Monday, January 26, 2009

B2B Use of Social Media

This is hardly a new subject. In the past I’ve suggested that business customers often have strong motivations for participating in communities and that corporations can dip their toes in the social media waters with internal applications.

When a newsletter from IBM crossed my desk this morning I was reminded of this chart from Marketing Sherpa a couple of weeks ago. They surveyed mid-sized and up B2B marketers about their plans for 2009. Identifying new audiences/quality lists had the highest priority, developing social media and integrating it into their marketing efforts was considered hardest, and the most common activity was developing traditional content. All of it makes sense, but clearly all of it is pretty traditional, quite the opposite of an interesting article in today’s iMedia Connection, which argues that all media is becoming social. Schumacher’s examples are mostly of consumer brands, but all his arguments apply to B2B also.
Pursuing one of the many links in the newsletter I came across an IBM white paper. It looks as if it is from late 2007, but the points it makes are relevant and still need attention from B2B marketers. This quote particularly caught my eye:

(Web 2.0 technologies) can enable large companies to more efficiently and effectively market to small customer segments that have specific interests or requirements. Without Web 2.0 approaches, cost constraints may force these companies to broaden their marketing message to appeal to the widest possible audience.

Isn’t that exactly what you see in the Marketing Sherpa chart; we need more lists with better names. Even if those lists are out there, and they often aren’t, isn’t this the higher cost approach IMB speculates about?

In the eyes of Big Blue, which is clearly interested in pushing its own social media technologies, what should enterprises do? They should:

Harness the collective intelligence of your people.
• Discover and tap into specific communities of interest.
• Connect people to one another and to relevant information more efficiently.

None of that sounds radical or dangerous. Is it as hard as B2B marketers think it is?

Look at the technologies IBM recommends and their definitions:

• Wikis—Collective authoring environments that enable people to easily populate and edit a Web site based on project or community needs. Wiki is derived from the Hawaiian term for fast.
• Mash-ups—Applications that combine content from more than one source to create a new service.
• Blogs--Web pages where users can keep a personal diary or share information with teams, a social network, the company or the world, helping businesses to drive new viewpoints and harness the wisdom of crowds.
• Tagging—A method of tracking online items that can help you discover
related items and help improve searches and expertise location.
• Folksonomy—The categorization system that emerges from tagging.

Folksonomy—did IBM make that up??? Turns out they didn’t; I missed something else. Here’s an interesting brief description with a good link to some academic work. It’s the difference between a formal taxonomy and the categories that emerge from user tagging. The idea is appealing and reminds me of techniques from quality management that I’ve applied to website content to develop user-centered groupings. It works and user input has merit.

A new term aside, none of this is radical or even particularly difficult. IBM’s arguments about the value of collaboration—throughout the value chain—for increasing speed and improving business processes are hard to refute.

I add the argument that this allows the B2B enterprise to become familiar—maybe even comfortable—with these collaborative technologies. Letting customers participate is the next step. Customer engagement and true community is the result.

Isn’t it worth the effort?

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