After months of writing about practical applications for Web 2.0 technologies and services, I have to admit, I really hate the term because it’s one thing that’s really keeping IT solution providers from exploiting its benefits.
Why not, instead, talk about the essential business processes that things like social networks and blogs really enable? That, to me, is the best way to help VARs and resellers recognize and consider the potential business benefits that these concepts can provide.
Given that smaller VARs are notoriously slow to adopt the very same technology they represent, how do I know your own channel will respond to this mindset? Well, it certainly resonated with the VARs and resellers that attended the two panels about Web 2.0 that I was hired to handle during the Ingram Micro VentureTech Invitational earlier this month. I was asked to handle two workshop sessions there: A presentation that discussed potential practical sales and marketing applications for social networks and blogs, and a panel that explored how some VentureTech members are actually using Web sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn at their companies.
While it’s hard to take notes while you’re presenting, here are a few things that stuck with me. Broadly speaking, they all have something to do with the following concepts: Collaboration, Community and Conversation. You’ll get what I mean in a moment.
1) Social networks will reshape tech recruiting. All of the VARs on my Invitational panel (Heartland Technology Solutions, i-Tech Support and The Lloyd Group) are using social networks to find and vett job candidates. They trust the referrals that they’re getting out of these communities. What’s more, they can do a little discreet research to assess whether or not a potential hire will fit in with their company culture.
2) If you want to really engage with anyone under the age of 30, you need to get savvy about social networks. There have been a few research reports out in the past month that point to the obvious. Forrester Research just released a report that reveals only 10 percent of adults from the age of 18 to 24 DO NOT participate in social networks or blogs. If you want to market to the next generation, you need to consider how to use social networks. Well, this applies in business, too. Want feedback on a new strategy or product? Don’t expect a meeting to uncover everything. Start a wiki or use a more formal collaboration tool like SharePoint to facilitate an online dialogue. Heartland encourages this, primarily among its technical types.
3) Let your employees help create your culture on social networks. Set guidelines, but don’t dictate. In a move that you could definitely call experimental, The Lloyd Group has created several subgroups for its company within Facebook, including one for former employees. Adam Eiseman, the CEO, says this helps his staff feel more connected at a personal level, building more empathy for each person’s individual role and contributions to the company.
4) Blogs could be a great way for VARs to establish their identity. i-Tech Support is one of several VARs that I know who have set up blogs to represent its point of view on topics of the day. i-Tech’s Richard Vaughn, who has championed this effort, says the hardest thing has been to keep up with the updates (you need to update it now, Richard!). But the blog has had the effect of bringing new prospects to his company via search engines. This other link shows you what one VAR peer group is doing with blogging.
What can vendors and distributors do to support these sorts of activities?
Some, such as Ingram, have set up gated communities such as The Zone, which is essentially an online extension of the Invitational events, meant to perpetuate face-to-face conversations that start at its events. Others are facilitating collaboration activities. An example is Partner Exchange, launched in April by Cisco and intended to help solution providers looking for potential business partners from among their peers.
One area where I think immediate adjustments should be made relates to the sorts of marketing activities your company might consider funding.
If you haven’t begun supporting proposals that include non-traditional components related to Web 2.0, maybe it’s time to start doing so. From your standpoint, you may be able to measure the return on your investment. Better yet, why not proactively encourage your partners to get on board, especially as it relates to two areas: supporting better internal collaboration through various Web 2.0 applications and facilitating more effective marketing dialogues and demand generation activities through both blogs and social networks. I’m still thinking this on through, myself.
Got any thoughts to share? Comment on this blog and get the conversation started. You can also visit me on FaceBook or LinkedIn, or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.