Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Social media; fad or here to stay?

Last week I wrote a post about vendor activities in social media that praised the vendors who do it well and criticized those that could use a little help. I would be lying if I said I wasn't pushing the envelope to see who monitors their social media and who, again, could use some help. Within 36 hours of posting I received a comment from Cisco, a call from EMC, a question from Dell, and a call from Symantec. Well done!

So what are they up to? Quite a lot.

Cisco ran a partner event in Second Life, allowed The VAR Guy to blog during the Cisco annual Partner Summit, and launched Partner Space, a partner community quite awhile ago. Cisco was doing this back in 2007 when most companies thought social media was a new reality show with media professionals trapped on a desert island (Fox don't get any ideas). Cisco also has several channel executives on twitter including @CSCOChannelNews and Senior Vice President of Worldwide Channels, Keith Goodwin @keitheg. Excellent use of social media!

I also had a great discussion today with @SymantecNews around their social media initiatives and plans for the channel. Their Symantec Connect platform allows communication among employees, partners and customers. Amazing! Customers are starting discussions, asking questions, and telling stories and partners get to engage them in conversation and provide value...genius! I was most impressed with the shear volume of activity. There are almost 80,000 discussions on the forum with over 200,000 comments, blogs about everything from technical support to channel programs, and RSS feeds on every single page. Admittedly, they have yet to begin their external social media efforts for the channel, but keep your eyes open over the next few months.

It also turns out, while I was writing my post, EMC was planning the launch of their internal social media platform for partners that went live this past Monday. Velocity Partner Xchange has the discussion and sharing capabilities you would expect but at this point, is in its infancy. Lets hope it meets with the same success Symantec has had in its first months with Symantec Connect. Some promotion through social media outlets might help ramp their participation levels, but we'll check back soon to see how they're doing.

Kudos to these vendors for jumping in on the conversation! Now lets not treat it like a fad on it's way out. We need the conversation to continue, not amongst ourselves, but out where it adds value for customers and partners. As Seth Godin would say, people are tired of being "interrupted" by traditional marketing. Interrupted by your e-mails, your phone calls, and even your television ads. We need to find a way to let them get the information they need, when and where they want it. All sound like a lot of work? It is, but it's better than being this guy:

"This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be a seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us." - Western Union internal memo, 1876

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Vendors get their Social Media Score Card

There's this new trend called social media out there...maybe you've heard of it? Blogs, facebook, twitter, LinkedIn...what's that? Oh! It's been around for a while? You're kidding! To look at IT vendor's partner program involvement in it you'd think it didn't exist until last week.

Don't get me wrong, some vendors have been very involved in social media. Dell has had the Dell Channel Blog since May of 2008 and DellChannel on Twitter has over 500 followers.

While others are well behind. Cisco, a few short years ago was the partner program other vendors were trying to emulate yet they just launched their channel blog this week. Mazel Tov! It's a boy. Cisco does have a CiscoChannels account on Twitter with one, you heard me, one update. That's the equivalent of a "ding-dong-ditch" you get the person's attention, leave them with nothing, and make them annoyed they gave you the satisfaction of opening the door in the first place.**PLEASE SEE UPDATE BELOW

Don't even get me started on Symantec! No LinkedIn groups, their only Facebook groups are run by customers (one is called 'Symantec Sucks'), their blog is up, it hasn't been updated since October of 2008 which in Social Media time is like a decade. Better to have nothing, than to say "I'm putting this blog thing up because you wanted it but I think it's stupid so I'm not paying attention to it".

Others haven't yet jumped into the game. EMC Channel has no blog, no Twitter, no LinkedIn, nothing. Like I said, it's better to have nothing than to have something and not maintain it but maybe it's time to get their feet wet.

Microsoft gets a B+. Yes they're a massive ship that takes awhile to turn but at least they are making an effort. They have MSUSPartner on Twitter where they could do more meaningful updates but at least they're listening, they have a great fan page on Facebook with 914 fans, and their blog was updated in the past 2 weeks. Not frequently enough for my taste, but they've lapped Symantec many times over in this respect.

Why is any of this important? If your partners and customers are using social media how can you not? Companies need to at least be monitoring what's being said about them or they could be missing an opportunity to engage partners and customers. Here's an example of Motrin really pissing off some customers and recovering well. Think it's not for you because you're in're wrong. Your customers/partners/end-users have even bigger mouths and bigger wallets to get the word out. If you're not involved in social media or at least monitoring it you're missing a huge opportunity and, dare I say, damaging the brand you've spent years and millions of dollars to build up.

Update: I stand corrected and what a perfect example of a company monitoring social media! Here is what Lang Tibbils, Public Relations and Communications Manager at Cisco had to say about their involvement in social media. As you can see Cisco has been highly involved in social media including early involvement in The Var Guy, internal social media, virtual partner conferences, and numerous executives on Twitter. An apology to Cisco. Perhaps it's worth another blog post - how can partners and press find these resourcse more easily as social media proliferates so quickly?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Keeping your Channel Programs Straight

How do solution providers wade through the numerous channel programs they are a part of? While at a channel event I met with upwards of 30 solution providers that sold for the same set of vendors. When asked about things like incentives, tiers, communications, and training I did not get a single consistent answer.

My first inclination is that with so many different vendors it is hard for the solution providers to keep the programs straight but I realized that many of these solution providers only sell 3 or 4 solutions. The programs have so many different elements with so many changes per year, per quarter, per month, at any given time channel partners have no idea where they stand.

What would help you as a solution provider? Vendors, what are you doing to help already?