Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cisco Engages B2B Customers in Idea Generation

In my early days writing about the web, I remember my editor saying that I just had to read a book entitled Net Ready that focused on Cisco Systems’ thoughtful use of the web, especially connecting its customers to provide support to one another. That was easily a decade ago but the title well describes Cisco’s continuing innovation of Internet marketing programs.

Cisco recently launched a promotion for its WebEx conferencing system that makes good use of both social media and cause-related marketing. Called Pass the Ball, it asks people to submit ideas that can help change the world and to rate the ideas of others. Each time an idea is submitted or rated, Cisco makes a donation to Teachers without Borders.

I count 10 categories of ideas ranging from Education/Innovation with 117 ideas currently to Sports/Entertainment with 26. (What does it say about their target audience that Arts/Culture has more ideas than Sports at 36? Some of the other categories have a predictably high level of activity, but that comparison is fascinating!)

They are working the promo aggressively with activity on Facebook and Twitter, especially. The Twitter “ad” on this page appears to be a live feed instead of a “safe” static capture as is sometimes done.

In looking for information, I ran across their recent Connected Life campaign. It had a different scope (it didn’t seem to focus on a specific brand, but instead on their corporate theme) and it attracted over 600 entries from a selected set of countries. I don’t know what their success metrics are, but 600 entries looks pretty good to me. The implication is that Cisco knows how to involve and engage their totally B2B audience, and it seems reasonable to assume this benefits their brands like WebEx.

It also suggests another issue. I read somewhere recently that one social media practitioner disputed the idea that there are social media programs/campaigns (I use the 2 terms interchangeably). The argument was that social media involvement is an ongoing process, not a campaign with a beginning and end. The Cisco programs seem to illustrate the issue.

Corporate social media involvement has to be an ongoing process; you just can’t turn it on and off, you have to stay involved. Equally important, corporate marketing departments have to learn from each social media foray and practice continuous improvement. At the same time, there can be individual programs like these two from Cisco that have distinct beginnings and endings. The skill then becomes integrating these promotions into an overall, long-term social media strategy.

Another important integration issue—interesting, isn’t it?

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