by Paul Goater | Comments: 0

We’ve collected five key rules of thumb to guide high-tech suppliers’ use of social media in channel marketing.

There’s no doubt that social media should be a core component of any marketing toolkit – and that applies to channel marketing just as much as direct-to-customer marketing.

Social media offers huge opportunities for communicating cost-effectively with channel partners, keeping them updated on new products and promotions, and providing resources to help them sell.

And that’s just scratching the surface. Social media also provides opportunities to:

    • Talk to partners and find out what they need from you
    • Connect partners with your in-house experts to help them sell more and sell better
    • Understand trends that partners are seeing in the marketplace
    • Discover what your competitors are up to – and how you can beat them
    • Build relationships with partners you may never meet in person
    • Foster a sense of community loyalty to your brand and products

That’s the theory, anyway. But as any channel marketer who runs a social media program knows, achieving these things is hard. You can build it, but they won’t necessarily come. If they do come, they may not be champing at the bit to “engage” with you. And if they do engage with you, it’ll probably be to complain about something – at least at first.

So what should channel marketers be doing to ensure their social media program actually delivers value – to the partner community and to their own organisation? We’ve got five tips:

1.    Know what success looks like.

This review of a social media session at the 2011 Channel Focus event by Mike at RelayWare sums up what vendors are doing with social media (and his tips are well worth a read, too). Note point 2:

“Most vendors are using Twitter and Facebook but can’t assess its value beyond followers and friend numbers.”

If you don’t know what you want to achieve with social media, you’ll never know if it’s working. Establish some success metrics first – even if it’s just downloads of your latest partner marketing kit.

2.    Engage properly.

Many vendors still use social media as a one-way marketing channel. A more productive approach is to put a named person in charge of channel social media engagement, who can engage personally with partners on social media platforms. Oracle’s Partner Business Center, for example, has two named social media leads manning the Twitter feed at @OraclePartnerBiz , helping partners get the information and answers they need.

And if partners aren’t engaging naturally, look for ways to draw them in. Cisco selects partner videos to showcase  on its channel blog, for example. Incentivising partners by publicising their own content can start the ball rolling.

3. Make it easy.

One problem with social media is that there are so many platforms and formats to explore, you risk fragmenting your presence and content all over the place, so partners don’t have a clear idea of where they can best engage with you online.

If your resources are limited, try a simpler approach: a dedicated partner blog, for example, with an accompanying Twitter feed to publicise new content, or a dedicated LinkedIn Group for partners.

4. Make social media part of ‘Through Partners’ marketing too.

Think about how you can help your partners to use social media in their own campaigns – and measure the results. Lenovo’s recently revamped channel marketing strategy, for example, includes ‘viral’ video content that partners can syndicate via social media, as well as more traditional marketing campaign kits.

5. Keep it up.

If your efforts don’t seem to be working at first, keep trying until they do. Simply giving up will make it look like you don’t value your partner community – as this post from the VAR Guy  about Dell’s abandoned Channel Blog illustrates. Stay committed, learn as much as you can about what your partners want from you, and most of all, enjoy the ride!

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