Marketing has long been a challenge for many channel partners, especially for the smaller solution providers and resellers lacking extensive marketing resources. Social networking tools are changing that though, allowing partners to cost-effectively connect with potential clients and get the word out about their offerings.
According to a recent survey by IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) of 1,000 IBM partners worldwide, 45 per cent of partners are experimenting with a social media strategy to grow their business, but 75 per cent are unsure of how to go about it.
When asked what social media platforms they prefer, LinkedIn was the clear favourite with 80 per cent of partners saying they visit LinkedIn at least monthly, and 56 per cent daily or weekly. Next was YouTube at 77 per cent, followed by Facebook at 68 per cent. Interestingly, while many vendors have been very active on Twitter, just 50 per cent of partners said they use Twitter at least monthly, and 29 per cent daily of them weekly.
Some vendors are starting to provide programs and resources to help get their partners active and engaged on social media. IBM recently announced a number of partner enablement tools around social media, including online training sessions and a social media guide for partners, a Web cast and podcast series on social media strategies, and other training and resources.
The partners CDN spoke with however indicated they haven’t had much support yet around social media from their vendors, and have just been getting their feet wet and experimenting on their own.
Based in Brampton, Ont., IT Weapons focuses on virtualization, application delivery and business continuity solutions, and is one of CDN Top 100 Solution Providers. IT Weapons CEO Ted Garner (@ITWepon1) said he first got started with LinkedIn, which he refers to as the “business Facebook.” From there he added Twitter and connected it to his LinkedIn account, which is his primary social media platform. He still doesn’t participate in Facebook.
“I have my own little network of people I connect with, my peers. I send out personal ads for our events and our news information,” said Garner. “LinkedIn and Twitter basically drive people to our events and our Web site.”
And it’s not just Garner using social media at IT Weapons. He said the majority of the team are using LinkedIn and Twitter, and he prefers that everyone at least be using LinkedIn. It’s part of their strategy because, while there is a corporate account, Garner said most people see social networking as a personal, person to person experience.
As well, with each person developing and cultivating their own peer group, it helps spread the word about IT Weapons further than it would otherwise.
That does mean giving-up a degree of control, and letting people use their best judgment on what they do and say online. Garner said they don’t tell their staff what they can and can’t do. He trusts their judgment, and since he’s connected with most of them as well, he’s also able to keep an eye on things.
Garner said he spends perhaps five minutes each day on LinkedIn and Twitter, and spends about 30 minutes a week blogging. And it has paid dividends in terms of business.
“I do get a decent amount of business from U.S. peers I’ve linked with that need some help with business here. People need Citrix experts,” said Garner. “It’s really a way for people to make that initial contact or research into a contact before meeting with someone. We get a lot of clients checking our profile. Potential hires will check it out; and a lot of competitors too.”
While he’s had some interaction with vendors and distributors through social media, Garner said he hasn’t yet seen much in the way of social media partner enablement programs. That’s echoed by Chris Day (@CDot), president and CEO of Fully Managed Inc. A Microsoft partner based in Vancouver, Fully Managed specializes in IT infrastructure support, design and hosting. They also have some interaction with vendors through social media, but no enablement support.
Day said the most effective platforms for Fully Managed have been blogging, Twitter and LinkedIn. While they’re on Facebook and a myriad of other platforms as well, blogging as been the most effective platform for them, using Twitter to drive traffic to the blog.
“We haven’t gotten too much value or traction from Facebook. I don’t think there’s a lot of B2B activity happening on Facebook, it’s mainly B2C,” said Day.
Day and two of his directors are fairly active on Twitter though, using it as an engagement tool. Like IT Weapons, they take a personal rather than a corporate approach to social networking.
“We’ve found people on Twitter interact with individuals for the most part, not companies, unless you’re a big, recognized brand,” said Day. “People want to communicate with another person. We’ve found interacting with people in our local area, even if they’re not potential clients directly, has resulted in relationships being formed and introductions that have led to business.”
Fully Managed also uses LinkedIn pretty extensively, said Day, primarily as a tool for recruiting, as well as reinforcing their brand with testimonials and recommendations. Potential clients can learn about them, and learn what others are saying about them.
Like IT Weapons, Fully Managed also gives a fair bit of latitude to their staff’s use of social networking, and they haven’t run into any trouble yet. It would be hard to police anyways, he notes, with the line between personal and business blurring online.
“It’s funny how these tools now follow us around in our personal lives,” said Day.
Follow Jeff Jedras on Twitter: @JeffJedrasCDN.