in their usual hard work chronicling the event, which also spurred us to create a SAS presence on Flickr, which I look forward to helping develop.

I want to single out Twitter as well, since it’s such a new tool and SAS Global Forum was the first time we’ve focused on it for SAS events communications. Twitter was very popular, with more than 500 messages posted using the #sgf09 hashtag during the event, and more than 1,000 since it was created.

Some people still question the value of Twitter, and just like blogs in the early days there can be a lot of noise. There’s noise on the #sgf09 hashtag. People like to talk about themselves and don’t always stop to think if anyone cares where they ate lunch. But far more important than that, if you look at the hashtag search, you see messages like this one, from a user:

SAS EG 4.2 supports office 2007 hurray. Need to get it. #sgf09

Or this one from a SAS partner, linking to a press release on sas.com:

Reading about SAS Customer awards at #sgf09. http://tinyurl.com/dfv44j

Or this one from a SAS partner in the Netherlands:

Just back from the sasCommunity.org focus group at #SGF09. Very positive, open discussion on improving the site, contributions and content.

SAS folks were also tweeting madly at the event, picking out nuggets of valuable information from customer presentations and panels and adding them to the stream.

#SGF09 presenter says SAS CI 5.1 upgrade was operational within 3 weeks. Slide says Yes Man!!

Business Analytics panel #sgf09. Customers emphasizing the necessity of analysts working closely with business units, marketers.

Business Analytics panel #sgf09. Keys to making analytics part of your org culture: Case studies, build trust, show you’re adding value.

Twitter gets mention in Customer Intelligence Panel. Companies trying to understand value of data housed in twitter and how to use it #sgf09

For every example of a banality, I see a dozen tweets talking about the event, sharing information, asking questions, thanking people for their presentations, making connections and sharing links for further information. And these are conversations that probably wouldn’t have taken place online if not for Twitter, other than in a few blogs. Even the tweets that might be dismissed as banal show there’s a life and a pulse and a buzz at SAS Global Forum that up to now you could only experience in person. Sure, following a hashtag search isn’t the same thing as being there in the flesh. But I have no doubt that anyone who didn’t attend this year’s event but followed it on Twitter feels like they missed something valuable, practical and fun. And I guarantee you some of them are already planning to attend #sgf10.

The Marketing 2.0 Council

Originally published on Conversations & Connections, my SAS social media blog

My stated intention for this blog was to talk about the things we’re doing at SAS to integrate social media into our communications, and share information about what’s working and what isn’t. It’s unforgiveable that I’ve waited this long to talk about the Marketing 2.0 Council, because it’s been our biggest success story to date. I’ve recommended this as a tactic to several folks working on social media in a company setting.

The Marketing 2.0 Council began in late 2007 with a mandate to look at marketing 2.0/Web 2.0/social media as a whole, decide what was important to SAS and how we should go forward. The list of attendees at the first meeting included representatives from all corners of SAS: marketing, public relations, marketing editorial, online strategy and services, education, publications, advertising, email marketing and too many more to name. That first meeting was standing room only in a conference room designed to hold 30 people. I was lucky enough to be invited to join, having been a vocal advocate of incorporating social media into our public relations efforts. The assembled group had a wide range of awareness and understanding of social media but we were all agreed that we needed to figure out a strategy.

Our first major activity was a brainstorming session designed to put all the Web 2.0 outlets we could think of on a white board and narrow them down to the list we wanted to consider first. Somewhat surprisingly, that activity generated a manageable list without any bloodshed. We agreed to focus our attention on blogs, social networks, content syndication, podcasts, online video and Wikipedia. We soon realized that none of those channels would be worth much if we didn’t have something useful to feed them, so we added content as a category of its own.

From that starting point, we put together a task force for each area, led by a member of the Marketing 2.0 Council and made up of people who were either vocationally or avocationally interested in the field. The task forces met over the course of several weeks. They looked at the prevailing wisdom about their area, found examples of companies approaching them well, looked at what SAS was doing and put together recommendations for what we should be doing. That may sound like a simplistic explanation, but there wasn’t much more to it than that – the advantage of clearly-defined objectives.

Once we had all the task force recommedations compiled in a standard format, a working group of council members put them together and drafted a set of overarching recommendations and priorities and a proposed timetable. Even with a comprehensive outline, we felt the need to suggest only two new positions: social media manager (the one that I got) and an integrated content manager, to make sure we had valuable information delivered in a consistent manner to all the 2.0 channels.

With that work behind us, our executive sponsors were confident we had examined all the angles and gave us the green light to fill the new positions and get started on the recommendations. As the person selected to fill the role of social media manager, it’s been extremely helpful for me to know what a broad base my position was built on.

So, if you’re finding yourself trying to get your arms around social media at your company, creating your own council could be a big help. My suggestions:

1. Figure out all the people in your organization who have a stake in communicating your message and get them in the same room.

2. Resist the urge to invite only the people who you think will agree with you. Better to smoke out any objections now and deal with them.

3. Get the lawyers and the HR folks involved from the start, because they will have concerns you will probably never think of yourself.

4. Make sure you have a good cross section of decision makers and doers. In other words, if it’s all practitioners you’ll always be running upstairs to get approval, but if it’s all executives you won’t have anyone to do the grunt work like research and writing the recommendations and making pretty PowerPoint slides.

5. Make sure to create a mechanism for communicating your activities internally. We have an internal Marketing 2.0 Council blog and a SharePoint site where we house all the documents, including the task force reports and the draft social media guidelines and recommendations.