Bottom-up marketing with social media is a tough thing for a lot of marketers to get their brains around. Most marketers, when presented with the opportunity, worry a great deal about whether Conversational Marketing can scale. The notion of having bloggers responding to comments and engaging the market directly can be scary when your product or service has a potential customer base of tens or hundreds of millions. It thus stands to reason that some of the blog marketing success stories would come from companies that work with more targeted audiences. Take the business to business sector, for instance.
B2B success stories abound
On the internet, people tend to congregate around common needs, interests and lifestyles. We witness this in action every day when we see thriving communities at sites from iVillage to Slashdot to Meetup. The sense of community loyalty is often stronger when we look at niche audiences congregating online, as members of smaller communities tend to need to turn to one another to address focused challenges.
For instance, take the challenge of addressing "information overload" in the B2B sector. A blogger at Intel has an interesting point of view on this. He posits that unnecessary email can do harm by contributing to lost time. This is happening on an official blog that is served up as a way to "talk to Intel's IT leaders."
I was turned on to this discussion by visiting a group blog that is one of my daily stops: Business Blog Consulting, a site that demonstrates how successful blog marketing can be by linking to good examples of corporate and business blogs and highlighting how conversations can turn the tide for marketers of all stripes. Of Business Blog Consulting's categories, the "B2B Blogs" section contains the most content, with nearly 200 posts on the topic.
Is this any coincidence? I think not. B2B marketing tends to be a category in which advertising inventory is limited and expensive, and B2B marketers don't like to pay hefty fees to initiate relationships with their target audience, only to have to pay again the next time they want to communicate something. It's only natural that B2B marketers gravitate toward engaging their audience via an online community, keeping the people most important to them involved in relevant discussions.
Getting to critical mass
Another great example of Conversational Marketing in the B2B space is ITToolbox, a site where IT professionals can interact with one another through a series of social networking tools, including blogs, discussion lists and a wiki. According to the site's home page, there are nearly 2.5 million active subscribers and over 1.1 million pages of subscriber-generated content, organized and cross-indexed by topic. The glue that holds it all together is a profile-based social networking system, not unlike those used by LinkedIn or Facebook, which allows like-minded IT folks to collaborate and connect. A subscriber base numbering in the millions would turn on even the most cynical B2C marketers, much less the B2B community. Building a dedicated subscriber base starts with providing the community members with the tools they need to collaborate and connect easily.
Lessons to be learned
It's going to take some time for most consumer marketers to warm up to addressing large-scale community building and Conversational Marketing. We'll likely see more success stories in the B2B market first. One of the ways we can learn from B2B is by watching very closely how B2B marketers scale their communities using technology and tools. The tools that allow us to easily publish content, moderate communities and listen to what's being said will likely get their most compelling success stories from B2B as they ramp up to address the scale of the consumer market.
These tools can realize huge efficiencies, but consider the following: A gentleman by the name of Robert Scoble served as Microsoft's face to the outside world for over three years, helping to evangelize Microsoft products and put a human perspective to what was going on at the software giant. He did it before a lot of the tools I've mentioned were launched.
Conversational Marketing can be scaled, and Scoble is living proof of that.