Product marketers and developers have not adopted social media as quickly as others. While Ariana Huffington and the New York Times are blogging and twittering at full speed, we do not see the same from traditional large product companies like Caterpillar, Cisco, Walt Disney, Home Depot, HP, IBM, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, JP Morgan, Kraft, Coca-Cola and many other product companies. Talk on many levels, specially between a large company and a focused audience is something large companies have not adopted yet. I say yet because social media on the Internet is very much like any conversation between people and large companies. Some companies like Microsoft (and MSDN blogs) and Google have shifted to blogging mostly for their technical customers. It turns out even with product sold to large consumer base there are intermediate sellers who need better communication. Take Microsoft, who sells to the general consumer and to corporate consumers with a large middle tier sales force. The sales force is mostly comprised of outside companies (VARS, reps, OEMS.) They have their own customers and sometimes concentrate in specific markets or geographic areas. These people need information, motivation and most of all support. Until blogs and social nets came, most unofficial communication was done in e-Mails (direct and mailing lists.) Some was done with straight unstructured web content accessed via search. Both of these methods were good for a while until the amount of articles (pages) grew beyond control. Products like Microsoft Office or Windows can not be effectively supported with articles on a web page. This has made focused blogs an extremely useful tool for Microsoft. In contrast to Microsoft, Red Hat has developed a support system based on user contribution (answers to problem by users to users.) It is a user question and answer system which got new products up quickly. Sadly Red Hat has not followed this great support system with a blogs.
If we look carefully at blogs to support product marketers and developers there are a few useful capabilities.
- Build a support community and test out features and create professional connections.
- Write a blog about uses and stimulate creative ways to use the product and expand it’s capability.
- Build a knowledge base with scripts, templates, tutorials and examples. More practical information like “paint brushes” for Photoshop and Inkscape.
Blogs have become a community building tool and information channels. The trend started with communities directly involved with Internet work and is expanding to communities of people sitting in front of their computer most of the day (programmers, graphic designers, office workers.) Google and Microsoft have their mainstream businesses but their blogging and community efforts are focused on developers and technical marketers. Oracle does not sell directly to consumers. Oracle’s blogs are all focused on technical and business people associated with large database installations (IT, corporate support and business users.) Every consumer product company has a “middle layer” that provides support, training, coaching, operational and other services to retailers and end customers. These are good places to develop communities to motivate, inform and support the middle layer. Blogs are a great way to find out what people are interested in and what issues they want to discuss. Once you know the issues you can also open up other areas you want to discuss: product features, release dates, support needs (and budgets or expected prices) and other issues related to running your business. You can also help in connecting people with similar needs. Technical communities have been using blogs because they are easy to manage and domain experts can confine the blog’s topic. Focused blogs are clear to understand and are helpful . Blogging for business, companies like Oracle and IBM have benefited from the ability of many employees to write well and advance their specialty domain expertise. [IBMers blogs] [Oracle blogs] [Oracle executive blogs]
How about small companies and even individuals? Small organizations usually think of large companies as being leaders or having many more resources than small ones. It is easy for IBM and Oracle to allocate people’s time during their working hours to write blogs is the thinking small company managers use. A few hundred people taking a day off hear and an hour off there is not going to hurt IBM that much, is it? Well, this is looking at the resource side not the output or opportunity side. True, IBM and Oracle have many workers and from the outside it seems like they are not as resource limited as small companies. But small companies have more to gain. IBM, Oracle, EMC and Ford already have an image and plenty of competency. Small companies have limited resources and are competent in a focused area. Small companies also have much less market image, this is where they can outdo much larger companies. By having a smaller market image I mean no identity or brand. Small companies also have less competency: they can’t do as much as big companies. IBM is a great example, while the IT world has changed dramatically they can still offer good solutions with their older technologies. IBM engineers can get something out quickly and solve many customers’ problem. Small companies can only offer a limited number of products and solve a very small number of customer problems. But small companies may offer better solutions or new solutions which are different and more effective using new technology. This ability can be communicated and demonstrated using social media. This is the adavantage small companies have over bit ones.