Social Media Marketing

When Does Social Media Fail for B2B?

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The marketing blogosphere has been much abuzz recently about two topics: Blog Tag and the Z-List. (Was I tagged, I can’t tell?) Ann Handley at MarketingProfs has an interesting post about the two trends, in which she likes the “humanizing” aspect of Blog Tag and the “collaboration” aspect of the Z-List.

However, as the comments to her post show, the Z-List has taken on a life of its own. The Z-List was originally created by Mack Collier to provide a platform that would make it easy for good blogs about marketing to get links and traffic. Mack listed five blogs he thought were excellent but under-read, and then invited other blogs to add to it, subject to the honor rule that you couldn’t add your own blog. The blogs on the list got lots of new links and traffic. So far, so good.

Seth Godin then turned it into created an open Z-List in which users could post their own blog to the list, and anyone could then vote the blog “up” or “down” on the list. Presumably, the “wisdom of crowds” would prevail, the best blogs would bubble to the top, and it would be easy to find up and coming blogs (like this one).

A Social Media Failure

Unfortunately, this Although Mack’s original Z-List was a success, Seth’s experiment in social media failed. This B2B marketing blog currently has a net score of negative seven – and yet only four people have bothered to click through to check it out. If the blog is that bad, let me know — but I don’t think that is what’s happening.

What is going on, Seth points out, is that several bloggers tried to game the list, instructing folks to vote other (worthy) blogs down. A few bloggers asked all their readers and friends to vote them up, temporarily earning them top positions until the spammers voted them back down. And others submitted blogs that have basically nothing to do with marketing. As a result, Seth is considering taking the list down, or at least turning it into a moderated list.

So why did the Seth’s Z-List fail, and when and where does social media fail generally? Seth Godin writes that a key problem with his Z-List was the anonymity of the vote:

The open list doesn’t seem to work in porous, anonymous communities where there is a lot of self-interest involved. The potential for bad actors to spoil it for everyone else is quite large.

Another reason suggested by The Mu Life is that social media often measures popularity and trendiness, not quality or accuracy. While popularity is a useful statistic, it is not sufficient. And it was counter to the original goal of the Z-List, which was to help find new quality blogs.

When is Social Media Valuable for B2B?

I’m not saying social media isn’t valuable for B2B marketers. It certainly can be. Participating in communities that are relevant to your product or service can be a great way to practice attention marketing. But B2B marketers must also realize a few things:

You don’t own the community and you certainly can’t control it. Sometimes, you won’t like what happens. But it is still better to listen and participate, since at least then you will be able to respond.

If there is an incentive to game the system, people will. (See Lee Odden’s post about social media spamming.) Since B2B marketing is about driving revenue, there will always be a profit incentive behind it. That doesn’t mean B2B marketers should game the system. But it does mean that B2B communities will be most successful when they do not allow anonymous votes and do use a voting algorithm that rewards quality, not just popularity.

Finally, not all social media sites are useful for B2B. Getting on the home page of Digg may drive a spike of traffic, but most of that is unlikely to drive qualified leads for your B2B product or service. (There is a section on Digg for Security, but the stories are mostly consumer-focused and often hysterical – and I don’t mean in the funny sense of the word.)

Instead, B2B marketers should focus on the vertical social networks, communities, conferences, forums, and blogs that are springing up around their industries. Besides Technorati and Google Blog Search, there are a few new resources to find vertical-specific blogs. One is the Business Blogs Directory, the other is FindTechBlogs (the latter syndicates other blogs as part of KnowledgeStorm’s lead generation service, which can make it a little hard to find the original blog). Also, all B2B marketers should set up a Google Alert about their brand name and top keywords, so they can stay on top of what people are saying about their company.

There are relatively few Digg-like sites for B2B, although I predict this will be a hot area in 2007. CrispyNews lets people create their own community based news sites, such as the new multilingual community about B2B Media & Publishing.

What is your experience? If you have positive or negative experiences with using social media for B2B, please let me know via the comments.

My best wishes for a Happy New Year to all!