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Q&A with Mark Fidelman, Author of Socialized!


Everyone is still talking about social media. But Mark Fidelman, CEO of the social business consultancy Evolve!, thinks many companies are losing sight of how to create a business strategy capable of adapting to the social world because they’re constantly fixated with the latest social tool.

This emerging paradigm prompted him to write Socialized! How the Most Successful Businesses Harness the Power of Social. I recently caught up with Fidelman to see what he thinks companies should be doing to develop a coherent business strategy around social media.

Where are we currently in the B2B social media adoption curve? Are B2B companies still increasing their adoption of social media or is it plateauing?

There’s no question that adoption is increasing. If you’re defining social media as external, I think we’re moving steadily forward. However, if you’re talking about internally within companies, there are still challenges getting an organization to be internally social as well.

Why should companies care about internal social media as well as external social media?

When you talk about external adoption, companies are almost being forced to adopt social media because their customers are using these tools and wanting to communicate with the brand. If the brand is not responsive on these channels, suddenly you begin to see a lot of negative sentiment about that brand. And that’s exactly what happened to United Airlines [backstory: the airline damaged someone’s $3,500 guitar and ignored his attempts to get it fixed so he turned to YouTube to tell his story] and plenty of people decided not to fly the airline as a result.

I think they’re going to be forced to use external social media if they aren’t already. But it’s not going to be just one or two people that will be in charge of social media externally, it will have to be a group effort. It’s not as if everyone needs to be on social all day long, but as part of an an organization they need to do their fair share.

Internally, companies need to be social because they need to be more adaptive. The new playbook will be using tools that will help you build better relationships with people. Part of that will be online where you’re out there building expertise and some of it is offline as a result of who you’re meeting online. It can be easily transferred to offline relationship within the organization. Internally, so to speak, that’s what’s gonna happen. [To see what Fidelman thinks is the new playbook, check out his Super Bowl themed infographic.]

What tools are important for companies to be using and building followings?

You need a social platform like IBM Connections, Microsoft Yammer or Jive. Externally, I think most people should have a Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn profile and maybe a Google Plus. I say focus on two of them. It’s not as if everyone should have a huge following but you should at least be using these networking tools.

And using these tools has personal benefits, too. If you develop relationships with people on these networks, you develop a large following and develop strong connections. You become almost unemployment proof because there should be constant offers coming your way.

What do B2B companies stand to gain from getting on social media? What’s the return on investment?

First of all, it’s not as straightforward as an email campaign where you send out an email campaign, have a 10 percent click-through rate, and convert one percent of these people. With social media you will get some of that, but it won’t be as targeted because an email is guaranteed to end up in somebody’s inbox whereas in social media the stream could just pass people by.

The thing about social media is the ability to listen and the ability to use data to zero in on a group of targeted customers that you can build a relationship with over time. And through building that relationship, your chances of building loyal customers and advocates increases dramatically.

Is anyone realizing these benefits in a systematic way? For instance, in 2009 there was a story about how Dell generated $6.5 million in sales via Twitter. But was that a one-time fluke, or are companies like Dell now able to drive repeatable revenue using social media? If so, how?

In the B2C world, you can look at the Dollar Shave Club videos. Their sales went up dramatically as a result of that video. Nike is doing it a lot, too. They’re constantly engaging in social where they’re directing people to the stores or their website or Zappos to buy shoes.

In the B2B world, IBM and Salesforce are the masters of it. IBM is not only selling social business software, they’re also using social media. They’ve got 36,000 individual publishers that are out there creating content that drives people back to the IBM site where they can get people over to the phone and call an IBM sales rep.

Three things, in particular, are working for IBM:

  1. They’re placing individuals in the press where they’re writing for sites like Huffington Post and creating great content. These aren’t advertising pitches about IBM. These are informational posts that help people figure out what problems they have and help them actively solve them.
  2. They’re actively finding their subject matter experts internally and they’re pushing them external. Whether they can write or not, they’re getting the press to write about their subject matter so that when you think of IBM, you don’t think of a logo–you think of one of these subject matter experts.
  3. The last thing is that they’re using data to identify trends. And they’ll either use that data themselves to get ahead of the curve or they’ll help customers figure out how to get ahead of the curve. For instance, they’re using data to predict that steam punk will be a fashion trend. Then can send that data to retailers and then those retailers will start using IBM products.

In your book, you talk about how companies need to learn to manage "Darwin's Funnel"–or a sales and marketing funnel with a social wrapper. Tell me about that. And how can companies do this?

In the traditional sales and marketing funnel, leads come through the top of the funnel, conversion rates are largely reactive and a certain percentage of people wind up at the bottom of the funnel and become closed deals.

What I’m saying is that by using social technologies, data, and mobile applications you can increase the conversion rates because you’re actively engaging people as they’re entering the funnel. It’s not 30 days later where you’re looking at your campaign to see if your A/B conversion test worked or not.

Instead, you’re proactively engaging them as they’re going through the funnel and answering their questions as they go further down the funnel and building relationships with them using social tools. You’re using analysis to see if you should do this type of messaging on this date, in this context if it will move that lead down the funnel faster. It’s more proactive and about relationship-building marketing rather than a reactive model.

What three tips would you give B2B companies that are considering diving into social media?

First, companies need to get their traditional sales and marketing funnel into shape, which many companies are struggling to do in the first place.

Then they have to become a social business because it’s not simply throwing people into social media to engage people externally to push them down the funnel. The sales team has to be social, the marketing team has to be social and IT needs to be involved, as well. The whole business needs to recognize who’s in the funnel to engage these people to move them down the funnel faster. To do that you, need social media experts and buy in.

There is no longer any one person that can walk a prospect through the funnel. You need a variety of individuals in the company with different skill sets to achieve this. You need suppliers, partners, press and influencers all working together.

My biggest suggestion is that companies should start with internal social networks first to make sure that you have a social organization and then, after everyone is on board, including IT, use data to identify opportunities that are out there that aren’t currently engaged with you.

Test your messaging and content. Generate a lot of content and then test what’s most effective and be adaptive. Once you’ve created this social organization, you’re listening, testing this content and messaging and you’re realizing that you have to be more and more adaptive to the messaging.

What do you think companies need to in order to adapt to the world of social media? Leave us a note in the comments below.

The thumbnail image for this post was created by Ivanpw.

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Derek Singleton

About the Author

Derek Singleton joined Software Advice after graduating from Occidental College in Los Angeles, California. At Software Advice, he manages content related to the CRM software market and reports on business-to-business (B2B) marketing technologies, topics and trends.

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