Watch the Influencer Marketing Panel at the Cisco Social Media for Savvy Marketers Event

The Cisco Social Media for Savvy Marketers event was quite interesting. I don’t say that just because they invited me; the topics and the guests were way above the typical Social Media 101 level you often find at conferences. The event was held April 19, 2013 on the Cisco campus, and it was streamed live online. You can now access video from all the sessions on demand.

Our panel was on Influencer Marketing with panelists from SAP, Citrix and VMware. I posted the abstract and lineup previously. Since Perrine runs the Citrix CTP Program and I started the VMware vExpert Program, I thought we’d get more into the “Ambassador Program” end of the topic. But our moderator, Darin Wolder from Marketwired, was quite good and kept us out of the weeds and inside the more general part of the topic and how it related to social media marketing in general.

I’ll have to rewatch the whole thing and see if we embarrassed ourselves. I didn’t have any place to stash my iPad so I brought it on stage with me and keep watching the tweetstream. Reading an iPad while sitting on a stool doesn’t foster very good posture, so I don’t recommend it for public speakers.

Go to the blog post that links to the reg form that gets you to the on demand video here.

[Finally, It’s never nice to be rude to your hosts, so I want to make this suggestion nicely, but my observation is that I think they might be going a bit heavy on regulating access via a registration wall here. I was surprised by the online registration form on the day of the event (and it is a relatively gentle one; sometimes our corporate ones are much worse — how many x86 servers do you have in your environment?) And now since it’s behind a reg wall I can’t embed our panel session on this blog. Of course, in a corporate setting, there are lots of cooks in the kitchen, and I imagine the Cisco Social team wanted to see who is watching, and show the powers that be that it’s real people from real companies, not just 20-year-old social media interns. And it looks like the videos are hosted on their learning platform, so there might be technical issues involved in opening it up. Still, I don’t normally recommend gating your videos if you want more people to watch them. Given the people involved I’m pretty sure they aren’t going to start spamming my email address, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they found that Mickey Mouse and friends were watching their event. But don’t let that put you off — please check it out! It’s worth watching.]


Why company accounts on Twitter aren’t enough

Last week we released a Geek Whisperers podcast, as we’ve done every week for seven whole episodes now. Since we think we’re somewhat clever, we pull out witticisms from the podcast itself to use as titles. We think this is fun but it makes for terrible SEO. The latest episode is entitled You Would Not Survive without Humans, which I think is something I said. The topic is about balancing the needs and responsibilities of personal vs corporate social media.

Several people in our community had asked us to cover this topic, so we recorded a podcast on it a few weeks back. Coincidently and after the podcast was already in the can, when I went to speak at the Cisco Social Savvy event last week, three people independently asked me the same thing: “How do I balance personal vs corporate social media? What happens when the personal overshadows the corporate brand?” Our panel wasn’t even on that topic, but it seems like this question is top of mind for a lot of people.

I think we did a good job in our podcast on personal vs corporate social media, but this topic is deep and multi-faceted enough that we’ll come back to revisit it a few more times. I do want to explore a few aspects of how to deal with it in this blog. I’ll do it in several parts — this first part talks about why your corporate social account alone is insufficient.

I think this analysis holds for all social media platforms, but it holds the most for Twitter. Twitter has always been an odd duck. Even now we get asked all the time how to get started on Twitter, because Twitter usage is very individual and these overlapping circles of conversation are not easy to conceptualize at first. (In fact, next Monday’s podcast is on this very topic.) I’ll touch on the other platforms at the end. Remember, as always, that my context is the community surrounding a large technology company, and your mileage may vary.

Your Brand is a Robot that clicks and buzzes at your audience.
Your Brand on Twitter is a Robot that clicks and buzzes at your audience.

On Twitter, companies and people are on an equal footing. I haven’t seen any statistics, but I suspect that most people follow more fellow human beings than companies, even if the human beings they follow are celebrities and not real people with real lives. In my personal Twitter account, I follow around four thousand people in the IT and social media fields. (I’m a professional at this; I don’t necessarily recommend following this many people at home.) Recently I realized I’ve stopped following all corporate accounts except for my own company’s account and a few media outlets. I don’t follow big companies; I don’t follow startups; I don’t even follow companies partnered with my company — but I do follow employees from all these companies. So if this is true, and it is from my experience, most people’s Twitter streams are filled with people’s faces. Although some corporate logos are sprinkled in, the context is social — people chatting with other people. In that context, brands are robots.

Brands accounts are really good at one thing: they’re the official news source of your company. Most corporate social media accounts realize this and tweet what are more-or-less headlines. They are the official source of first-party content, with most tweets are a title and a link, or perhaps a pithy saying you’re going to find quotable. They’re linking to what they hope is valuable and interesting content to their followers. One of the trite sayings I give to people I’m advising is: “You have to put out fish food to attract the fish.” Everybody nods after I say this, so I keep saying it. The brands are trying to attract some fish by actually adding value and nurturing their followers. They’re linking to articles; they’re linking to white papers; they’re linking to webinars and events and funny pictures and press releases. They’re linking either to materials they’ve created or 3rd-party content they think you’ll like. They’re probably also slipping a bit of demand generation activity in there as well, even though I suspect that most of the people that read these tweets are already in the corporate demand gen database.

But brand accounts have two big disadvantages, and this is why our ultimate conclusion is going to be that you need your employees out there as well. Their first disadvantage is that they are companies, not people. You can try to humanize them, but it doesn’t work on Twitter — just take my word on it for now, and we’ll discuss how it doesn’t work next time, but for now, here’s one example. My university alumni association’s Twitter account just congratulated me on finding our cat, who had been trapped in our neighbor’s basement for 3 weeks. I found it creepy. But if “Mary from the alumni association” had done the same, I would have found it thoughtful and maybe followed her back just from that shared connection.  Sometimes brands will tweet inanities like “Happy Friday”. This is also a mistake. Brands don’t have permission to make small talk. Remember, in the Twitter-as-chat context we’re talking about, your brand is a robot. A robot can try to talk about the weather, but it can’t talk about getting stuck in the airport or its kids or its hometown football team, because it doesn’t have any of those things.

As an aside, if you switch out of the “chat” framework of thinking about Twitter, your can think of your branded account actually as more of a magazine than a robot. This realization has spurred a lot of hype around “content marketing,” and some of that advice is actually good. Your company is a media company producing a magazine. Out of scope for this blog post, though, but let’s just note that magazines don’t make good small talk either.

The second disadvantage is that brands talk too much. Twitter is the ultimate content black hole. Tweets only last for a short time; most people will see your tweet in the first hour or two before it gets pushed away by other content. If you want to keep your message out in front of your followers — which you do, because that’s what you get paid for — you need to keep pumping out tweets to keep your channel filled. And that’s ok, especially if you’re a big company, because you’ve got all this content you’ve spent all this money to produce. At one point we were cranking out 5-10 different items a day pulled from blogs, program news, and other assets published across our company. New blog posts, white papers, webinars, classes, user groups, promotions, videos, … and on and on and on. If you’re a smaller company or more aggressive about marketing, you’ve got less content but you’re repeating each item several times. (Which people notice, by the way. Don’t think they don’t notice.) And we’ll just assume that all of your content is valuable, on target, well-written, and not full of corporate marketing-speak, so that people would actually want to read it. We’ll ignore the fact that this is only true for 10% of the things your company creates.

One of the main reasons that email marketing open rates go down over time is saturation: you are sending too much for the recipients to absorb. Even if you send me a newsletter every week that’s incredibly valuable, I probably won’t open every one just because I get too busy. The same problem is part of what prevented RSS from becoming a mainstream consumer-facing technology. People felt guilty when they opened their feed reader and were faced with thousands of unread items from hundreds of information fire hoses. They already felt guilty about that situation in their email client; why did they need more guilt in their lives when they wanted to do something fun and informative? There’s a real reason why Twitter doesn’t track where you left off last time or have a big flashing Number of Unread Tweets.

You’re stuck in this Catch-22. You need to keep your channel filled it so people see it. You can’t make small talk, so you publish with interesting information and links. But at the granularity of a Twitter account which represents a company or a product, most people are overwhelmed either by volume or breadth — they just aren’t that interested in you. Even for VMware, which has passionate followers who have bet their entire professional careers on us… they still aren’t interested in every corporate fart we emit.

Enter your employees, who are actual people with actual faces and who can help curate you out of this mess. We’ll pick up there next time.

We’ve been focusing on Twitter. Does this hold for other social channels like Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn? They do have a few advantages for brands over Twitter. Since they are more visual — pictures and link previews show up right there in the stream — companies can drop some sort of branded image in the stream, and people will see it without clicking on it, which has some sort of value to the company, and hopefully to the viewer. For Facebook & LinkedIn, they also allow people to show off their affinity by following you. People may not really want to read all your spam, but they want to have your logo on their profile page. But the saturation problem remains, and in fact is even worse. Twitter is a wall of text messages, and it is built for skimming. You can follow many people and skim a lot of content on Twitter. For the other platforms, since images and previews show up right in the stream, skimming is harder, and the number of accounts you can follow goes down. The saturation problem gets worse. Nobody has time for all your emissions in the first place, and now they have to scroll and scroll to get past them.

Next up: Why your employees are your most effective social ambassadors. How they can balance their personal brand vs their corporate responsibilities. And what happens if somebody gets famous and then leaves?

Heeeeeere’s Lulu! She was trapped in a neighbor’s crawl space for three weeks. They heard her meowing, and Kat crawled down and got her. Lulu’s skinny but purring. We are happy.

via Facebook

John on Social Influencer Marketing panel Thursday 5/17/13

I will be a panelist at the Social Media for Savvy Marketers event this week put on by Cisco. You can watch online by registering for the online event here. Our panel on “Social Influencer Marketing” will be at 3:45pm PDT / 6:45pm EDT on Thursday, April 17. Check out the full two-day agenda.

The panel is:

  • Moderator Darin Wolder, Marketwire 
  • Todd Wilms, Sr Director, Social Media, SAP @toddmwilms
  • Perrine V. Crampton, Community Programs Manager, Citrix @pcrampton
  • John Troyer, Director, Social Media Evangelist, VMware @jtroyer

And our abstract:

While social influence marketing has taken the B2C world by storm, the B2B space has lingered behind, more encumbered by the need to budget against measurable results. Yet the reigns are loosening. The reality is that, while behaviors are very different among B2B influencers, the opportunities for amplifying messages and driving action are just as worth pursuing. This session will explore how B2B marketers should address a social marketing influence plan, including identifying  and understanding key market segments, the motivations encouraging influencers to work with brands, the return on investment and setting expectations.

I’m afraid I kicked off our prep call by saying that I don’t like social media, and looking at the abstract I don’t agree with the opening premise that the B2B space has “lingered behind”, so I hope I don’t bring too much snark to the panel. However, in our prep call discussion we all seemed to agree, so I think snark won’t be needed and I’m confident we’ll give out some good insight on the state of influencer marketing in the B2B space in 2013.  I’ll probably talk about loving the people in your community and come off as some sort of social media hippie. Maybe I’ll have to slip some ROI stuff in there as well to disperse the patchouli oil smell.

Join me on Thursday! Thanks!

The Geek Whisperers: a podcast for social media practitioners who work with enterprise IT technologists

geek_whisperersWe launched our podcast, The Geek Whisperers, in February and now we’re about to publish episode 6. The Geek Whisperers is a podcast for social media practitioners who work with enterprise IT communities. The first episode has the founding story of how this little project began, but I’ll repeat it here from my perspective.

I work in social media professionally, and I have for the 7 and 1/2 years I’ve been with VMware. We called it something like blogging and evangelism back then, but the objectives are still the same — connect with the folks who use our products and make them successful. I really do as much work with online community as with social media, but increasingly those lines have blurred and I do a lot of internal consulting on social media campaigns, social networking presence, and content marketing. (Content marketing being 2013’s social media word of the year, but basically content marketing means writing stuff that people actually want to read, rather than marketing crap that you want to write. This has been a revelation for some marketing professionals.)

But over the whole time in my job I’ve struggled with my relationship with the social media industry. I think this comes in two parts. First of all, I’m really more of a technologist than a marketer. Although my technical background was more in programming than system administration or infrastructure, over the years I’ve become deeply enmeshed in this IT space filled with storage, networking, servers, and the mysteries of how IT can transform itself to align better with the needs of the business and not just be the guys you call when the printer doesn’t work. Becoming an IT-pro-by-proxy is how I’ve done my job — by becoming part of the community I’m working with.

But the second part of my difficulty is that the social media industry doesn’t seem very relevant to what I do. Even if you avoid the obvious simplistic advice about how and when to Tweet, the self-help/guru/personal branding crowd, and the scammy Internet Marketers, you’re left with a lot of direct marketing and consumer branding activity. Not much of that is directly related to helping an IT architect be successful building out a next-generation data center.

So over the years I’ve girded my loins a few times, filled up my RSS reader with social media blogs, started a blog or two, and gone to a few conferences, but my heart really hasn’t been in it, and I’ve chucked it all after a few weeks to get back to doing my job with my community. At the same time, after 30 years of participating in online community and after 7 years of doing it professionally, I think I have something to say.

Enter the Geek Whisperers. It was born out of a conversation with Amy Lewis of Cisco at VMworld Barcelona in 2012 — if you’ve met us you can imagine the scene, with both of us only getting a word in when the other one had to stop and take a breath. It turned out we had a lot in common professionally. After adding Matt Brender of EMC as a co-conspirator, we finally just kicked it off and figured we’ll figure out the details as we go along, which is the way all good (non-IT) projects should go!

Some people have pushed back on the name. “Geek Whisperers” doesn’t necessarily mean that we talk about geeky IT stuff, but like the Horse Whisperer and Dog Whisperer, we have experience working with geeks, we seem to have an affinity for it, and our methods are mysterious to many traditionally-trained marketing pros. We spend a lot of time in our respective large company employers explaining what we do, why it’s good for the company, and how you can do it too.

The podcast format is a bit of an experiment. I’ve run a live weekly call-in podcast for the VMware community for almost 5 years now, so I know it can be effective in reaching people, but this experience of starting a new, weekly show, hopefully well-produced and edited, and starting from scratch is a bit of a new thing for us. We hope the podcast format will help us directly interact with more people, interview more people, and entertain more people. We seem to laugh a lot, which comes across better in a podcast than a blog!

I’m bullish on podcasting in 2013. After 10 years of skipping along at a low level it seems like smart phones are finally making it easier to listen to podcasts. I’ve started listening more in the car and while cleaning the house, simply streaming to my iPhone or iPad.

We haven’t been doing a lot of promotion, so our audience has been growing slowly and it’s really been more in our native IT communities than the social media practitioners we were expecting to talk to. We’ve tried to be very honest on the show, so I hope my IT friends aren’t shocked that, yes, actually, we do run marketing programs tied to business objectives. But we work by bringing humanity and a community spirit to the dark arts of marketing, so I hope you see us as the good guys.

If you do work in social media marketing in a company that sells products or services to enterprise IT, come along and have a listen! We’ll keep doing the podcast as long as we’re having fun, and so far we’re having a blast! Here’s our episodes so far

Drop us a line if you like what you hear. Thanks!

Tech podcasts to watch out for

Although I’ve produced a weekly podcast for around 5 years, I’ve actually never been an habitual podcast listener. Recently I’ve developed the habit. A number of things came together for me to cause this:

  • I was interested in making my podcast better. I’ve been doing the same thing on the podcast for a long time. I recently concluded I need to try new things even if it’s just to keep it interesting for me.
  • I was interested in seeing what the enterprise IT industry was saying about itself.
  • I was interested in seeing what new media leaders were developing — from micropublishing and apps to podcast networks — and if we could leverage it in the enterprise IT industry.
  • I made one appearance on This Week in Enterprise Tech.
  • I turned satellite radio back on in my car for a long trip and have been listening to Howard Stern. This broke my NPR habit.

Here are some podcasts you might enjoy:

  • VMware Community Roundtable. We’re unusual in that (a) we stream live every week: Wednesdays at noon; and (b) anbody can dial in and we leave the phone lines open. The guests that we interview are usually from VMware but I hope we avoid repeating just the corporate talking points. Show site. Show Notes.
  • Speaking in Tech. This is Greg Knierieman’s third go round at the podcast rodeo (at least), and he brings a keen eye as a tech industry observer with an infectious laugh that makes for an easy listen. The other regulars (Ed Saipetch, Sarah Vela) always contribute, the tone is informal yet they get to some meat every week, and the guests are good.
  • The CloudCast. Aaron Delp and Brian Gracely have been putting out regular cloud coverage for 2 years. I’m still catching up with their back episodes, but I like how they cover different clouds (vCloud, AWS, OpenStack, CloudStack, etc.) and not just the cloud stacks themselves or the infrastructure, but also dev and ops and apps and all the rest of the good stuff that goes into cloud.
  • If you’re into virtualization, also check out the vBrownbag, vSoup, and vChat podcasts, although I haven’t been listening to them lately.
  • TWiT. I keep trying to get into the TWiT vibe, but by the time I listen to Leo Laporte’s thing on Sunday I’ve heard all the news they want to cover, and the podcasts often go for two hours, which is too long even for both legs of my commute. Leo of course is really listenable, though. They have shows on more specialized topics, but those haven’t grabbed me yet. Fr Robert Ballecer was nice enough to have me on This Week in Enterprise Tech and I had a blast, but I haven’t become a regular listener.
  • 5by5. Another podcast network I’ve been sampling. Dan Benjamin runs the network and is seemingly on every show. 5by5 has the same leisurely vibe as TWiT, with podcasts regularly clocking in over 90 minutes. It’s like sitting in an Austin coffeehouse eavesdropping on a couple of hipsters talking at the next table — often fascinating, but not really a very efficient way to get information. I picture web designers listening to this on their headphones as they sit in said Austin coffeehouse and type all day. I am still working on loving something but I recommend checking out Critical Path and High Density, both hosted or co-hosted by Horace Dediu of @asymco fame.
  • Mule Radio Syndicate. I guess Gruber, the Daring Fireball Mac guy, switched from 5by5 to Mule, but the back story and politics are lost on me. The only show that looks interesting here so far to me is The New Disruptors, hosted by Glenn Fleishman. I like Glenn’s take on disruption — from coffee makers to publishers to podcasters. On the latest show, Glenn introduced me to Andrea Seabrook’s DecodeDC, also on the Mule network. It promises to be like The Daily Show, except not a comedy.
  • Gillmor Gang. I’m not sure if this is a podcast or not, but I sometimes tune in because Steve Gillmor, Robert Scoble, and the rest of the panel are opinionated and sometimes they yell at each other. Mostly social media and general tech topics, and although I disagree with Gillmor about the viability of VRM (vendor relationship management), I will eventually be proven wrong.

General observations: The “tech press” that Silicon Valley pays attention to these days is pretty limited in scope. The “tech” on the TechCrunch-Y Combinator axis is mostly composed of consumer-facing social startups, gadgets, and Apple/Twitter/Facebook/Google. Enterprise IT isn’t covered very well. The podcasts covering this area tend to all plow the same field. And since I have been reading this tech press more than a usual — more than a normal person would — I tend to have read all the stories already by the time I listen to the podcast and the discussion of the stories on the podcast therefore aren’t particularly unique. Maybe these general tech news podcasts aren’t for me. Podcast production also tends to be pretty non-produced with the discussion all over the place even compared to talk radio — and in my weekly podcast I’m pretty much winging it as well, but at least I’m not going on for two hours at a time.

I’m wishing there was a tightly produced 30 minute tech news recap I could listen to on the way to work. I’m tempted to try podcasts from old media to see if such a thing exists, but instead I think I’m going to dive into storytelling and comedy podcasts next, because I suspect there are lessons to be learned about telling a story.

Any favorite podcasts I should check out?

Update: Leo Laporte video on what he’s trying to do, his revenue and advertisers, and how his goals differ from the mainstream media.