Social media works best for B2B companies when people connect directly around topics they are passionate about. Connections work even better when no one in the group is pushing a particular agenda. This allows the focus of the communications to be around joint learning, which draws crowds, versus thinly disguised sales pitches, which drives everyone toward the metaphorical door.
There is no group better to foster these learning discussions than a company’s channel partners, especially for those companies lucky enough to have built out strong channel partner programs. Channel partners know the niche and know the clients. They also have an independence that provides both authority and authenticity. These partners looked at all the solutions they could sell, and with their reputation on the line, chose to include your offering. When they enter a discussion, and a prospect checks out the channel partner’s background, the fact that they didn’t create a particular product makes it easier for them to be established as providers of valued advice.
While this is still a relatively new idea, some of the most innovative channel marketing managers are starting to support these efforts. For example, Lisa Caratozzolo at VMware has put together a visionary offering to support channel partner’s social media efforts, being launched February 14, 2012 at the VMware Partner Exchange show in Las Vegas (disclosure: VMware is a client). When describing why she put together this program, she said, “VMware sees a huge opportunity to help mobilize their channel partners on social networks. After all, our partners know better than anyone the substantial savings end-users get from leveraging VMware’s offerings, so the more they are out talking about the success they’ve had and answering people’s questions, the better it is for everyone.”
That’s not to say that there aren’t some challenges to getting channel partners involved in social media. As anyone who’s been following this blog knows, the key to engagement is to provide value to a community, and that usually starts with quality content. The challenge here is how to have the budget available to produce something of quality. Most channel partners don’t have the resources to produce videos, white papers and articles that will draw in and retain the audiences around a particular topic. This is where a supplier like VMware can make a huge difference.
Part of VMware’s social media program is to provide content to their channel partners on an ongoing basis. Partners provide filters and appropriate content is automatically pushed out to their social networks, as if they had written it themselves. This allows larger B2B companies with the resources to produce engaging content and for their channel partners to share it and follow up on the discussions that ensue.
The key is to know the channel partner community and build the infrastructure so they can establish themselves as topic experts in the relevant social networks. Your channel partners are part of your core team of social participants and you need provide them with the tools they need to succeed.
Is your B2B company providing your channel partners with social media content to support engaging with their prospects?