Tag Archives: enterprise

Is Facebook really useful for B2B?

I was struck by the title of Chris Koch‘s recent piece for Social Media Today, 4 Reasons Why Facebook Stinks for B2B Marketing – it’s an eye-catching headline. This topic is something I’ve thought about a lot recently. In my professional space, much of the marketing is in aid of business-to-business product awareness – or sometimes, business-to-employee, or developer relations – but it is rarely a straightforward, business-to-consumer/man-in-the-street model. I read Chris’ article with interest, as well as another article he’d earlier tweeted about, Facebook Can Work for B2B Marketers, and I was surprised to find that both pieces missed out on what I believe are some very important points.

As regular readers will know: I’m not a marketeer, I’m basically a techie who sometimes talks about social stuff. However, since I’m tagged as a “social media guy” within a software development organisation, I’m often asked whether a particular software product or technology should have a Facebook page. What about support information, documentation, introductory videos – surely those kinds of things should be available via Facebook? Isn’t that where all the cool kids are?

My answer is usually tentative and skeptical. Don’t get me wrong, I think the idea of  brands having some presence on Facebook is fundamentally useful for visibility, and more so if an organisation is prepared to spend some time on engagement (NB ephemeral, instead of ongoing engagement is one of the key holes that B2B campaigns can fall into that Chris Koch picks up on in his piece). I follow Starbucks UK and love getting the occasional freebie from them… and I am a fan of many other brands, too. However, considering a B2B relationship, I personally feel that Facebook is a far less useful social space in which to share information and engage with customers than, say, a network like LinkedIn or a standalone site with API hooks to existing social networks.

Here are my own “4 reasons” why Facebook doesn’t hit the mark for B2B:

  1. Facebook is famously a “walled garden”. You put content in, and they keep it there; it’s not indexable or embeddable from the outside. They’ve recently added a tool to export personal profile data, but not product or brand pages, to my knowledge. Facebook has always been about absorbing data, whereas a company like Google has been about indexing it. If you read Jeff Jarvis‘ excellent book What Would Google Do? it quickly becomes clear that Google grew and became successful by building or acquiring tools which made it easy to embed their information and gadgets into your site (whilst of course, recording signals as people visit those sites). That YouTube video you created? Easy to socialise and embed on other websites. Post a Facebook video? it can only be played on Facebook.
  2. It’s ok for Business-to-Consumer products, but not so useful for enterprise software and middleware where the relationship is essentially B2B and less visible. What does it mean for me to “like” WebSphere Middleware (or whatever) on Facebook? Why would I want to make that statement in a personal context? Will my friends and family, many of whom I don’t work with, know what these things are when they show up in their social streams? It makes sense for me to be part of a professional network via e.g. Slideshare or LinkedIn, but the value for B2B / middleware / invisible products is a lot less tangible.
  3. Facebook is blocked by a very large number of companies. I may not like that personally, and in fact I’m a supporter of the Stop Blocking campaign. I happen to work for an organisation where I have a wide degree of freedom in my access to and use of the web. On balance, though, it’s unlikely that users connected to a corporate network will be able to do lot with content that is posted on Facebook, during business hours. Have a presence, but think about whether it’s worth the effort to push a lot of content through that channel (and see point 1, again, too)
  4. It’s not necessarily a useful place to post content if your goal is to attract people in “nascent / emerging markets”, either. I spent some time in China last year, and clearly in countries like that, Facebook is officially inaccessible. Consider how to maximise access and “sociability” of content – Facebook is unlikely to be that channel.

So, having said all of that, and started out declaring myself “not a marketeer”, I end up sounding suspiciously like one, talking about channels, content and effectiveness! I am a page owner and I’ve played around with the advertising tools, so I do know that Facebook offers some very compelling segmentation, reach and analytics tools – but again, I’d argue that you have to consider whether you’re really providing wide access and ongoing value by centralising information inside their network.

What about Google+? I’ve not written about the social network of the hour here on my blog yet (but if you are on G+ feel free to add me to a circle…) but given Google’s interest in making content indexable and easy to locate, it is likely that when business pages arrive, content over there will be more widely accessible than it is inside Facebook. I’m not saying that “social” in general doesn’t work for B2B communications and marketing… I’m just saying that Facebook, to me, doesn’t make the perfect choice.

I’m still not a marketeer, and I don’t think I’d make a very good one – but I try to apply common sense to these spaces. Those are my 4 pennies on this issue… let me know what you think!

Advertisements

Yammer? Really?

ibm-yammer.pngI noticed a bit of an upsurge in followers on Yammer in the past couple of days. Concurrently, I also noticed that there appears to be a campaign on Facebook at the moment reminding folks of the existence of Yammer. It seems as though the campaign is mining my user profile information to identify a company network to advertise at me.

I’m generally an early adopter, as regular readers of my blog will know. I joined Yammer in the initial landrush… but I’ve barely used it, despite a desktop AIR client and an iPhone app being launched to make access and use of the service a lot easier.

What’s the issue? Well, for me, there are two fundamental problems:

  • it’s a service hosted outside of the corporate firewall, and yet encouraging me to write about “what [I’m] working on”. I do realise that some organisations will not have an issue with this, but in our case, I can’t go posting confidential information to servers outside the company. It’s the same reason that we’ve had internal virtual worlds and social computing guidelines for a long time. Ultimately it’s the same reason why we have homegrown internal microblogging options, although we do also use external services like Twitter where confidential information is not at risk (and my preference is to be open by default, and use internal tools only where necessary).
  • it defines a “company” based on email domain. Mine is a country-specific address, so I’ve ended up part of a Yammer community which is only for the UK section of the company. For a worldwide corporation, this defeats the object. Taking a look at Yammer’s pricing options, it looks like they have Silver and Gold paid plans that offer greater control and multiple domains… but I can’t imagine that we’d end up using those options.

I’m not taking potshots at Yammer for the fun of it… I can see that they do have a number of major clients, and when I’ve been to conferences I’ve met some of those who use the service – they’ve seemed happy with it. For me, it’s just not practical. I’m intrigued to note that even with the rush of new sign-ups which I can only assume are driven by the current Facebook advertising campaign, there’s almost no discussion going on in the community, with some people even redirecting folks back to Twitter or our internal tools in their very first posts…

The future of enterprise collaboration

I have just finished talking to a group of university students who were invited to IBM Hursley today. I had about 15 minutes to discuss Enterprise Collaboration, and I used the time to take a quick tour through IBM’s size, diversity and organisation, and talked about how the way I operate has changed since I got engaged in blogging internally four years ago, and how I “broke through” the firewall.

Towards the beginning of the talk, I asked three questions to get some group discussion going, and asked the students to shout out some answers. Here’s a summary of the responses.

1. What kinds of tools do you think enterprises use to communicate internally today?
“Skype”, “online meetings”, “MSN” (email and phone came right at the end of the list)

2. What kinds of tools would you like to use in a work environment?
“Facebook”, “Skype”

3. Is it a good idea, or appropriate, to communicate and share through firewalls?
“It’s important, for networking”, “companies could have their own version of Facebook internally”

I didn’t seed any of these responses! Very interesting… I think I’d expected the answers to question 1 to be email, wiki, blog etc., but those are all old school (and possibly, irrelevant) as far as this group was concerned. I guess the outcome of this entirely unscientific survey will be old news to some people, but I found it fascinating.

Update 17th June:
Thanks for all the interest in this post! I should just reiterate that this is not new news – as @andysc said to me after the talk yesterday, the idea that “email is how I communicate with my parents” is as commonplace as the idea that some of us may have had that “snail mail is how we communicated with our grandparents”. The point here is about the expectation of speed of spread of technology within corporations. I found it a very interesting perspective, although I guess I’d half-expected some of the answers. I just hadn’t expected the “old tech” to be buried so far down in the consciousness. But then, when I left university, web browsers were just emerging and I had a desktop email client at home, but yet I suddenly found myself at work using a green-screen terminal emulator to access what was, to my mind at the time, a hideously hard-to-use mail system called MEMO which required the use of line-editing commands.

One other point, given my own interest in these two technology spaces – Andy C asks below about microblogging, and I certainly mentioned our use of these tools internally and externally, but it didn’t seem to be on the students’ radar; secondly, I spoke about attending meetings in virtual worlds and the relative effectiveness compared to a teleconference, but again that didn’t come up as an idea in the responses to the questions at the start. So it seems (again, based on a highly unscientific study of a limited pool of London MSc Management students) that the technologies that are “expected” in the enterprise are those that have reached widespread consumer adoption outside it.

SOMESSO summary

The nice folks from AudioBoo caught me for a quick interview after my presentation yesterday and you can hear the short summary of what I talked about on their site, or by playing the embedded audio here.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I was also interviewed on camera by Daniel and Eduardo Vidal (hope you feel better soon, Eduardo!)… and my whole presentation was recorded as well, so those should appear over the next couple of weeks.

Oddly I seemed to spend a lot of time discussing Poken after the talk! I guess my use of Poken as a prop at the start of the presentation raised a lot of interest. My mention of Home Camp and sustainability also generated some additional conversations. I also detected a lot of interest as to how IBM had achieved the cultural changes required to adapt to a social web (answer: I’d argue that openness has been in our corporate DNA for some time now), and also in how we put together our Social Computing Guidelines. Again, I would draw attention to one paragraph in the guidelines which I think sums up the approach and background:

In 1997, IBM recommended that its employees get out onto the Internet—at a time when many companies were seeking to restrict their employees’ Internet access. In 2005, the company made a strategic decision to embrace the blogosphere and to encourage IBMers to participate. We continue to advocate IBMers’ responsible involvement today in this rapidly growing space of relationship, learning and collaboration.

I thought the SOMESSO London event was just superb. A series of short (15-20 minute) presentations from some smart people who I was quite frankly honoured to be on the same bill as; and I really didn’t think that there was anything superfluous, it was just great content and information. The Emirates Stadium was a great venue, too… once I’d found my way into the conference centre in the morning, avoiding the queue of contestants lining up for X-Factor auditions! If my camera battery had lasted I would have posted a lot more to Flickr, but I’m afraid there are only a few shots up there.

Thanks to Arjen Strijker, Mary Harrington, Susan Kish and others for putting the day together. On the basis of yesterday’s conference, I highly recommend future events in the series, and would also encourage you to get involved in the SOMESSO community if you are at all interested in social media in the enterprise. I’m really looking forward to following up all of the new connections I made yesterday.

Finally, some links to some of the books I referenced in my talk or during the backchannel conversation:

Sharing my knowledge on growing technical communities with Web 2.0

I was asked to talk to a group from another large organisation on the topic of “Sustaining Technical Communities using Web 2.0” this week.

It has been a few months since I last gave a presentation. Those of you who have seen some of my previous presentations will recognise a fair few of the slides, images and themes.

One of the things we talked about during the morning (I was booked for a one hour slot, but we seemed to fill two hours with ongoing discussion – and then I went back for more conversations at lunchtime) was the idea that Web 2.0 is about OPENNESS – both in APIs, and also crucially, social openness. I picked up on a great line from Ian Davis.

Web 2.0 is an attitude not a technology. It’s about enabling and encouraging participation through open applications and services. By open I mean technically open with appropriate APIs but also, more importantly, socially open, with rights granted to use the content in new and exciting contexts.

It’s more than this, too – it’s about being prepared to lose a little control. This is one of the hardest thing for a lot of people in business to get their heads around, since they have come from a background where one’s network, knowledge, and contacts are valuable. Of course, this is still true – but you can get so much more value from sharing those resource and joining them up. One reason I enjoy being a social bridgebuilder.

In that spirit, I’ve posted the slides on Slideshare.

It was a really invigorating morning… talking to a group of guys who are engaged in the same space as me, looking for ideas about what works and how to drive adoption of some of the tools and techniques. We covered a whole series of areas from the basic technologies, swapping stories about our experiences, and talked about how microblogging can be applied inside and outside the enterprise. A really pleasing after-effect was finding a bunch of comments on Twitter thanking me for the presentation!

A few items of follow-up reading I recommended: