CEO Glenn Engler, host of the Market Edge podcast, talks about Social Media for B2B with Paul Gillin, an author and online marketing consultant that specializes in helping B2B marketers use social media and quality content to reach customers.
Listen to Glenn’s discussion with Paul Gillin, first aired on WebmasterRadio.fm on June 19, 2012.
Connect with Paul Gillin on Twitter @PGillin or on his blog, PaulGillin.com — Social Media and the Open Enterprise.
Transcription of Complete Interview:
Please note: the below text is a transcript of a live feed so it may not be perfect word-for-word. As an alternative to the text, you can tune in to the audio version of Glenn’s discussion with Paul Gillin!
Glen E: Hi and welcome to Market Edge. I’m your host Glen Engler, CEO of Digital Influence Group a full service digital marketing agency that helps companies unlock the social potential of their brands and amplify its impact to drive business results.
Today I’ll be talking about social media for B2B with Paul Gillin, an author, speaker and online marketing consultant who specializes in helping B to B marketers use social medial and quality content to reach customers. Paul has authored several books including his award winning 2007 book The New Influencers: Secrets of Social Media Marketing; published in 2008 The Joy of Geocaching, co-authored with wife Dana in 2010 and Social Marketing to the Business Customer co-authored with Eric Schwartzman in 2011.
A veteran technology journalist with more than 25 years of editorial leadership experience, Paul was previously founding editor of Tech Target and editor in chief of Computer World. An active blogger and media commentator Paul has shared his expertise with CNN, PBS, Fox News, MSNBC and many other television outlets. He has also been quoted or interviewed for hundreds of news and radio reports in outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, NPR, and the BBC. You can connect with Paul on Twitter at Twitter.com/PGillan, on his website Gillan.com or his blog Paul.Gillan.com.
It’s great to have you on Market Edge Paul. Welcome.
Paul G: Thanks, my pleasure to be here.
Glen E: You spent over two decades in the online publishing world and between your editor in chief role at Computer World and founding editor of Tech Target, what was the impetus for your transition from the online publishing world to consulting?
Paul G: I got fired. My last job was at a start-up which was actually a successful start‑up, Tech Target; it’s still around and grew the company. I was the founding editor in chief there. We grew the company to about 450 people and divisionalized at that point. There was no need for a central editor in chief and so I decided to try my hand at being a publisher, basically a head of sales organization. Found out that I was terrible at it and my bosses and I agreed [inaudible 00:03:28] so we parted company. Tech Target was my largest client in my first two years in working on my own but that’s really what got me started.
I discovered social media quite by accident. I had left the company, I was intending to do something entirely different and stumbled into a presentation that … or into a seminar that … and was asked to blog about it. Did blog about it and got 800 visitors to my blog in two days based on one link from one prominent attendee. That convinced me that this was going to change everything and that’s when I started writing new Influencers and really turned my whole career in that direction.
Glen E: You’re doing so many different things and I want to get into examples of some of the projects you’re working on right now but what’s a day in the life of Paul Gillin?
Paul G: That’s a great question; I don’t think I’ve been asked that before.
Like a lot of people who work independently I have a couple of key clients, foundation clients that I work … I spend a lot of time with every day and IBM is one of them. I have … I also work with a start-up company called Profitecture that’s doing social business consulting and training and I’m one of their trainers and assist them with working with their clients and creating proposals and such as that. Then I write as much as I can so I try to get a lot of words out there. I write a column for B2B magazine every month. I write for their social media newsletter. I have some clients with whom I work specifically on writing projects. I have two different blogs that I maintain. I contribute to the CMO site and a number of other outlets that come along and I’m also writing another book right now. So, I have my hand in a lot of writing projects. Usually probably write a couple thousand words a day in any given day in addition to working with my consulting clients.
Glen E: So people listening this is not somebody sitting at home with his feet up not doing anything. It’s exhausting just to hear a day in the life of.
Paul G: I have my feet up.
Glen E: It’s a day in the life; yeah you can have your feet up but …
Paul G: I have my feet up but I’m usually doing something.
Glen E: Talk a little bit, what are a couple of other projects without giving away state secrets that you’re kicking around right now that are … that you’re passionate about?
Paul G: I’m working on a new book as I mentioned that has a working title of Attack of the Customers. This is a book I’ve actually wanted to write for some time and I’m partnering with an executive Greg Gianforte who is the founder of RightNow Technologies which just sold out to Oracle for $1.4 billion and he’s very passionate about this idea of customer service as a differentiator.
I’m more focused on the attack part of it. I think that’s fascinating how people are using online channels now to lodge their criticisms of companies and organizations that they don’t like. In many ways that was, that’s been a subtheme throughout my first three books in this area; has been how to deal with online criticism and I’ve been digging in for the last few months to a lot of stories and tactics about how to deal with that. So that book is about a third of the way finished right now. That’s something that I work on whenever I can find 15 or 20 minutes in my day I do that.
The other, I guess there’s not other big projects that I can talk about at this point but working with this start-up company Profitecture has been quite exciting because they have a … they’re really delving into the corners of the market where there’s very low awareness of how to use social media. Right now they’re working with many small technology companies, resellers and avars and system integrators who really are brand new. I mean really don’t have any concept of how social media can apply to helping them run a better business.
Profitecture is digging out these opportunities and going into teach them through a structured training program how to get started. So working with people from square one is a lot of fun because I find these audiences are very receptive to doing new things because the old stuff isn’t working. The direct mail and the cold calling is not working as well as it used to so they’re eager to learn some new things. I find these audiences very receptive and it’s given me a chance to prepare tons of new material about how to build out your network and how to find customers and how to optimize your search visibility.
Glen E: Those are really interesting examples and I can’t wait to … I won’t push you on the book to know when the other two-thirds will be done and when the folks can expect it because I’m sure the answer is it’s like Larry Webber my partner in crime, it’s when it’s done is the answer.
We’ve had a lot of guests on from the business to consumer side and one of the things that’s very intriguing to me is your specialty is in really helping B2B clients make smart decisions about social media. Share if you will some of the biggest challenges that you see in the B2B space with B2B companies and social media.
Paul G: I think the biggest challenge I see is just believing that it can offer value. B2B companies are … there are many core differences between B2B and B2C markets, the nature of those transactions. B2C markets there’s a lot of … personal taste is involved, a lot of on-the-spot decisions. People don’t think a lot about the jeans they’re going to buy or the running shoes or the candy they’re going to buy. B2B decisions are all based on value and particularly the larger ticket decisions may involve extensive research and interviewing multiple vendors and really digging into technical details of a decision.
You know when Fed Ex buys 1,400 hybrid engines for its fleet of delivery trucks that’s a beta business kind of decision. There’s really no corollary in the B2C market. Perhaps when people, certainly buy a house, or buy a car that’s a big ticket decision but B2B companies make those kinds of decisions all the time. The nature of those transactions is there is a very high level of knowledge that’s needed and they’re knowledgeable parties on both sides of the decision. Again quite different from the typical B2B decision. The buyer in many B2B cases knows as much as the seller. They have engineers, they have people on their staff who are very knowledge about the technology, and they want to have in-depth conversations with the companies that they’re doing business with.
The nature of the relationships is different so they will last … typically a relationship will last for years. B2B companies like to do business with a small number of vendors and do business with them for a long time so they build long-term relationships. These relationships are often at a very personal level which again you see; I don’t have a relationship with M&M Mars even though I like Skittles. But that’s quite different in a B2B context. I find that the biggest challenge, to get back to you question is a lot of B2B companies have been doing what they do for a long time. They’ve been successful at it. Very often the founder is still running the company. These people, many of them are in their 50’s and 60’s. They have done business a certain way for a long time. They’ve been very successful at it and they’re really not looking to change the way they do business. So getting past that opposition or just that skepticism I think is the hardest part.
Glen E: That’s a great point. I think it was just in the last week or so our shared client, IBM came out with a think the interview of CEOs in companies and talked about the importance of social media starting all the way at the CEO level where there’s 30% I think was the number, of increased competitive advantage when the CEO is engaged. Which is really interesting about your point about believing it can offer value and starting at the top.
Paul G: That’s interesting and that study referring to the 2012 mid-market CEO study which just came out. A very interesting study because the number one priority that these CEOs identified, and this is a big … they interviewed a lot of people. The number one priority was developing their employee, the visibility and the skills of their employees so it was making their employees a more … getting employees more involved in the business. What the social tools are really good at is digging out the people who have something to offer? Who have unique skills to offer and getting them in touch with the customers?
I love one of the companies we wrote about in social marketing in the B2B book, social marketing the business customer was Indium which is a company that makes a very high tech form of solder flux. Fusible metal that’s used in the manufacture of printed circuit boards, and the mar-com director there, they use social media very effectively. The mar-com director says my job is to get the engineers in touch with the customers and then get the heck out of the way. That’s when the sale gets made.
Glen E: So interesting. You had a really good post recently in Media Posts with a fantastic title by the way of I believe it was How Not to be a Marketing Clown in Online Techie Communities, which is brilliant. You gave a few tips for marketers trying to reach the tech professionals. Talk a little bit about your guidance that you gave in that post.
Paul G: Going back into our shared client, that post actually grew out of an experience I’ve had with IBM where I’ve been sort of their eyes and ears in a technical community called Spice Works for the last seven or eight months. Now Spice Works is a 2 million member online community of IT professionals and very technical. People talk about stuff that would just make your eyes cross, but I’ve had to find ways to engage with this community and to really find ways to become a useful member and to get them talking. Find ways to start conversations with them.
What’s really been interesting has been the total resistance to any kind of marketing message. Now I’m identified as a partner in the community and people know that I’m there on behalf of IBM. But if I post a promo for a webcast, a promo for a white paper, a product announcement, it gets zero activity. People don’t read it, they don’t comment on it. In some cases they actually trash me for wasting their time with it. This was really an eye-opening experience early on. They don’t want to read marketing messages of any kind.
What I’ve learned over the last few months is you have to engage them about the topics they’re interested in. This is a very cynical group when it comes to marketers. They’re some of the most marketed to people in the world and they don’t believe marketing but you can reach them if you become a member of their community. If you contribute value to their community. If you help them along in solving their problems in any way that you can, not pretending to be a technical expert but helping them find technical expertise. Then you become accepted. You become sort of part of the tribe. Then when you do try to guide them towards something, hey help me out we need some people to come and register for this webcast they’re much more inclined to do that because you’re sort of one of them.
It’s been a great experience, I’ve loved working with Spice Works and the post that you’re referring to was really just summarized my learnings which is the opposite of what most marketers do. Marketers are accustomed to talking. They lead with the message. They lead with the talking points. That doesn’t work with these groups and it’s not just Spice Works. I mean Element 14 is a group for industrial, excuse me for electronic engineers. Same dynamics go on there. They don’t want to hear the marketing messages but they do want to have relationships with people at these companies.
It’s not bad to be a vendor but it’s bad to be a shill.
Glen E: I want to follow on that with a couple of other questions for you but right now we’re going to take a very short commercial break. Please stand by and I’ll be right back with Paul Gillin and more of the conversation.
Glen E: Welcome back to Market Edge. This is your host Glen Engler and I’m here today with Paul Gillin, an author, speaker and online marketing consultant talking about social media for B2B.
So you just gave a great example about Spice Works, your work with IBM and the blog posts. One of the things that you keyed up in there that we’ve certainly found is critically important for our B2B clients is around content. You talked a little bit about the audience not being interested in broadcasting push messages but talk a little bit about what you’re seeing and you mentioned this in the Media Pro Social Medial Insider blog post about how marketers can promote content created by a client within that type of a community without being overly salesy. What are a couple of tricks for the listeners?
Paul G: Your best sources of content are usually from your people who build support and market the products. The people who have, you know the brand managers, the engineers, the developers, the customer support people. They’re the ones who really understand the products and they really understand the customer because either they think like the customers. Your engineers think like customers or they’re in frequent contact with customers. Often the content they create, we don’t think of it as content. Our perception of content is well it has to be an article or it has to be a video or it’s accessed in a certain way; but the content that they create is they’re answering questions. They’re preparing slide presentations for colleagues. They’re putting together FAQs. They’re putting, creating technical documents that explain how to get the most out of a product. These are all forms of content.
I get the opportunity I think that a lot of marketers don’t see is that this content can be of great value if it’s packaged properly and presented to the right audience. So we create, our companies create good content all the time. We’re doing it every day but we don’t see it that way. WE see it as an answer to a customer’s problem. But if you can take that same content and you can package it as a blog entry or as an ebook or as a white paper or build a webcast around it all of a sudden you’ve got what we perceive to be content that is just growing out of something that you do in the course of your everyday work.
Glen E: You’ve hit on a couple of things and certainly we see this a lot. Where a company’s either embracing a bought or k-owned model or they’re thinking about their own channels and we hear a lot with B2B around Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and YouTube. What’s your perspective about B2B companies thinking about those platforms and other social tools or platforms that you think they should have in their arsenal?
Paul G: There’s been good research done in this area and I’ve collected a whole list of research. If you follow my Twitter account in fact much of what I post on Twitter is research. It links to research and a lot of it is B2B related. What you find is that the platforms that work best for B2B companies tend to be quite different from those that work for B2C companies. If you sell a typical consumer item, if you sell T-shirts or cupcakes you want to be on Facebook. That’s where the people are. That’s where people congregate to talk about what they like and to talk about their day. For B2B companies it’s quite different. In fact LinkedIn in research from B2B magazine and several other sources LinkedIn consistently outperforms Facebook by a wide margin in terms of perceived value to B2B companies. So there’s a bit of a disconnect there.
Another one is blogging. B2C companies blogging is actually, many people perceive blogging to be kind of over the hill or in decline right now but blogging for B2B companies is consistently most useful social medial tool that marketers identify. In fact I just saw another bit of research from B2B magazine last week that again made that statement. Why is that? It’s because B2B companies tend to be in very specific industries and blogs perform so well on search engines. Search engines love blogs. So if you have blogs that are optimized to the right set of key words, the long tail key words. There aren’t a lot of searches on them but when people are searching on those key words they generally have a decision they want to make. You can optimize blogs for those key words. You can generate leads through what’s called in-val marketing. Hub Spot’s term, in‑val marketing. For companies that are in very niche specific businesses which is typical of B2B companies blogs are actually still a great value. But not a lot of companies know how to do it.
Glen E: Really interesting and that contrast of B2C is so spot on. So I have a couple of last questions and then we’re going to run out of town. Given your work in the last several years here what’s ahead five years down the road? What types of B2B organizations do you see leading the pack in terms of smart and effective us of social media and social platforms?
Paul G: The tech firms are always the leaders and if you go back to the early days of social media and by early I mean 2004, it was Microsoft and IBM and Sun and Oracle in those days that were the early adopters of blogging. These companies have huge numbers of bloggers right now. I think Cisco has over 60 blogs and it goes on and on. These companies will continue to lead because their audience is online and that’s why you’ve seen all the IT trade publications are gone, right? They’ve disappeared in the last 10 years online.
Glen E: Completely.
Paul G: So the tech companies will lead that charge. I’ve been impressed though with pockets of innovation from areas that I wouldn’t have expected. The most successful B2B viral video so far was produced by Corning and it’s called I believe A Day Made of Glass and I think 17 million views on YouTube. It’s a very mesmerizing kind of video that Corning put together that you wouldn’t think that a glass maker would be, in a mature industry, would be a leader in that area but they’re doing some very clever, that was a brilliant video. Caterpillar, the company that does makes the tractors is doing some very clever stuff internally with knowledge sharing. CEMEX which is a company that makes cement, right, they’re making cement. The world’s largest maker I believe is very savvy about how to use social media.
So I think what you’re going to find; the first thing I would say is that the resistance is melting and the big difference that I’ve seen between now and two years ago because two years ago when I would speak to B2B companies I would get a lot of skeptical looks in the room. Today that’s almost gone. I mean in many cases the CEO is actually driving a lot of that.
Glen E: Totally agree.
Paul G: So that shift has happened. I think the innovators will be companies that tend to be led by technical people. Engineers, you know the DuPonts and the 3Ms and the Cornings of the world which have a strong technical component to what they do. They will continue to find new ways to reach technical audiences.
Glen E: So the last thing before we run out of time that I like to do on these interviews is do a quick speed round where I throw out a technology or some key trend and I get the guest to give a one or two word quick response to it.
Paul G: Okay.
Glen E: It’s fun, there’s no right or wrong answers. So let’s start with video for B2B.
Paul G: Huge opportunity.
Glen E: Completely agree with you. How about Pinterest?
Paul G: For B2B or just Pinterest? Pinterest surprisingly addictive.
Glen E: Really true. Then last one for fun. Daily Deals or Groupon.
Paul G: Saturated market.
Glen E: So interesting. Okay well I want to thank you Paul for being my guest today and thanks to everyone in the audience for listening to today’s conversation. If you have any questions or would like to talk further about the topic of today’s show feel free to connect with me on Twitter at Twitter.com/GlenEngler or on my blog at www.glenengler.com. Visit http://www.WebMasterRadio.fmat 12:00 noon Eastern time on Tuesdays to tune in to episodes of Market Edge. For Market Edge this is Glen Engler. Until next time I’m out.