I attended a great Tech Breakfast Club event this morning near my home in Northern Virginia, in which three panelists from local B2B technology companies shared the ROI gained and lessons learned by using social media to engage prospects and customers online.
SafeNet (3rd largest provider of information security solutions in the world)
ROI: $ 1 million in revenue last year directly from LinkedIn Information Security Community, with 4 members of SafeNet marketing team, systems engineering, product management each spending just a few hours a week interacting with and managing the community.
Holger Schulze (@HolgerSchulze), Director of Product Marketing and Marketing Operations, and founder of the InfoSec Community on LinkedIn, shared how he started the LinkedIn group on his own as an experiment, only to see it grow to 50,000+ members in just over 2 years.
The company carefully measures ROI by tracking the original sources of leads and sales conversion via:
• Marketbright marketing automation software
• Systems engineers and product managers reporting on which members they directly connect with SafeNet sales for follow up (upon member request)
An important note is that Holger also started a company LinkedIn group for SafeNet at the same time he started the InfoSec group, and the SafeNet group barely attracted any members so it was turned into an internal company group for employees. This is really valuable, as it confirms that people aren't going to join a group to hear about your company, but will actively join groups that focus on specific topics that interest them.
Vocus (Public relations software provider)
ROI: $ 500K in revenue last year directly from social media
Frank Strong (@Frank_Strong, @Vocus), Director of Public Relations, shared how Vocus has shifted its focus and made its marketing and PR teams into a type of in-house publishing company in order to consistently produce content in a variety of formats that PR professionals find highly valuable and want more of.
Social media is used to support their strong content strategy by effectively distributing it to interested followers who then share it with others, but Vocus is very careful to share just as much content that wasn't created by them as it does its own. They discovered through trial and error that focusing too much on their own content turned prospects and customers off and eventually found the right balance.
Vocus primarily uses Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn as those are the most popular social media venues used by their audiences. To measure ROI, the company uses its own products to track the original sources of leads, and Salesforce.com to track sales conversions.
CompTIA (Non-profit trade association advancing the global interests of information technology professionals and companies)
ROI: Significant increase in new memberships and renewals
Susan Cato (@susancato, @CompTIA), Senior Director of Marketing, Web and New Media, shared how over the past 2 years the organization has focused on a two-part social media strategy. First, like Vocus, the marketing team functions much like publishers, with an editorial calendar 6 month plan that provides the framework and details each team member needs to effectively and efficiently create content. This isn't a rigid plan though, Susan noted that flexibility is key as you discover what types of content are successful (and not) and make appropriate changes. Also, inserting content on-the-fly to stay timely is important in order to stay on top of big industry news that impacts members.
The second part of the organization's strategy has been to create and nurture several online communities, each with a very specific niche focus. Although it's clear each community is a part of CompTIA, each is branded separately, has its own online presence, and is open to anyone, not just CompTIA members. For example, SoftwareCEO is one of their online communities specifically for software company entrepreneurs and executives. These communities have been very successful for attracting new members that they otherwise wouldn't have, as well as retaining current members who have the opportunity to connect and interact with peers.
The organization created over 60 LinkedIn groups to support each of its online communities as well as for the organization itself. They also use Twitter and Facebook.
CompTIA uses website analytics software and marketing automation software to track the original sources of leads, and CRM software to track sales conversions.
Lessons Learned by 3 Panelists
1. Social media must be ingrained in a company's culture, it's not just a strategy
2. Social media won't be effective without a very strong content strategy
3. Before venturing into social media:
a. Have a plan for how to deal with people making negative comments about you, company, or organization so everyone knows who will respond and what actions to take (and not take). Be ready, be quick to respond, and be genuine but recognize there will always be people that will never be happy no matter what you do. Deal with the "haters" respectfully but focus on those who are positive in order to establish and build a following.
b. Train employees taking part on behalf of company on how to use tools (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, blogs, etc.) and guidelines for type of content to share and how to interact with prospects, customers, partners, and others
4. When providing content to several different communities, offer exclusive access to some content to one community for a limited time, and exclusive access to other content to another community for a limited time, in order to achieve higher perceived value and keep people engaged long -term
5. "Happy accidents" are common when experimenting with social media, don't be afraid to try and test new ideas
The Tech Breakfast Club are regional quarterly meeting of B2B high-tech public relations and marketing executives hosted by tech PR firm TechImage.