This morning I attended the InfoWorld Media Group Technology Breakfast, at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. The topic was: “Social Media and B-to-B; Over-Hyped or Under-Executed”. Below is my summary of the question and answer discussion.
- David Hahn, Director, Advertising Products, Linkedin
- Virginia Hines, Vice President, General Manager, InfoWorld
- George Jaquette, Director Quickbooks Online Community, Intuit
- Mike Walsh, CEO, Leverage Software
- John Younger, CEO, Accolo
Q: What does social media mean to you?
Younger: It is information that I want to seek out, and it is information that seeks me out. I want personal privacy, yet I also want rich media and information when I want it.
Hahn: Media and content created by users. At LinkedIn, the content is created by users and the people consuming it are interested in business issues.
Walsh: It allows people to build brands about themselves and others. It is a two way conversation.
Jaquette: Social media is an on-line community. At Intuit, it allows users to connect in a place we can monitor and participate in the conversation.
Hines: Social media is about giving users a platform to create their content.
Q: How can advertisers and marketers align with the website opportunities?
Hines: You have to be able to measure the community and manage the conversations.
Hahn: You need to be able to add value to the equation. You have to be sensitive to the community and not flood the conversation with irrelevance. What can you bring to the table?
Walsh: Most advertisers are attracted to the big market websites. I think the opportunities are in the niche communities. In these niches you can be highly targeted and focused.
Q: When it comes to building a social media website, in what order would you rank importance: Presentation, Communication, Style, Technology?
Hines: Communication is most important because it is the type of user you are attracting to the community. Then style because after you communicate the message, the style is what draws the user in. Next presentation, because it has to be simple and easy to use. Last is technology because it is invisible. The user does not care what the site is comprised of, they only care about using it.
Jaquette: I think it is the exact opposite of how Virginia described it. The technology is where it begins: without the technology you would have no website.
Younger: I believe it is the quality of the communication because it is about socializing and without communication, people cannot socialize. I think the style and presentation go hand in hand. It is the style and the presentation that attracts the type of audience. Technology is being commoditized, so I do not think it is that important. The only thing important about the technology, is that it needs to be stupidly simple to use.
For the complex business to business products that most of our customers are developing for their customers, we find it increasingly important to leverage social software (e.g. blogs, wikis, forums) to foster a community of practice (CoP) for early customers and prospective customers. This puts us in the under-executed camp as to the ultimate impact of social software on the definition of the “whole product” for a B2B software offering.
While the current focus at many established companies is to use social software for cost avoidance (avoid help desk calls and e-mail by going beyond a FAQ to setup an on-line forum or wiki where “users can help users”) we believe that it’s ultimately going to be far more effective as a product marketing and product planning tool, helping software firms to identify not just what bugs to fix but what features to add (and delete) and what new niche uses to support.