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CMO 2.0 Influencer Conversation with Paul Gillin, Author of Social Marketing to the Business Consumer

pgillinHaving known Paul Gillin for years, I knew this would be an informative and rich conversation. Paul is a veteran technology journalist and the author of multiple books about new media. Most recently he co-authored “Social Marketing to the Business Customer: Listen to Your B2B Market, Generate Major Account Leads, and Build Client Relationships,” a great book if you are trying to find out what best to do with social media as a B2B company. He also recently became the father of twins.

As usual, our conversation started with Paul giving us some background on his career. Paul spent most of his career as a technology journalist before he turned his whole focus to social media and published his first book, The New Influencers in 2007.

We then moved on and discussed the need for a B2B-specific book on social media. It was my experience that the lessons to be learned from social programs in B2C or B2B were the same – since successful programs don’t involve B’s talking with B’s or C’s, but people talking with people. While that is true at the highest level, Paul and his co-author Eric Schwartzman make a good case for why there is a need for a B2B specific best practices book, and they do a real good job in providing guidance to B2B marketers. The main difference in B2B and B2C marketing that calls for a different approach lies in the buying process, which is collaborative and deliberate in B2B companies vs. individual and often impulse-driven in B2C environments.

One of the most frequently used social tools in B2B environments are corporate blogs, and of course it does not take all that long to look around and see that many corporate blogs are failures – corporate-speak-laden web sites that fail to capture comments and viewers, or sometimes don’t even accept them. Paul argued that most failed blogs come from organizations that consider them, along with Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, as channels through which to promote corporate messages, rather than social environments in which people have conversations with one another. Not only that, but in a recent study of resellers and system integrators, they only found 15 companies out of 100 that actually had a corporate blog – making you wonder whether those companies feel like they have nothing interesting to talk about with their partners, customers, and prospects…

Next we jumped onto the online trust issues and how some people claim that you cannot trust what you hear online. While true that it’s easier to tell a lie or spread a rumor online than it is in person, it is very hard to get a lot of people to believe it for a very long time. The crowd will usually “out” those falsehoods and that’s the reason why you don’t have big myths and big hoaxes going around online.

Social media should never be a goal, according to Paul, and you shouldn’t have a social media strategy. Instead you should have business goals and business strategies that may or may not include social media.

If social media makes sense as part of your business strategy, then there are a number of ways in which you can sell it to your executives. One is what Paul calls shock-and-awe, where you show executives how people are already talking about you in the marketplace, and how your competitors found ways to join those conversations where you didn’t. For those companies that may be smaller and may not have a lot of conversations going on around them, a stealth or guerrilla approach may be a better way to get going. Another way is to do market research and bring back an overwhelming volume of case study evidence.

Paul did not necessarily agree with my assertion that in most social environments we would eventually see the Facebook effect, where over time one community per topic becomes dominant. He believes that fragmentation in many markets will continue to exist and thrive.

You cannot turn your organization into a social organization from the top down only, nor can you become one through grass roots efforts without the support from the top – becoming a social organization requires support from all levels of the organization. There are many different variants in which organizations transition from hierarchical organizations into social organizations, and Paul took us through some of them.

We also touched on the risks associated with social media and how companies need to develop social media policies that are encouraging use rather than discouraging it, but also need to educate and train all their employees on what works and what doesn’t.

We closed the conversation by talking about Social CRM, a topic that Paul writes and speaks about frequently. Paraphrasing Paul, he said “at its core CRM is about managing relationships with customers and whether those relationships involve social media channels or not should be irrelevant – so the social is really just an unnecessary adjective.”

Well said!

Other things that we discussed include:

  • An in-depth discussion on the differences between B2B and B2C marketing, especially as it relates to social marketing
  • Crowd dynamics and how crowds tend to be smarter than individuals, as well as the pros and cons of crowdsourcing in marketing and innovation
  • The importance of using guerrilla tactics and knowing when it can and cannot work
  • A more in-depth conversation of what happened with Dell
  • The impact of new communication tools and open communication on business performance
  • The consumerization of new technologies and how many social technologies come into organizations through the back door
  • The importance of having values and living by them in empowering your employees

As usual, you can listen to the full recording at the CMO 2.0 Site.

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