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.

Social Media B2B Editor Speaking at MarketingProfs Digital Marketing Forum

Use code SPEAK100 and save $100 on an in-person registration to Digital Marketing Forum 2011.Next week I will be traveling to Austin, Texas to speak at the Digital Marketing Forum. My New To You session at this MarketingProfs event is Social Media Best Practices to Heat Up Your Marketing, where I will be presenting with Alan Belniak (@abelniak) and Sharon Mostyn (@SharonMostyn). If you are attending this conference, it would be great if you attend our session, or at least stop by and say hi.

If you are thinking about attending, make sure you check out the list of awesome speakers. We have interviewed several of them over the years, and the links to the videos are listed below.

If you see someone on the conference speaker list that you would like us to interview, let us know in the comments below. We will do our best to try to arrange it. I will definitely be talking to Ann Handley about Twitter and her new book, Content Rules.

And finally, if you are going to be there, and you would like to write a blog post or two about the B2B content and examples from the conference, please let me know (contact@socialmediaB2B.com), and tell me what session you would like to blog. This has worked great in the past, and since I can’t attend every session, this is a great way to share more content from the event. Hope to see you in Austin.

[VIDEO] 11 Predictions for B2B Social Media in 2011

I recently had the opportunity to share the screen with David B. Thomas (@davidbthomas) of New Marketing Labs and discuss my predictions for B2B Social Media for 2011. Even though you may have read the predictions, watch the video to hear us talk about them. Dave brings additional perspective to the conversation with his experience working with enterprise level companies using social media.

11 Predictions for B2B Social Media in 2011
1. Mobile, Mobile, Mobile
2. Open APIs Support Information Portability
3. Collect, Analyze and Visualize Data
4. Share Compelling Stories
5. Continued Growth of Social Search
6. Expanded Forums of Social Communications
7. The Year of Conversions
8. Customer Service is More Social Than Marketing
9. Daily Deals and Group Buying Change Pricing Models
10. Social Media will be More Accepted in the Enterprise
11. Companies with Limited Results Pull Back from Social Media

A Legal Perspective on B2B Social Media

As you have incorporated social media into communication planning for your B2B company, whether large or small, chances are you worked with the company legal team or outside firm. While these legal teams are in place to protect the interests of the company, some are just not familiar enough with social media to provide appropriate counsel for your efforts.

The following email interview with India Vincent and Howard P. Walthall, Jr., both partners at Burr & Forman LLP, provides some thoughts, not legal opinions, about the legal approach to social media.

1. What are some of the main legal issues (liability, risk, copyright) that delay companies from beginning to use social media?
All of the issues companies address with other forms of marketing and customer communication (including false advertising concerns, copyright infringement, regulatory issues, proper message, etc.) are all present in social media. The catch is that in order to use social media effectively, companies must devise ways to address these concerns, or at least mitigate the risks, in a more timely manner. Responding quickly does not mean ignoring the potential risks, it means developing more timely ways of addressing the risks.

For example, if a company is developing a new marketing campaign, the materials must be reviewed to ensure that there is nothing that could serve as the basis for a false advertising claim. Postings on social media must be reviewed for the same purpose. It is important that anyone tweeting for the company, blogging, responding to a customer email, or otherwise interacting with the public through electronic channels have a general understanding of the boundaries of false advertising and be aware that their st atements in these different forums could create liability for the company if the statements are over-reaching.

There are some advertising issues which are especially significant in the social media context as compared to traditional media. These usually involve the failure to disclose the true identity or corporate affiliation of a person touting the firm’s products or services via social media. This can happen, for example, when an employee posts a glowing review of a company’s products without disclosing the employment relationship, or when a celebrity does the same thing without disclosing that the company is compensating the celebrity for his or her comments.

Other legal issues familiar to advertisers also come up routinely in social media marketing. For example, someone managing a Facebook page for a company needs to understand not only false advertising issues, but at least the basics of copyright and privacy issues. If photographs are to be posted on a Facebook site or the company’s website, it is important to ensure you have permission to use the photographs, from the source of the photographs and, in some cases, from the subjects as well. Briefly educating those responsible for managing these websites in the requirements for obtaining proper permissions can go a long way to minimizing risks.

2. How has your team approached these issues so clients can communicate using social media?
Our clients who use social media effectively usually have a small team of people dedicated to managing the social media efforts. Those people are educated in the legal risks associated with advertising and social media, and are provided with ongoing updates as the rules continue to evolve. That is not to say that this team of people are experts in addressing legal risks, but they are able to spot the concern and in most cases to adjust the message in order to avoid or limit the risk.

In many cases, these people also have designated contacts in the legal department or with outside counsel so that they have a relatively efficient method of getting answers when something falls outside of their comfort zone. Those designated legal contacts are also educated on the impact of social media and the need for timely responses to such questions.

3. Are there any legal cases that have provided guidance on either side of the issue of social media participation?
There have not been many legal cases yet focusing on this specific issue. However, any company interested in developing a social media policy should review the Federal Trade Commission’s Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (pdf) which was recently revised to address social media issues, among other things.

4. How much does a social media policy influence the legal approval process?
Policies which clearly delineate which activities can be carried out without legal approval, and which cannot, can help greatly in mitigating the time constraints involved with legal review. Such policies not only give the social media team some room to operate in “real time,” but also help improve the response time on matters that do require legal approval because there should be fewer requests submitted to legal. Those responsible for the social media efforts should always look for ways to adjust the posting to comply with the policy, and only when that is not possible should requests be submitted to legal. If the social media team is finding that every posting they make is outside of the policy and requires independent legal approval, then the policy probably needs to be revisited. It is also important that the policy specify items which will always require legal review, such as contests.

5. Are there companies that you look to for examples, and say if they are comfortable with social media, our clients can be too? Or even companies where you can contact their legal department and understand their comfortable level?
There are sometimes particular uses of social media that we use as references when a client wants to adopt a similar use of social media, but we do not hold particular companies out as good or bad examples. Use of social media requires a strategy customized for the company in order to be successful. In addition, every company has its own level of acceptable risk and legal concerns based on its business model, its particular products and services, and any regulatory requirements applicable to its industry. As a result, the legal implications of each company’s social media strategy are different and must be considered independently, rather than copied from another company. It is certainly clear, though, that a number of large and successful companies are actively engaged in social media efforts.

6. What advice would you give someone in communications as to how to approach their legal department regarding social media.
The company’s legal department should be involved from the beginning in the development of a social media strategy, not brought in at the end of the process for approval. Many legal departments already understand the importance of social media in today’s market, but it is important that they also understand the objectives their business groups have for the social media efforts. As with most projects, the earlier you involve the legal department in the process, the more they can do to assist in developing a strategy that is workable, meets the business objectives, and still minimizes the legal risks. Certainly, the legal department should be involved in developing any policies for identifying those matters that do not require legal review .

These comments from Burr & Forman LLP are general in nature and are not intended to be treated as legal advice regarding the topics discussed therein. No representation is made about the quality of legal services to be performed or the expertise of the lawyer performing services. Applicable state bar or attorney regulations may require these comments to be labeled as “Advertising.”