Interview: How IBM Leads B2Bs in Instagram Engagement

b2b-instagram-ibm-deskAs a follow-up to our list of top B2B Instagram accounts, I reached out to Katie Keating, Social Content & Engagement Strategist at IBM, to learn more about how this globally integrated technology and consulting company approaches a visual platform like Instagram.

IBM ranked at the top of the list of B2B Instagram accounts because we prioritized engagement over number of followers. This put the IBM account way ahead of larger B2B companies who are well-known for their social media prowess, like GE, Cisco and Adobe. What is your approach to Instagram, and does it focus on engagement versus growing your following? And what are the metrics that determine your success?

For IBM, engagement is the metric we put the most weight on when we assess performance of our social content on Instagram. Ultimately, our goal is to create and curate content that is intriguing to our audiences, that maybe teaches them something simple but useful, and builds trust among our followers. It’s not about the quantity of our followers but the quality. We don’t want to speak into a void but to an engaged, interested audience, so listening and gathering feedback is a critical first step before we publish anything on our channels.

Are you using the IBM Instagram account to communicate with existing customers, partners and employees or are you looking to connect with prospects to drive new business?

We have a number of key audiences that we think are interested in what IBM’s doing, and who may not be aware of some of the incredible innovation happening at IBM. IBM is a global company so we try to showcase the company’s innovation around the world. Employee engagement is a key part of our strategy–we always say that IBM is primarily experienced by the world at large through our employees, so it’s important to us that they’re engaged and feel empowered to share their experiences.

In the time period we looked at, some of your top posts were employee-submitted photos showing #viewfrommydesk. Is user-generated content, or specifically employee-based content, a key part of your Instagram strategy, or was this just a good idea that happened to work?

The #ViewFromMyDesk photo series was done in partnership with the IBM global recruitment team. The goal was to showcase that IBM employees come from all over and work in various types of environments. We invited employees to share photos of the view from their desk–be it a traditional office setting, their home office, office on the road, and more. As a result, we received photos from locations all over the world like Slovenia, Russia, Brazil, Austria, Norway, Venezuela, Taiwan, India, and more. Instagram is a highly global platform and IBM is an international brand, so we thought Instagram would be a great place to host a visually-driven series like this.

IBM has a broad, global business serving multiple audience segments. How do you balance that with one Instagram account?

b2b-instagram-ibm-designWe see Instagram a place to share “moments” at IBM–what it’s like to work in our offices, behind the scenes in our labs, or the process behind innovations-in-progress. We want to take our audience on the journey with us. Our photos come from all over: user-generated content, photos that employees like me shoot themselves, photos of teams collaborating, and more. We’ve even had employees “take over” our account for a week at a time and show us what it’s like to work at IBM through their own photos and captions. It’s really important that anything we publish stays true to the platform–inspiring, visually engaging imagery that tells a story, while being true to IBM. We’re not trying to fit certain messages into a box or follow a strict calendar, but instead we’re in a constant mode of discovery, curation and creation.

How do the Instagram photos integrate with social media posts on other channels? How important is visual content to the overall social media strategy of IBM?

We find that Instagram photos also drive engagement across our other channels, so we cross-post. Visuals in general are absolutely critical to driving engagement on our social accounts. I think audiences now expect that visuals should and will be part of the experience.

You seem to be experimenting with more branded video on Instagram lately? How does this compare to Vine or YouTube?

Branded “micro-video” is something we’re definitely planning to do more of. It’s a great way to tell a story or create art out of the everyday, which is the sweet spot for platforms like Instagram and Vine.

And finally, what advice would you give to other B2B marketers who are looking to improve their engagement on Instagram?

First, spend time on Instagram. Really understand the community aspect of the platform and the caliber of the photography. Think about why your followers are spending time on Instagram. It’s an escape. It’s inspirational. It’s beautiful. Make sure that’s the type of content you’re curating and creating for your branded channel too. Use it as a place to show the real moments, to go behind the scenes, to give access and meaning to your brand. Don’t try to promote, sell, drive clicks (URLs aren’t hotlinked anyway). You will drive engagement and preference for your brand by being real and staying true to the platform.

Marketing Team Drives B2B Social Selling Success

My friend Tom Skotidas and I recorded a video conversation defining social selling. He is the founder of Skotidas, Asia Pacific’s leader in B2B Social Media Lead Generation.

Social selling, or #socialselling, is a term that is used by lots of people to mean lots of different things. It is more than my definition of sales people using the tools and approach of social media. Watch the video to hear Tom’s definition.

Some highlights of the conversation:

  • Social selling is really a social marketing program for sales enablement.
  • It is a hybrid approach between marketing and sales.
  • Conversations about social selling should always start with marketing. Not only because they bring the strategy, the skills and the process to move the market, but they also bring the budget.
  • A well-executed program lets sales people connect more effectively, get more meetings and build more pipeline.

How do you define social selling?

Photo credit: Flickr

How B2B Professionals Can Use Content for Personal Branding

b2b-personal-brandingI recently recorded a video conversation with my friend Tom Skotidas. He is the founder of Skotidas, Asia Pacific’s leader in B2B Social Media Lead Generation. This is the first of several conversations that we recorded on the topic of social selling, but the topic really is broader than that.

The video below is about personal branding. If you are a B2B sales person, the conversation is perfect for you and gives you some things to start thinking about as you begin to incorporate social selling into your approach. But if you are a marketer, the concepts of personal branding that we talk about are appropriate for you too.

The big ideas we talked about are:

  • Building trust through awareness and familiarity
  • Modeling your personal branding consistency and positioning after known corporate brands
  • Understanding what success looks like in a personal brand

How do you approach your personal brand and are you consistent about it?

Photo credit: Flickr

Dell Launches Social Media Training for B2B Channel Partners


Dell recently launched a social media training program for its B2B channel partners “to help our partners fully leverage social media tools to improve the lines of communication while elevating their own marketing efforts.” The first live session will be May 8 and will cover the following topics:

  • What is social media and how does it affect the channel
  • How Dell is using social media and lessons we’ve learned
  • How can partners can connect with Dell through social

I had the chance to ask Laura P. Thomas, of Dell Global Channel Public Relations, some questions about the program.

How did Dell decide to provide social media training for its partners?
We get feedback from our partners through a variety of channels, from town hall meetings to Twitter, and they told us it was something they wanted. With a platform of our own employee training, and several years of first-hand experience to build on, we were happy to oblige.

We know that smarter customers make better customers, but do more social customers make better customers?
We’ve certainly found that engaged partners make better partners, so those who take advantage of social media as an additional way to get involved with us are certainly on the right path to success. In fact, our partners who engage with us the most, grow their own business the most. Our partners who take training and become certified consistently grow their businesses faster than those partners who are not certified – in some cases, by more than 30 percent. So, we do our best to ensure our programs meet their needs and we have kept everything easy and simple for them to work with us.

Do you think other companies will follow suit? And how is this different than what IBM offered in 2010 and again earlier this year?
Other companies have offered similar training and probably will follow suit, as well. Dell channel partners aren’t the only ones grappling with how to integrate social media into their business strategies, but they are the ones who can learn directly from us – at no cost – knowledge gained through our years of experience on the front lines of new media.

Will there be live or in-person training sessions?
We will offer periodic live online trainings throughout the year that are available to our partners worldwide – currently in English, but additional languages are on the roadmap. And, we are also planning a special in-person training session at Dell’s upcoming Storage Forum 2012 in Boston, as part of a full channel program track. If the demand is there, we’ll continue to look for more opportunities to share this with our partners.

Has Dell considered a higher level certification program for partners, similar to the one for Dell employees?
Yes, that possibility has definitely come up. At the moment, our channel certification programs are focused on technology areas such as networking, cloud services & solutions, and storage. So, we will start with this introduction to social media and then make a decision regarding expansion or certification based on partner feedback.

How does Dell justify the cost for developing and providing this training across multiple industries?
We delivered more than 130,000 free training sessions to our partners last year and plan to increase that to more than 200,000 this year. We make the investment to develop and deliver these because we’ve seen our partners’ businesses grow when they invest in training, and that in return grows our business. So we don’t look at it as cost, rather as an investment in the partnership for mutual success. The more we can do to make it easy for our partners to work with us, the better it is for both of us.

What does success look like for this program?
Success initially will be measured by an increase in partner participation in social media that, in time, strengthens their relationship with their customers and with us – ultimately resulting in a stronger Dell Channel community, improved business processes and revenue growth.

Social Media Agency Simply Zesty Creates Content in Balance

Irish social media agency Simply Zesty has made quite a name for themselves creating content and growing their social media footprint. They do this with a small staff, while serving blue chip clients like Sony and Volkswagen. When founder Lauren Fisher reached out to me to let me know they were acquired by UTV Media, I jumped at the chance to ask her about their content strategy.

Agencies are often in their own category from a social media perspective, but since their customers are other businesses, they can be thought of as B2B companies. And the lessons Lauren shared with me below can apply to any B2B company.


Lauren Fisher, Founder, Simply Zesty; John McCann, Group CEO, UTV Media plc; Niall Harbison, Founder, Simply Zesty; Nigel Robbins, Commercial Director – Ireland, UTV Media and Ken Fitzpatrick, CEO, Simply Zesty.

Let’s start at the top. Agencies frequently struggle creating social media content because their staff needs to focus on billable work. How do you manage to strike that balance?
For us, it’s been a learning curve of getting the right mix between brainstorming for the right video, design, app etc., the actual production time and then the eventual distribution. It’s very easy to get sidetracked with focusing on the content without figuring out how much time you need to properly plan and get the best idea. As a business, we’ve worked hard on ensuring we have the right mix of time spent on all 3 areas, and of course that the billing accurately reflects this!

Can you provide some insight into your content strategy? Are there certain topics you focus on, and others you steer away from?
In terms of the blog, we have decided to keep a focus on news, analysis and also easy to follow guides/tips. We’ve found that there is a ready audience there for each of those areas, provided we put the work in to do it well! We’ve also been genuinely honest about what we would find useful or interesting. Unless we have an exclusive, we would rarely cover a breaking news story with a simple summing up, but we would provide additional insights for brands to put something into practice, or how it might change things for them. And we have learned that if you put the time in to an article, it will generally pay off.

Even though you work with a number of large consumer brands, you are a B2B company because you are selling your services to other businesses. How do you bring that consumer sensibility to your social media properties?
We have tried to keep the company social media properties as personable as possible. No one really has an interest in joining our Facebook Page if we’re just going to post links to our blog. RSS is fine for that! We think about how we run our personal social media accounts and try to replicate this where we can, with informal questions, pictures etc. I think that is where we stand out, but again it has been a learning curve. There were times, particularly when we struggling with a smaller team and being maxed out on client work, when we let our own social media activities slip. But this was wrong. After all, we have actually gained new clients purely through our own social media profiles. One time we even gained a new client as one of our videos was shown as a similar video in the sidebar of YouTube and they got in touch!

How closely do you track conversions, in the form of new business, from your social media efforts?
Honestly, probably not as much as we should. Firstly because it is quite time consuming to do it well, but also because it is of a much more organic nature, and not always easy to track. We tend to be quite anecdotal about it. If a client mentions that they found us through a particular blog post, video etc. we would try and implement more of those. But unfortunately it’s not an exact science. Sometimes you just get lucky and it can be hard to replicate the success.

Any final tips for companies looking to grow their social media presence to drive new business?
Definitely take the time to do it properly. It’s very easy to let it slip when you have client work coming out of your ears! But you will probably find that the work you get through social media channels will have a longer lead time, so it’s important to keep it up even during busy periods in your agency, as you could see the benefit even months down the line.

Also try and focus on where the decision makers are, and what they might be looking for that you can help out with. It might well be the case that networking in groups on LinkedIn won’t drive that many business leads (it hasn’t really for us), but that by tweeting interesting campaign links etc. you provide people with a useful resource and these may well be the decision makers in an organisation.

Video: Hubspot and the Content Marketing Funnel

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post about content marketing and the sales funnel, we have a short interview with Kipp Bodnar, Inbound Marketing Manager of Hubspot. Kipp talks about how Hubspot creates and shares content with customers when they are at different points in the sales funnel. And if you are paying attention, this is the same Kipp that co-founded this site.

Let us know in the comments below how you are using content marketing to move prospects through the sales funnel.

B2B Social Media Example: Dell on Facebook

At the recent South by Southwest Interactive conference I had the opportunity to talk with Laura Thomas of Dell about Facebook for B2B companies. She is a Senior Consultant in the Small and Medium Business Group and responsible for digital media. Follow Laura on Twitter at @LPT.

We talked about:

  • Dell’s B2B Facebook Initiatives including Dell for Business and Social Media for Business Pages
  • Advice for B2B companies getting started on Facebook
  • How to handle attacks on Facebook by bringing customer service people into the process, whether you work for a large or small organization

Talking Twitter with Ann Handley (@MarketingProfs)

While at the MarketingProfs Digital Marketing Forum, I had the opportunity to sit down with Ann Handley, the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, and talk about the company Twitter account that she runs (@MarketingProfs). In a previous blog post about B2B companies on Twitter, I specifically mentioned this account as being a personal account, so it was not included in the list of company accounts. After Ann replied in the comments, we decided that it would be instructive to discuss her thoughts on setting up the Twitter account, and how she uses it. This shows the evolution of social profiles, and how sometimes you are more successful by doing what feels right for your brand.

If you are managing a company Twitter account, do you use the company logo or your own picture?

Exploring B2B Social Media with Jason Falls

Jason Falls, of Social Media Explorer, has started a new online learning community, Exploring Social Media, to bridge the gap between those who understand digital marketing and those who don’t. This subscription-based site is for small business owners, mid-level managers and people running home-based businesses who need help with their marketing technology.

The entry into the site is the question and answer model, where visitors ask specific questions and Jason and his team of experts answer them. There is also robust content where users can explore on their own, and learn at their own pace. Marketers from B2B companies can benefit from the site as a way to understand the background of social media, and how it can connect people in their company both internally and externally with other people.

Users of the site can also request specific content to meet their needs. If the answer to their question is not deep enough, they can request that more information be prepared around that specific topic.

Here’s the link to an interview with Jason Falls from two years ago (at SXSW!). Watch that after you finish watching this video to see that not a lot has changed in the past two years of social media for B2B. Jason is looking for new case studies that can apply for companies besides large technology companies. How do professional services companies, like accountants and lawyers, use social media to reach out to new customers? How does a standard B2B company approach social media? He suggests that some of this starts with internal communications. And he also challenges B2B companies to do something cool.

Let us know in the comments if you are doing something cool.

Content Rules B2B Social Media

CC Chapman, founder of Digital Dads, and Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, wrote the book Content Rules: How To Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars, and More that Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business, to help marketers understand the importance of developing compelling content to market their businesses. They provide 11 rules to follow in creating content, and they remind skeptical B2B marketers that these rules apply to them too. Even though everything else in the book is appropriate for B2B marketers, there is a whole chapter dedicated solely to B2B companies. For those keeping track, it is Chapter 10.

In the following interview, they talked about several of their favorite rules, as well as examples of organizations that understand and follow the rules.

This is the first of several book giveaways we are doing on SocialMediaB2B.com. We have a signed copy of Content Rules to give away. Watch the video to learn how to enter to win. Deadline for entry is March 4, 2011.