My name is Bill and I blog. I'm also on Twitter, and LinkedIn and occasionally Facebook, though mainly to connect with old friends. I don't do these things because I love them or because I'm having trouble filling up my days. In fact, sometimes I find social media to be tedious and frustrating. But I keep at it because I'm convinced that these tools will be the future of b-to-b media. And if people like me don't roll up our sleeves and begin to learn firsthand about the opportunities and challenges inherent in social media, our team members won't feel like they should experiment and begin using them.
If you're still on the sidelines wondering what a traditional b-to-b media company executive can learn from investing personal time and energy in social media, here are some thoughts to get you started.
Whether the market you serve revolves around torts or textiles, right now people are talking about your industry. Maybe in the old days (i.e.,
six years ago), those conversations would have occurred in the pages of your magazine or at your market-leading conference. Not anymore. Now those discussions occur 24/7/365 among bloggers you've never heard of and on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. You should be listening to those discussions for new ideas, stories that your organization should be covering and for emerging experts who could become speakers at your events or guest contributors in your publications. Just because the writing isn't as polished as you would expect from your reporters and the thoughts sometimes come at you in 140 character bites, it doesn't mean those who blog or tweet don't have something important to teach you. Listen and learn from them.
Sorry to tell you this, but some of those discussions are about you—or about your company, your products and your services. You should be particularly attentive to those nuggets. If the buzz is positive, great. But when people post negative comments about your business, you have a chance to fix the problem quickly, or at least correct the record before those negatives get picked up by others and ricochet around the blogosphere. And I wouldn't dream of attending one of my company's trade shows or conferences without live-monitoring what people are posting on Twitter about it (and they will be posting). Not exactly scientific research, I know, but certainly helpful.
Building a brand or protecting an established one is all about building trust and a relationship with customers. In the b-to-b media industry, those relationships increasingly include readers who want to be heard and to establish a dialogue with our team members, particularly our reporters and editors. Readers want to build deeper connections with our staff—to know more about them, perhaps, but also to find out “the story behind the story.” I want to listen in on that discussion as much as I can, both to hear what kinds of questions customers are asking and to see how our journalists respond. The sum total of those discussions will be more important in establishing what the brand means to our customers than all the promotional ads and press releases we put out.
The power in our brands traditionally came from the strength of the connection between our products and our audience. In the future, brand power will increasingly be derived from how well we help members of our audience connect with one another. We can use social media tools to do that, leveraging the power of LinkedIn, for instance, to help community members find clients, experts, jobs or whatever else they value. Those same tools will allow us to extend a three-day trade show into a yearlong dialogue, with our brands positioned as the host for those conversations. As executives, we should be looking for community-building successes and encouraging our teams to experiment with our own offerings.
Social media is here to stay. I don't pretend to know how it will evolve or what the best practices for using these tools will be in the future. But I'm determined to be in the scrum trying to figure it out. Meanwhile, I'm @wpollak on Twitter and look forward to continuing the dialogue with you.
William Pollak is CEO of ALM. He can be reached at email@example.com.