How Brands Use Social Media

There is nothing like getting in front of college students to talk about social media marketing. I’ve had my fair share of speaking at various industry events but this one was special. Being able to get in front of the students at WP Carey class at ASU to share what I’ve learned over the years was special and I’m thankful to Bret Giles (@bretgiles) of Sitewire for giving me the opportunity to do just that.  Note, Bret happens to run the WP Carey class at ASU centered around social media.

All jitters aside, it was an opportunity for me to speak openly with the students about the realities of social media in the business world – gaining adoption, educating the troops, integrating social into the very fabric of the business, and getting buy-in from the upper management team. I also shared examples of the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to social media.

Of course, there are similarities and differences between personal social media interactions and those that are commercially or brand motivated. My presentation focused on how companies are using social media to humanize their brand, amplify their voice and engage with their audience. Examples of these brands highlight how they are integrating social into their overall business objectives. Feel free to view the presentation and share your comments.

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Demand Generation for the C-Suite: How to Hit the Right Spot

Blog Post Originally Published in BtoB Magazine

Marketers are constantly under pressure to prove value by bringing in leads for sales. This in turn creates a vicious cycle where marketers will cast a wide net in hopes of bringing in as many hand-raisers as possible. It’s not always a win-win, as oftentimes those don’t turn out to be quality leads. Today, it’s a different ballgame: We need to shift to a more targeted accounts-based approach, which means creating content and messaging to support the many buyers and influencers throughout the buying process—especially C-suite. Let’s face it— the holy grail of marketing is to get to the influencers— the C-suite—who have the ultimate say in how an organization invests its dollars.

I recently spoke on a panel titled Demand Gen for the C-Suite, sponsored by Loop Demand, alongside C. Edward Brice (@cedwardbrice), senior VP-worldwide marketing at Lumension Security.  I’ve summarized some of the interesting tips from that panel in a two-part Q&A blog series with Ed. Here’s part one:

Why is it important to target the C-suite in your demand-generation efforts?

Brice: Let me first say that my point of view comes from what we observe in the buying process as an IT security software company. I believe that the C-suite is more involved in the operational side of the business than in the past—and maybe even more than what has been traditionally perceived. I suppose there could be a few C-level executives locked away in the mahogany halls of the ivory tower somewhere, kept away from all the dysfunction of the day, but I haven’t encountered that in my own environment or in our customers’ environments. I find that most C-level leaders are either searching for answers to operational problems or researching best practices, strategic issues and emerging trends.

The C-level isn’t going to take a cold call or enthusiastically sit through a sales-oriented or product-centered webcast, so make sure your demand gen efforts are holistic by developing content across key topics that these individuals will find relevant, and deliver that content through appropriate channels.

How does this differ from your traditional demand-generation marketing campaigns?

Brice: Here’s an example: In our annual program planning, we identify key problems or scenarios. Then, we develop content, which is based on the context of a buyer’s journey, that’s designed to help drive inquiries and convert those inquiries into opportunities to support our sales cycle. We don’t intentionally target C-level folks with these messages, because they really aren’t our primary target audience. We then have thought leadership topics that we consider the industry’s hot topics, and we develop content related to these topics, which may be targeted to C-level roles. The objective with this content is to educate and to deliver our point of view on these hot topics, and to provide recommendations for company execs to consider in developing a strategy.

CEOs and other C-level executives are guarded by many gatekeepers. How can you pierce those corporate shells and get to the right people?

Brice: A few years back, Sirius Decisions did an interesting study that identified three major roles that a C-level leader plays across a buying cycle: Champion (guides the buying process); ratifier (validates and signs the PO); and influencer (advises throughout the buying process). I think in most cases it may be more effective to focus on producing relevant content across a buyer’s journey than spending 100 percent of your effort on trying to reach the C-level. It’s likely that they are part of the process anyway, but may or may not be driving the process. There are times, of course, where you’re trying to educate the market on a very new and innovative strategy, and that might require a more C-level-targeted approach.

In my next blog, I will write about content marketing for the C-suite.

All In! Betting On Your Content Marketing Strategy

Blog originally posted in BtoB Magazine – BtoB Blog: Defining Your Content Strategy

Where are you spending your marketing dollars? If it’s not in content marketing, then you should reconsider. Content marketing remains a top priority for marketers in 2012. This, according to a popular study published by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and MarketingProfs titled “B2B Content Marketing: 2012 Benchmarks, Budgets & Trends.” The study reports that nine out of 10 organizations market with content marketing. However, content marketing strategy should not be developed in a vacuum. It must become a company-wide initiative—aligning content with corporate goals and key messaging and supporting your go-to-market strategic plans with key stakeholders.

Below are some key recommendations to get started.

Define Your Content Strategy Goal

What are your corporate goals for the next two to three years? How do you want to define and position your company in the market? The answers will serve as the compass to your content strategy and your brand story. In addition, you should also understand who your audience is, where they are in their buying journey, their pain points and key addressable markets.

Understand Your Target Audience

Who are your buyers, and what are their personas, roles, etc.? Where do they go to find information about products and services before making a purchasing decision? What are the most popular media they visit? How active are they in social media, blogs, discussion forums, etc.? What types of pain points are they faced with? Without understanding the fundamentals of your target audience—types of content they’re looking for in the various stages of the purchasing cycle—your content strategy will fall flat. For example, if your target audience is IT buyers but the decision makers are CIOs, then you must map your messaging and content strategy to meet the needs of your audience. Tailor your content with your audience in mind.

Prioritize Your Marketing Tactics

Marketers are resource-constrained, and it’s easy to focus on a bunch of tactics rather than smart marketing. By polling your target audience and understanding who they are and where they are in the various stages of the buying cycle, you can minimize the time spent and cycles focusing on the wrong tactics, wrong messaging and the wrong audience. Get laser-focused.

Find out what are the top five events your target audience attends every year, the top five publications they read, the top five blogs they subscribe to, the top five influencers they follow, top analyst firms they go to for referrals, etc. Information is the new currency, and by knowing where your audience turns to for information, you can prioritize your marketing tactics and align your content strategy accordingly.

Implement a Powerful Content Architecture

Now that you have all this information at your fingertips, you can create a powerful content strategy that aligns with your goals, tailor it for the right audience and execute across the right marketing channels using the tactics that will have the most impact. Build a brand story that has multiple levels of content to support your story and messaging. Then mobilize your marketing team to execute using the right content to educate, inform and build engagement with your audience. Brand storytelling through great content is the key ingredient and should be the focus for any marketer today.

Plan with the Right Execution in Mind

With the wealth of data at your fingertips, you can establish content that can meet the needs of your audience. Then look at the different methods of disseminating content across different marketing channels to tell your story and engage with your audience.

Additional Resources:

Content Marketing Institute & Marketing Profs – B2B Content Marketing: 2012 Benchmarks, Budgets & Trends

YouTube – Coca Cola Content 2020 Part Two

Jeff Bullas – 5 Lessons From Coca Cola Content Marketing Strategy

Altimeter Group – Content Marketing. Content Strategy. What’s the Difference?

The Marketing Journalist Blog – Why Content Alone Cannot Rule the Kingdom

How to Operationalize Social Media – Cisco Style!

Social media may have jumped the shark, but many B2B companies are still struggling to understand social media’s implications or added value. The social Web can be like a maze for those who are getting their feet wet. If you look past all the chatter, social media experts are moving their conversations from tools to the methodology and execution of social media programs that align with corporate and marketing objectives. This is a good thing – a lot of people understand it’s a must-have. What many fail to understand is how they can actually operationalize social media and fit this into a strategic plan to augment your marketing blueprint for success.

In today’s dynamic environment, there are trendsetters in the social media space, and then there are companies that are transforming the way we “do” social media – from driving brand strategy and thought leadership to sales. One example of such a company is Cisco, the global networking giant. Cisco began its social media journey long before Twitter and Facebook became a part of our everyday vernacular.

I recently spoke with LaSandra Brill (@LaSandraBrill), evangelist and senior social media manager for Cisco, who has become a well-recognized name in social media marketing. During our interview, one thing stood out – operationalizing social media. This topic is still in its infancy, and while a lot of businesses are going through the discovery phase of social media, she and her team at Cisco have wasted no time in building social media into the very fabric of their company’s goals, elevating the Cisco brand by merging social media strategy and programs into the company’s everyday marketing decision-making process. This a two-part series – for more insight into how this company is influencing B2B social media marketing, please see part I of the Q&A.

Q: Today, it’s about doing social media well. When did Cisco get started with social media, and what prompted you to do this?

A: Back in 2005, we noticed that blogging was becoming a popular means of communication. After looking at this trend, we started our own blog called Cisco High-Tech Policy Blog with a very controversial topic – China and censorship. One of Cisco’s senior executives was going before the U.S. House of Representatives International Relations subcommittee to testify on this topic. Cisco decided that it wanted to use the blogging platform to publish the information about this event. Our initial goal was obviously to bring awareness to this topic, but also to provide vital information from Cisco on this developing issue. This was picked up by the Wall Street Journal and several others.

We used the success of this blog as a launching pad to create other blogs. Our goal was to use these platforms as our main communication channels to create a two-way engagement with our audience.

Q: Blogging is one of the cornerstones of your social media program. Tell me about your policy and how that has evolved?

A: We provide a policy and some guidelines, but Cisco has also encouraged our people to blog. We don’t monitor the content, and we don’t have a formal process. When a team wants to start a blog, they have to go through a formal process – and understand the key tenets of a successful blog such as blog ownership, content strategy, editorial calendar and executive sponsorship. Once they start a blog and have met all the criteria, we grant them access, train them on the platform, and provide ongoing education on topics including how to write a successful blog post, and ways to optimize. Then it’s up to the blog team to individually manage the blog. If they fail to come up with a strategy or plan, we shut it down.

Q: Did you have a strategy and plan in place?

A: Our strategy started coming together in 2006 when we mainly focused on blogs. Initially, we wanted to close the loop and have a little bit of control, but as time went by, things such as YouTube and Facebook started popping up. This is when we realized the importance of continually evolving our strategy and policies, and adding channels to communicate and engage. While we retained a tight reign over our blogs, we realized that as the social media channels were opening up, we too wanted to loosen the grip and allow others to participate.

This is when we decided to centralize the social media strategy and policies to provide governance, guidance and expertise to help people openly engage on the social media front. In February of this year, we developed a global social media team that is solely focused on education, governance and managing voice and brand integrity across all social media channels. Before this team was constructed, we had more than 300 YouTube channels and 50 Facebook pages – all built on grassroots efforts. Today, it’s about creating a strategy that includes an integrated program that brings all of the different facets of the organization under one umbrella so that our people can go and represent their personal and corporate brands but also follow policies and guidelines. With our centralized social media team, there is more consistency. Success is about building a sound, well-defined strategy that addresses key corporate goals and filtering them down to the groups to help them understand the strategy and plan so they can execute.

Q: How did you get started?

A: We started by conducting an inventory of all the Cisco channels that were out there to get visibility into our overall online presence. Once this was completed, we decided to tackle one channel at a time. We decided to create one Cisco brand across all relevant channels like YouTube and close down all others that were not relevant to our brand and mission. We really put the customer first – and wanted to alleviate the confusion by creating Cisco-branded channels that were organized and supported by easy-to-find, strong content. We are starting to do the same for Facebook and Twitter. 

Q: When did you and the team move from experimentation to operationalizing social media, and how did you approach this?

A: We started talking about it toward the end of last year when our CMO – Sue Bostrom – asked: “What is this social media, and how does it tie to what we do?” This is where we started looking into ways to integrate social media into the overall corporate objectives. I teamed up with Suraj Shetty, VP of marketing and Doug Webster, Sr. Director of Marketing, to understand how social media fits into the marketing mix and to map our social media organization and how we were going to bring the key players into the fold to truly operationlize it across Cisco. We decided to go forward with an approach Jeremiah Owyang has defined as the dandelion with multiple hubs and multiple teams. To create efficiencies and streamline the process, our social media team worked with services organization who manages some of our largest communities, corporate communication, and of course marketing to create an advisory board consisting of these three teams to review and develop policies as well as address other needs like training programs and other concerns.

To further our work in operationalizing our efforts, we created a hub-and-spoke model – we are still rolling this out but this involves having social media strategist at the business level to create and oversee a plan for their respective areas both on the marketing and PR side. We also want to make sure our teams are not competing for the same audience. One example of how we’ve strengthen communication across the organization – we have built an internal Wikipedia called Ciscopedia, which outlines all of the accounts and owners so everyone in the company knows who to reach out to and understands how to get their message out there. We also developed an internal newsletter of all the social media content to help cross-promote as well as to do some sanity check on whether the message is generic or not. We’re looking into automating this process within the year.

How to Operationalize Social Media – Cisco Success Story – Part II will post next Tuesday, Sept. 21st. Tune in to find out how they are measuring success and what makes LaSandra Brill cringe.

Convince and Convert: 5 Sure-Fire Ways to Operationalize Social Media

Social Media Examiner: How Social Media Helped Cisco Shave $100,000 Off a Product Launch

Social Media Planning and Strategy – An Oxymoron?

Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business and renowned speaker on all things social media, once said: “We don’t have a choice whether we do social media. The question is how well we do it.”

According to a 2009 survey by Marketing Trends, the top three areas of investment moving into next year are e-mail marketing, social media and search. Why? The traditional marketing model has fundamentally changed. People are moving away from physical events and advertising as they are no longer the optimal choices to market brands or products. Meanwhile, more companies are seeing social media as a key marketing channel. According to the CMO Council, “60 percent of the more than 600 marketers who responded in our survey will invest in new online community and networking tools in the next year.” Today, it’s about word of mouth — people  their time online are engaging with like-minded people to learn what others (their trusted networks) are saying about brands, products and services.

I recently attended MarketingProfs’ #techchat on Twitter with Guy Kawasaki, the leading expert in social media. He brought up two thought provoking comments during the chat which inspired me to write this post. First, he said when it comes to social media, businesses should just throw something at it and see what sticks.

Second, he said, social media planning and strategy is an oxymoron. Maybe this was his way of stirring up controversy to see what others would say. A few years back, this would’ve made sense, but given how far we’ve come with social media in B2B and B2C companies and the data and success stories we now have, there is no excuse for companies to not adequately plan and build a strategy.

I recently spoke at a panel session sponsored by Enterprise Network where I had the pleasure to be among a stellar group of social media experts — Kathy Sacks, VP of Communication for InfusionSoft; Al Maag, Chief Communication Officer for Avnet; Ed Brice, SVP of Worldwide Marketing for Lumension, and Patrick O’Grady of the Phoenix Business Journal. For more details, you can read Linda Vandervedre of PR Valley PR Blog. Attendees consisted of entrepreneurs, marketers and business consultants all looking to get into social media, which takes me back to my original point — it’s not a question of if but how well, and doing social media well takes planning and a solid strategy that aligns with business objectives. Companies that are looking to launch social media have a tremendous opportunity to become thought leaders and drive social media forward. To do this, consider these points:

First things first, research: During the panel session, Kathy Sacks had an interesting twist when she said we are therapists, because we need to listen as part of social media. We need to monitor and listen before we do anything. Find out what people are saying about your brand, products or services or even competitors’ stuff. Companies underestimate the intelligence they can gather on customers, prospects, competitors and future markets through social media monitoring. The data points gathered through listening and monitoring will help you better understand where your communities are and where you need to be when mapping out your strategy and plan. Such examples are also crucial when making a case to your team and executive management.

Planning is the foundation for all things social media: Planning has several components. First, define your objectives —to simply listen, monitor, innovate, engage and/or build thought leadership? From there, you can outline what channels are relevant and why. For example, consider launching a blog and developing a presence on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as well as YouTube. Understand your resources and what’s realistic in terms of fully committing to these channels to meet your objectives. Planning requires attention and time because social media is about authenticity, engagement, consistency and commitment. Under the leadership of Heather Loisel, SVP of Worldwide Marketing for JDA, I’ve had the pleasure of working our social media team to see the progression of planning and how that is impacting executive buy-in. A well-thought-out plan will serve as a compass for your strategy.

Strategy will determine your social media direction: “Before you journey, observe the wind carefully, detect its direction, and then follow it. You will get to your destination twice as fast with half the effort.” (Ching-Ning Chu). According to Sirius Decision, a coordinated strategy is in place in fewer than 20 percent of B2B companies that use social media. When building a strategy, everyone must work together to build an enforceable policy, education program, and what key channels you’re going to integrate into your marketing plan and deploy company-wide as part of your strategy. Your strategy should take into consideration how you’re going to integrate everyone into the mix — IT, HR, legal, executives and employees — into the fold. This is key for getting executives to buy into your plan for using social media outlets – getting their approval will allow you to align corporate objectives with social media strategy and goals.

ROI (Risk of Ignoring): Mitch Glasser said it best during the Q&A after the panel session about ROI — that it’s no longer about return on investment but the risk of ignoring social media. This is true. Today, you no longer control the brand; your customers do. And this is unsettling to many marketers. But you have to consider the risk of ignoring social media because if you choose to close your eyes to what’s happening in the social Web, your competitors will pass you by.

Additional Resources:

Linda Vandevrede’s Valley PR Blog: Local Communication Pros Discuss Social Media

Ed Brice’s Marketing Gimbal Blog: Six Social Media Sins

Mashable: 3 Things You Need to Know About Social Media Strategy

 Phoenix Business Journal Blog: Social Media Going Business to Business

Sirius Decision: Monitoring: The Foundation of a B2B Social Media Strategy