Thursday, July 3, 2008

B2B--Monetizing Social Media Sites

As I’ve written about B2B sites Basho and in recent weeks, it has occurred to me that businesspeople—either sellers or buyers—have good reasons for being involved in the communities of leading sites in their industries. It’s a matter of networking, spotting trends, and often actual problem solving.

Yesterday’s post gave a good example of a site moving in that direction—the use of AdReady’s platform to provide self-service advertising on the New York Times site. It reminded me of a recent blog post by Josh Bernoff of Forrester. He argues that the real business model for social media is B2B, not B2C. He has a good point.

His post is well worth reading in its entirety. I’ll summarize the objectives he says social media applications can accomplish for marketers and lists agencies who specialize in each activity. There are five major ones:

Listening. When people in an industry get together—in real or virtual worlds—they talk about their businesses.

Talk. Marketers should “join the conversation” to use Joseph Jaffe’s apt phrase.

Energizing. Allowing customers to interact and contribute energizes them. One-way communications no longer do the job.

Supporting. Good corporate knowledge bases have long contained major components of user-generated materials. Support forums are the newer, more interactive version. Lithium Technologies is one firm that offers a support form product. They say it allows businesses to:
• Identify experts
• Reward experts
• Track and measure effectiveness.
This is reminiscent of Eric VonHipple’s lead user concept, long a mainstay of B2B marketing. The support formum automates an important B2B concept. Here’s a shot of a Symantec forum supported by the Lithium platform. Note the activity mid-day before a long summer weekend!

Embracing. Bring customers in; make customers part of the solution (not the problem). Think Dell’s Idea Storm site.

I can’t quibble with Bernoff’s contention that B2B is where the monetization is in this space. Some of the business models I’m seeing are operating first in the B2C space, then moving into B2C. That may suggest using the consumer market to demonstrate that the concept works before moving into the B2B space. It may just suggest that Internet businesses are figuring it out as they go along.

Whatever the process, new businesses in the social media space would do well to consider Bernoff’s advice!

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