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"BtoB' event panelists focus on social media

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Social marketing was the dominant topic at BtoB's NetMarketing Breakfast last month in New York, with each marketer panelist having a different take on what it means for their company. For Eastman Kodak Co., the major takeaway of its budding forays into blogging and Twitter posts has been the necessity of responding quickly to negative comments. Brian Nizinsky, Kodak's online marketing manager, related how a blogger last year erroneously reported that a major Kodak product—the prepress work-flow system Prinergy—was about to be discontinued, citing recent layoffs at a Prinergy facility. The blog post was picked up by multiple social media users and quickly went viral. “Prinergy is dead” became the tagline that swept social sites and blogs devoted to printing and publishing. “This is one of our most important products, so people at Kodak started to freak out,” Nizinsky said. The company took an immediate, proactive approach to correcting the record. All negative Twitter posts were responded to, with the company's side of things—“Is Prinergy dead? Kodak says no.”—quickly overtaking the online conversation. Kodak's message found its way into blended searches on the topic, and every social media user who had picked up the original false report was messaged by Kodak, setting the record straight. “We weren't sitting in a room silently hoping this would go away,” Nizinsky said. Gauging social marketing's return on investment can be a thorny challenge, but Mike Hardy, social media manager at Pitney Bowes, said his company found it fairly straightforward. In particular, it was able to prove the cost savings of a special social forum designed to answer questions from its base of postage-meter users. “In 2007, as the U.S. Postal Service was planning a rate increase, we received 430,000 support calls from our customers,” he said. “To try to lessen this, the next year we launched a social forum for customers which was viewed 40,000 times in six weeks.” From this, Pitney Bowes estimated that the savings realized from deflected call-center phone calls more than paid for the entire year's investment in the social forum. “Social ROI for us was an easy win,” Hardy said. While social media is high on today's marketing agenda, the need remains to blend the channel into overall marketing strategies, the panelists agreed. Matt Preschern, IBM Corp.'s VP-North America for demand programs, cited the increasing prominence of virtual events but cautioned that these online experiences should be used as a complement to—not a replacement of—physical conferences and expos. Emily Riley, principal analyst and research director-interactive marketing for Forrester Research, agreed. “Customer relations across channels is hard,” she said, terming the multiplicity of media as the “splinternet.” But marketers can no longer be specialists in one discipline, she said. “Marketers today are obsessed with tactics, such as getting involved with Facebook or Twitter, but they have to focus on an overall strategy around customer service,” Riley said. The need now is for “cross-platform relationship management,” she said. Regardless of tactic, Preschern emphasized the value of social media as a way to immediately respond to highly engaged prospects. “Customer interaction is about responding to your product or company,” he said. “And when they respond, that's a lead.” M
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