Software Vendors Adapt to the Social Media
September 28, 2010 Alex Woodie
Social networking is taking the world and the Internet by storm. But teens and tech lovers aren’t the only ones using sites like Facebook and Twitter to express themselves and communicate with friends. In the business world, IBM i software vendors are also adopting social networking technologies to develop sales leads, to communicate with customers, and perhaps most importantly, to be part of a new global conversation taking place on the Web.
The capability of the Internet to spawn new business models and create wealth continues to amaze. Since the first dot-com boom and crash of the late 1990s, we’ve witnessed many new companies and business models that owe their existence to the Internet. Today, we’re in the midst of the rise of social media as the latest–if not the last–business boom coming out of the Net.
The rapid rise of social networking can be epitomized in Facebook, which went from relative anonymity to Internet darling in a couple of short years. More than 500 million people–or one in every 14 people on Earth–are active on Facebook, which has become the second most popular website on the planet (www.google.com is still number one, according to Alexa). That incredible reach has resulted in the company being valued at over $20 billion, and made co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg the latest twenty-something dot-com multi-billionaire.
Facebook’s reach extends far and wide, and right into our little IBM i niche of the IT and business world. Many software vendors, including VAI, LANSA, RJS Software Systems, Aldon, and Help/Systems are active participants in the new social media landscape.
IBM i change management software vendor Aldon is active in several major social media channels–it even has its own YouTube channel–but is most active in Twitter and LinkedIn, says company spokeswoman Sarah Johansen, who touts the capability to instantly connect with customers and share resources, feedback, and news.
“It’s been an incredibly useful medium to have direct and immediate conversations with people in the software development world–our customers, partners, analysts, media, the gamut,” Johansen writes in an e-mail. “We’re still in that ‘getting to know you’ phase of our social media relationship, but it’s getting stronger every day.”
Time and Dedication
Finding your footing in the new social media landscape takes time. Another newcomer to the scene, RJS Software, is using Twitter to push content from its various blogs–including “Deep Thoughts with Richard Schoen”–out to readers, and to attract them back to the company website.
The Minnesota company’s sales, marketing, development, and tech support departments are all active in Facebook, Twitter, and blogging–both at work and at home on their own time, says company spokesman Joel Sawyer.
“The idea is to use these sites as a marketing tool that helps us spread our brand and message while improving search rankings and generating leads,” Sawyer says via e-mail. “But that’s not all. We also want the content to be fun and useful, whether you’re a customer, prospect, technology enthusiast, or just someone who stumbles onto the site.”
The extra work involved with contributing the content and managing the social media programs can be time consuming, Sawyer says. “But we’re committed to doing it because we think there’s real value in it,” he says. “The gratifying thing is the consistent feedback we get from content generated for our blog and tweets.”
The social media phenomenon is still so new that many companies and software vendors are still figuring out how to use it best. But the capability to reach out to so many customers or potential customers is so promising that the vendors are committed to devoting resources to establishing and maintaining a solid social presence.
One vendor that’s still fleshing out its social networking strategy is Help/Systems. The Minnesota IBM i software vendor uses twitter to publicize events and tease its blogs, including the blog of Tom Huntington, vice president of technical services. “We are doing it and realize we need to do more,” says Huntington via e-mail. Indeed, Help/Systems currently lists “social media coordinator” as one of the positions it needs filling.
Part of the Job Description
LANSA is one of the more mature users of social media in the business software space. The company’s Twitter feed has 1,750 followers, and more than 100 LANSA employees are active on LinkedIn, which has become one of the top drivers of traffic to the LANSA website, according to company COO Martin Fincham.
“It’s become part of what we do,” Fincham says. “Being online and social media in general is taking an increasingly large part of the budget and the time. It’s not something that’s new and special. It’s woven into the fabric of the company.”
Fincham says the social media-sphere is particularly well-suited to a midsized company like LANSA, which has a global reach, 7,000 customers, and a diverse product set that spans development, integration, modernization, and e-commerce application disciplines. “If we were just 15 guys sitting around in a Midwestern office, perhaps there wouldn’t such a profound benefit,” he says.
LANSA uses Twitter and LinkedIn to push and pull people to public company resources. But it’s also a big user of social media internally. The company recently adopted the “Chatter” function of Salesforce.com, which gives employees another way to communicate about customers and sales leads. LANSA also uses marketing automation technology from Eloqua to get a detailed picture of the Web activities of its customers and prospects.
ERP software developer VAI has also seen a lot of activity on Twitter, where it has nearly 1,000 followers. “Social media is a great tool to bring in new prospects/customers, to use it as a call to action when participating in out of the box media campaigns, and to connect with people in a different way,” says VAI marketing coordinator Eileen Almonte via e-mail.
VAI has designated one person to manage its social media activities, Almonte says. “Also, while the social media outlets VAI uses are mainly used to promote and inform our target market of any news regarding our software, VAI also uses it to showcase its company culture,” she writes.
A New Mindset
Social networking is part and parcel of the business model at Focus, a startup company that delivers “crowdsourced” B2B and IT analysis content in a social media frame (see “Focus Melds Crowdsourced IT Analysis with Social Media” in last week’s issue of The Four Hundred for a company profile on the company).
Focus co-founder and CEO Scott Albro has some advice for companies that are just starting to use social networking technologies. “The most important thing a vendor can do is just become part of that conversation,” he says. “That’s easier said than done. Becoming a part of the conversation takes time. You typically have to learn a new language. People speak differently in these social media communities than elsewhere.”
Vendors who try to use social media as an extension of their marketing strategy and to generate sales leads are missing the point, and won’t reap the true benefits that social networking has to offer, he says.
“You need to abandon the ‘always be closing’ and adopt the ‘always be helping’ mindset,” Albro offers. “You will start generating leads. Your brand equity will improve. All the things you care about as a vendor and a marketer will start to happen if you become part of these conversations with the right mindset.”
Only time will tell if social networking is just a passing Internet fad or has real staying power in the B2B industries. But judging from the direction things are going right now, it’s already established itself as a legitimate medium for communication, and will become more pervasive over time. This will provide another mechanism for vendors to separate themselves from the pack, or fall further behind in the IT jungle.