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In B2B, how do we monetise social media?
Michael Friedberg 2700058NC4 firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  collaboration
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There is much to say and read about social media. When you start looking and start talking much of it is relevant in business to consumer marketing. Here the linkages to ROI are much more straightforward. And there are some great examples, Air New Zealand has done wonders with Grab-a-Seat. Raising the awareness of self-service portals and creating a channel that is purely online and fuelled by social media (enter the Airpoints Fairy who exists solely on Twitter and purpose is to grant Airpoints member wishes – very powerful and can directly be tracked to ticket sales or more specifically how quickly they sell.
But what about business-to-business? Again there are some great examples. But the main differences seem to be immediate sales and pipeline generation. Don’t get me wrong often in B2B it’s not about immediate sales but more about contacts to nurture. But we are being asked to drive strong returns on marketing investments and sometimes clicks, followers and comments posted may not cut it in a business review. So how are B2B marketers addressing this? I am keen to explore this further in subsequent blogs. But before I do I want to share one very god example from close to home – IBM Watson (on Jeopardy).
Make no mistake about the fact that this was a B2B campaign. IBM has no consumer business, and its choice of Jeopardy was meant to find a crossover between mass-market and business constituents. Jeopardy was a gateway to selling into the Fortune 1000.
B2B seems to struggle to find mainstream media channels for a business audience. Mostly they’ve settled for golf tournaments and news programs. The genius of the Jeopardy challenge is that the program combines highbrow content with mass appeal. It was also the perfect place to showcase state-of-the-art artificial intelligence technology in a context that makes sense to ordinary people.
The 1997 chess match in which an IBM computer beat the reigning world champion, received international coverage but the game itself excited little interest especially in the US. In contrast, every American has watched Jeopardy and respects it for the mind-bending challenge it can be.
This is where the social component came in. IBM did relatively little mainstream media advertising for the event. Instead, it leveraged “owned” and “earned” channels at modest cost. A dedicated website featured background and video interviews with Watson’s creators, as well as an aggregation of social media buzz. The PBS program Nova was enlisted to air a documentary a week before the contest. IBM even cooperated with former BusinessWeek editor Stephen Baker on a book about the contest, with the final chapter set to be released immediately after the third program. IBM was able to piggyback not only on promotion for the book, but also on Baker’s popular writings on Huffington Post. A series of viewing parties and informal tweetups brought key customers into the fold.
Watson’s frequently updated Facebook page has more than 17,000 “likes” and its Twitter account has more than 6,000 followers. On YouTube, IBM posted more than 30 short videos in the months leading up to the event, racking up more than 1 million views. It chose to feature the researchers and engineers who built the computer rather than the corporate suits.
About two weeks before the contest aired, IBM marketers began turning the conversation to business. It rolled out YouTube videos speculating on the technology’s applications to healthcare, customer service and finance. A week before the contest, press releases told of customers who were already lining up to apply the technology. As the media asked “What’s next?” In the wake of Watson’s victory, IBM had the answer ready.
IBMers were active in nooks and crannies all over the Internet. The research team chose Reddit, a social news site with a small but enthusiastic membership, to answer the top 10 questions about Watson and the contest. Ferrucci and others used TED.com for a live webcast the day after the contest ended. They also live-blogged during the Nova program.
Finally, IBM tapped into its own social media resources, including more than 130 Twitter accounts and a hard core of IBM bloggers who have attracted their own followings over the years. There were no mandates from on high. IBM made it easy for its internal communicators to get the information they needed and its people blogged proudly and extensively about Watson in the weeks before the contest. Very cool indeed.
I know, I know – I am a little biased but do feel very proud of Watson and what it represents for the industry. But has the campaign driven sales? The answer would be no, not directly BUT it has enabled IBMers the world over to start new conversations with existing and potential clients. Is that enough? And is that what we should expect from B2B social media campaigns?
In my next blog I will explore ways we can measure social media but in the
meantime I’m very keen to hear of any other examples of successful (or not so
successful) B2B social media campaigns, and off course thoughts in general.