This is an amazing time to be a marketer. The winds of change are obvious and well-documented: Customers are in control of the buying process, user expectations are increasing, and as a result every marketer must adapt to this customer-centric world…which is the way it should be.
While the mainstream media salivates over the latest news about Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or <insert your favorite new social media app>, marketers can learn just as much by focusing on tried-and-true online communities – in this case, the discussion forums and blogs on SAP Community Network (SCN).
Having followed SCN for a few years now, I've found there are a number of “marketing truths” which are fundamental and validated every day on SCN. These are truths which any marketer can apply to their own job. I’ve created a personal Top 8 list, and I hope you find it of value.
- The customer controls your brand. Embrace it! The saying is true that “your brand is not what you say you are, but what others say about you”. And that’s okay. Companies can and should participate - not through a megaphone, but by contributing their insights and by solving problems. You can even help orchestrate conversations through a content marketing strategy but ONLY if it adds business value to the customer. Don’t play brand police or take out the pom-poms whenever you hear criticism. Let users talk, contribute if you have something of value to say, and with genuine commitment you will be seen as a credible voice regardless of someone's stage in the “buying cycle”.
- Communities are the ideal focus group. The unfiltered, real-time nature of online interactions makes SCN a great listening platform. Through discussion forums, blogs or Idea Place, you have thousands of data points to learn about your customers’ pain points, specific use cases, and how your solutions fare against competitors. This is far superior to traditional focus groups where a handful of people sit in a room and give their feedback in an interview format.
- High production value ≠ Quality. How many times have you seen a snazzy promotional video which tells you almost nothing about the product (and does not make you want to learn more)? My most popular blogs on SCN have been TechEd videos where I just walk around the show floor with an iPhone and give an unscripted tour - the ultimate in low-fidelity production. The people in online communities aren’t there to waste their time. They want valuable information any way and anywhere they can get it. Fluffy marketing material won’t even help build awareness. It will frustrate the customer or get ignored completely.
- Customers know your product better than you. While it’s important to identify the subject matter experts in your company and get them to engage online, it’s your customers who stress test the products every day in real world scenarios. And many of them are willing to help others learn from their experiences. This has been a guiding principle of SCN since the beginning, and we’ve featured those experts via programs like the SAP Mentors or our reputation system. Identify your experts, give them a platform, support them, and get out of the way.
- Sustained discussions are better than “going viral”. Marketing is more than a product launch or campaign. It’s about having conversations with people and hopefully aligning their needs with your solutions. When we launched BI 4.0 two years ago, there were ongoing conversations on SCN months before the actual launch date. We published product tutorials instead of viral videos. Blogs and discussions instead of commercials and banner ads. I understand the importance of a great product launch, but the buzz can be short lived. It’s better to think in terms of ongoing conversations rather than a single time bound event.
- Don’t hide all your content behind registration forms. On SCN the strategy has been to “ungate” most of the content and make it viewable and searchable by anyone. Fewer registration gates means more social sharing and a higher consumption of content overall. While some might view this as “giving away” content, by establishing trust and value, we have users opt-in at much higher rates for our Newsletters (over 1 million combined subscribers), our Webinar series, and in person events like SAP TechEd. SAP.com has taken a similar approach this year with positive impacts in terms of engagement and prospect quality.
- The network will curate for you. As a community grows, it becomes increasingly difficult to surface the best content. Fortunately, modern platforms have the ability for members to indicate quality through implicit and explicit actions. Social shares, likes, views, bookmarks, and comments can all be indicators of quality. And a community platform can automatically surface that content via widgets (Top Liked, Most Viewed) or through a recommendation engine (Related Content) customized to each user. As a result, an engaged community will curate the best content for you in lieu of a large editorial staff. This is more efficient and more effective for everyone.
- Be known for what you know…not what you sell. Related to #1 above, this is my favorite piece of advice to anyone getting started in communities, blogging, or social media in general. Similar to in-person interactions, you don’t want to be viewed as a walking billboard. People can sense insincerity a mile away, even online. If you’re in sales or marketing, establish your personal brand via subject matter expertise and/or your willingness to help out. Developing a credible voice will lead to stronger relationships with your current customers and potential prospects. Once a level of trust has been established, people will seek you out when they are ready to buy. It’s just common sense if you think about how anything is purchased, be it a house, a box of cereal, or software. Just throw out the B2B and B2C labels and focus on how individuals behave with each other.
Does this list resonate with you? Where am I off the mark? What am I missing?