Tag Archives: marketing

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

Whuffie and the importance of loyalty

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been dipping into Tara Hunt’s book The Whuffie Factor. I’d intended to write a post discussing the book in more detail, but a case study has just presented itself which brought my plans forward!

Disclaimer: it’s worth restating that all content on this blog represents my personal opinion and my own experiences.

whuffie factor

Image courtesy of missrogue

The Whuffie Factor talks about the importance of establishing, growing and maintaining social capital in your market and with your community. The concept of “whuffie” is drawn from Cory Doctorow’s novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (which I just started to read), which presents a world in which an individual’s social capital, or reputation for good deeds, is visible to others in an augmented reality, built-in heads-up display which everyone has. People can earn whuffie through good deeds and behaviour, spend whuffie in asking for favours, and lose whuffie in acting in some negative manner. Tara suggests that organisations and individuals that participate in online communities have exactly the same experiences, although whuffie itself may be less immediately tangible than in Doctorow’s imaginary world where everyone is wearing a whuffie badge.

So, on to the case study.

I’ve been an O2 customer for a long time. Before I got the iPhone 3G on UK launch day last year, I’d been an O2 customer on previous handsets and price plans. Actually, I had a relationship with the company stretching back to when they were BT Cellnet – a looong time.

My experience with the iPhone has been wonderful. Ignoring the device itself (this post is not about that) – the tariff was reasonable, I had unlimited data at varied speeds anywhere in the UK, and access to two wireless hotspot networks, the Cloud and BT Openzone. Life was great. I believe it was the best deal in the world on the iPhone.

Last month I decided to switch broadband suppliers, after Tiscali/Pipex were acquired by the Carphone Warehouse. Listening to the advice of many of my friends in the Twitterverse (Whuffie lesson – socially-connected individuals value personal recommendations above any others), it didn’t take long for me to select O2 as my new supplier. I felt comfortable with that, having had an excellent experience with their mobile service. I have to say the switch was painless and the service and performance of my new connection has been excellent.

Whuffie++!

Just after the switch, I thought about getting a broadband dongle for my Mac. Naturally, as an O2 customer with two of their products, I thought I’d ask in an O2 store what kind of deal was on offer to loyal subscribers. “No special deal, sir” – I’d have to go with their regular package, which is far less competitive than T-Mobile, 3 or Vodafone (I only really wanted to use the 3G modem occasionally, so I didn’t want to sign up to a contract on that).

Whuffie fell off.

Yesterday, Apple announced the iPhone 3GS. It’s an exciting device with some mouth-watering new capabilities – a better camera at last, a speed bump, voice recognition, a compass, and greater memory capacity. Oh, and it has the capability of being used as a 3G modem, which would mean I wouldn’t need a separate dongle for the Mac. Seems ideal. In short, I’d take one in an instant. I also discovered yesterday that O2 has a Twitter account, which I started to follow when I realised that it seemed to be a real person engaging in conversations, and not just a stream of PR pronouncements.

There’s a wrinkle here, though. In order to take an iPhone 3GS on launch day, I’d need to buy myself out of the final 6 months of my existing 18 months contract (in my case I’m guessing that will be a straight 6 x £35, not cheap), and then buy the phone on a new contract. So the reward for loyalty and being prepared to sign up for a long contract is having to pay more for an upgrade to the new technology. People are also concerned about the cost of O2’s tethering plans, which don’t entirely surprise me given my 3G modem experience.

Whuffie? Plummeting.

A couple of people have noted on Twitter that those complaining about the situation are either whinging in general, or that they don’t understand the concept of a contract. In my case, I fully understood that I was signing on for 18 months – it just seems bizarre that it is non-transferrable and that I’m actually penalised for staying with O2. It’s not like I’m heading off to another network.

Shane Richmond over at the Telegraph has an excellent summary of the issues, so I’m not going to pick through the situation point-by-point. Some of the commenters are right on the nail, too.

The Twitterverse is fairly upset about all of this, with one person going so far as to set up a petition (I’ve not signed it, as twitition doesn’t use Twitter’s OAuth option for login).

I phoned O2, at the suggestion of the O2 Twitter person, since “upgrade costs will vary”. The lady I spoke to claimed that no pricing information was yet available (odd, since there’s a page on the O2 website with that information), and then said that for upgrades, they were offering existing customers the option of downloading the new software onto their current phones, or buying themselves out of the existing contract.

I’m disappointed. Right now, I’m actually thinking that the Palm Pre looks interesting. It’s a shame, as I’m an Apple user and I think the iPhone is an amazing platform – but O2 just jettisoned the good reputation that it had built up, and made themselves far less likely to be recommended by me in the future.

End of case study. The conclusion here is that Tara Hunt has it completely right. In today’s social web-connected world, whuffie is important – potentially vital – for companies, as well as for individuals.

How did I hear about Tara’s book? I’d been following her (@missrogue) on Twitter for a long time, recognised her as someone I respect and like through her great blog, HorsePigCow, and I was excited to hear about her book directly from the source. Here’s my personal recommendation: get hold of a copy of The Whuffie Factor, read, and inwardly digest. It’s a great, enjoyable book. I think you’ll like it, too.

Update: levelling off…

OK. Having followed some of the discussion on the @O2 Twitter channel today, my attention was drawn to the notion of the Priority List, which is an account feature I’d previously been unaware of, as I’d opted out of marketing material from O2. The only thing is, there’s no easy way to find out which “level” of priority my account was set at. I logged in to my account through the website, and found a contact number which got me through to a really helpful lady (evidently not the same number I’d called this morning, not sure what happened there). I explained that I potentially wanted to upgrade, and that I’m a customer of both a pay monthly tariff and the home broadband service. The customer service rep very helpfully and patiently went through all of the upgrade options with me… and it looks like it’s not quite as dire as I’d thought – my potential upgrade date is earlier than I’d feared, but I’m still unlikely to be getting an iPhone 3GS on launch day.

So kudos to the helpful customer service staff, and I’m also impressed with the resilience and patience of the @O2 person. That has gone some way to restoring my opinion, even though I’m still disappointed with some aspects of the upgrade process. The Priority List is actually a way of rewarding customer loyalty, but it just hadn’t been on my radar.

The final word on this, from my perspective, is that it’s still somewhat confusing, and I’d particularly advise O2 to make their Priority List stuff more visible and simpler to understand. I’d also suggest that people give them a call and check individual circumstances!

So, your brand is on Twitter!

Hey, well that’s great. Now I can follow you and your company. You could tweet offers, maybe a couple of times a month, and people could interact with you and ask questions about your product and services.

Except… that’s probably not what will happen, is it? I’m guessing you will either tweet very rarely, or tweet a couple of times an hour with marketing messages and links to your website. You probably also won’t respond to anyone who @replies to you. But then… on the other hand… how can you? they are asking a global company about service at a local branch in the UK, it’s probably difficult for you to know what is going on there.

Maybe you’ll follow a bunch of people in an effort to get your follower numbers / apparent “popularity” to go up.

You know what? If you are a brand and you have an account like that, I’m going to filter you out. I don’t have to follow you back, and I don’t have to read your tweets. Quite a challenge, huh – how can you make this stuff work for you? Well – don’t. Make it work for your customers – provide an engaging online presence with which people can really connect. Listen and respond, not just to @replies, but to other comments too (hint: search is your friend).

Matter Box

A couple of weeks ago I saw a Twitter from one of my contacts (I honestly forget who it was) that led me to discover the Matter Box. The idea is apparently that if you sign up on the website, every now and then you will get a box of marketing-type goodies. Not just any old leaflets, either – this is nice stuff.

The first box was delivered to subscribers this morning. There are already unboxing photos on Flickr, including a set from my friend Dale, who has also written about it. No photos from me, though – I did a quick video showing what is inside, instead. No prize for counting the number of times I say “cool”, either.

(the video is also on YouTube)

Quite fun. Neatly and tightly packed. My favourite item is probably the Wii armband, although considering I don’t yet own a Wii, it’s a little bit pointless so far 🙂

Update: there’s a description of the contents and some background on the Matter blog.