Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Social Media, Blogs, Message Boards...It's Not Just a B2C Thing

I often present at marketing events. But I was taking a breathier at a recent event and came as an attendee. After listening to a panel of B2B online marketers from Fortune 500s present, I was a bit surprised that there wasn't a single reference to social media -- blogs, message boards, etc. -- as it's been a hot topic of late and frankly, it's important to anyone handling online marketing. And while most of the attention on social media and communities and user generated content has been about B2C, it clearly is not merely a consumer phenomenon, as there are numerous professional communities and business professionals using "consumer" and "business" communities to share their views and research prospective and current vendors. Further, more than one of the speakers, like myself, was involved in both B2B and B2C.

So I asked a question during the Q & A.

"Your customers, prospects, competitors and stockholders are talking about you offline and online. How are you monitoring and impacting that? What is your company doing to cultivate online communities? Are you exploring community vehicles such as message boards or blogs?"

The panelist who immediately responded, from a dot com that is both B2C and B2B, said that he and his company were not doing anything to monitor their brand/reputation online, nor was he or his company exploring using blogs, message boards or other community-oriented vehicles. The other panelists either said they were not doing anything or monitoring what the public was saying about their brands or companies or shook their heads indicating a lack of knowledge in this area. It seemed clear this was unfamiliar territory and it appeared they were caught off-guard without a ready response.

Now I thought to myself, perhaps these online marketers figured it was PR's responsibility -- although no one expressed this view. Perhaps they thought it was only a consumer phenomena; it's not. The Internet has significantly impacted the balance of power between marketers and those they market to whether those are consumers or business professionals. The people we market to now have a voice and they are using it. This isn't just hype, it started happening years ago and it's now in the mainstream. Fortune 500 marketing and PR departments need to take this shift seriously and not keep operating the way they did twenty years ago. The world has changed and marketers and PR professionals need to change too -- we need to adapt. A recent Euro RSCG, Columbia University study found that more 51 percent of journalists use blogs regularly and 28 percent turn to them in their day-to-day reporting duties. That alone creates compelling evidence that blogs need to be on our radar screens.

Several years ago, a respected bike lock manufacturer was nearly brought to its knees over an online video that showed how the lock could be defeated in seconds using only a Bic pen. A whistle blower recently used YouTube to create a video that allegedly revealed a serious security flaw of a product made by a giant defense contractor. This was one individual on a mission -- and he's gotten the attention of major media outlets since. Prior to turning to You Tube, the man said that he turned to dozens of media outlets who wouldn't listen to his story. When he unleashed his story on the public, the media also began listening and telling his story. In the consumer electronics world, blogs Engadget and Gizmodo sprung up and built an audience and influence that traditional publications look at with envy.

The power of social media -- and the power of those we market to has become a force to reckon with -- and it is a significant mistake to ignore it. We can actually learn from it and it can make us better marketers, and our companies, better corporate citizens.

Frankly, as a marketer and as a consumer, I am fascinated by this power shift. I realize, as a marketer, this is previously uncharted territory for our profession (and for PR, customer service and the corporation as a whole). It makes marketing communications much, much more complex. It's no longer about sending out one-way communications and monitoring data to see the impact. I believe it will eventually raise the bar on marketing communications and truth in marketing.

Whether marketers and PR professionals like it or not, the folks we market to can now have a real voice and we would do well to take this seriously. More than that, it no longer requires money and influence to be heard; it now merely requires being at the right place at the right time with a message that resonates. Even more, there is growing distrust from messages from marketers. This isn't merely a consumer phenomena. In the B2B world, internet users are using online communities to make their voices heard -- sharing their experiences and opinions. Sure, consumers are more engaged in social media, but business users are increasingly using it too, and I am confident it will become the norm over the next few years. Business decision makers have a lot invested in the decisions they make -- their careers -- and they're likely to increasingly turn to these outlets to learn about companies they buy from and work with as they become more familiar with the tools. I usually look at technology professionals as the indicators of where the rest of B2B might be years from now, and technology professionals use these tools regularly. Consider how investors use online communities like Yahoo Finance to share company information and stock tips.

If you don't already know the below sites, I recommend you get to know them:

This isn't just for "exciting" industries like technology to have people talking about your brand or company -- I've marketed everything from cell phones to chemicals to dot coms to insurance to consulting to testing services, from the Fortune 100 to small companies and all of them are potentially affected to various degrees. Marketers and PR professionals need to monitor message boards and blogs. We can learn from these conversations and we need to engage our targets. We need to be a part of conversations, not just givers of monologues.

Marketing has forever changed. We're not going back to the old ways.

In the age of information, where your targets can easily share experiences, brand experience is more critical than ever and advertising, while still having an important impact, is certainly losing its power. Your targets don't trust it like they once did. In fact, they're getting down right cynical about advertising. They don't rely on marketers for information the way they once did. Sincerity and transparency are becoming more and more important.

It's not an easy change, but we, not our targets, are the ones who need to adapt to succeed.

1 comment:

Scott said...

Great entry! I just discovered your blog and this post alone sums up what I am trying to evangelize at my agency and what my blog stands for. Thank you!

Scott Monty
The Social Media Marketing Blog