A majority of the companies that Scoble and I profiled in Naked Conversations were Tech sector companies. There was little choice, since--other than an occasional blogging tailor, most of the activity was at companies like Sun Micro and Microsoft.
What a difference three years makes. Twittervilled is jammed with stories about companies like Rubbermaid, Molson Canada, Starbuck's Good Earth, terrorism, planes landing in cold rivers and citizen upheaval over lame TV ads. Other than the Twitter guys themselves, and Dell Computer, there just aren't a whole lot of tech companies covered in the book.
This is because social media has gone mainstream. A movement that began in the last recession with a bunch of laid-off, pissed-off Silicon Valley geeks now pervades so much of the internet's human interaction.
Yet, the tech sector is where it began, was nurtured and fomented and remains so very much a part of the story.
BreakingPoint Systems will probably be the most technical of the companies that will be covered in Twitterville. I chose it for a few reasons. First, it demonstrates that a relatively small business-to-business company can thrive using Twitter and social media, second because its customers are network engineers, a group that seems collectively proud of a reputation for being tough and demanding customers. Third, the story came to me via Bryan Person, who has a great track record for recommending good stories to me. So when he suggests something I pay top attention based on his track record, which is how it works in Twitterville. Fourth, Kyle Flaherty, Bryan and I are all ex-Bostonians who still root for the Boston Red Sox. That makes us all members of the same Global Neighborhood in Twitterville.
BreakingPoint Systems designs and develops engineering testing equipment for firewalls and application serveers that ensure companies can operate securely at the speed of the internet. Headquartered in Austin, the company has customers all over the world, including Juniper Networks, Enterasys, NetQoS, Stonesoft, to name just a few.
Flaherty is director of marketing for BreakingPoint Systems. He got into Twitter in December 2006, making him among the first 20,000 users out of about five million today. Here's what he told me:
I'm a huge believer in listening before engaging. Pam O'Neal, VP of Marketing and I both started at in April 2008 and immediately put together a communications plan that was heavy on social media and community engagement. The very first thing we did was build a set of tools that monitored conversations across a wide spectrum of social networks including Twitter and for a few weeks we were in a 'listen-only' mode. It became readily apparent that Twitter was going to be an important network for us
Our blog is at the heart of our community activity. People go there to get in-depth information about our product, code tips, security hack information and more. Twitter is now an important part of our blogging program. We get ideas from followers or use it to keep up with industry news. It helps us attach the blog to our other social media activities. The other key parts of our social communications program are LinkedIn and FriendFeed. We use Twitter to not only cross-promote these community areas, but in many instances, Twitter's API allows us to connect to these tools and seamlessly communicate information or news to all of our social media groups at once.
At first, Twitter was a way for BreakingPoint to talk directly to network engineers about their pain points, commiserate a bit with them and offer up some bit of helpful information. Now in our 9th month on Twitter it has become a critical tool for us in terms of community engagement, industry research, customer feature requests, competitive positioning and lead generation. Ultimately I believe this is because we listened intently to the conversation first and got involved on the topics others were discussing, not simply another means for a company to push out press releases.
Q2. You mentioned that you had a lead come in on Twitter while you were making an instructional video on how BreakingPoint uses a URL-shortening application. Was that just a coincidence?
On my personal blog I share a lot of the tools and strategy that we use for BreakingPoint, particularly how folks can easily, and cost-effectively, prove some measure of ROI of their social media activities.
One day, I was screencasting a video on how to use BudURL, web analytics and Twitter. It was intended to to demonstrate the impact of a white paper launched on our blog. I got a bit lucky because as I was taking the viewer through posting the blog, talking about it on Twitter and then watching the click-through in analytics, an email alert appeared on the bottom of my screen showing that I had gotten an email alert of a new lead arriving. I immediately looked at the information from the lead and showed how the IP addresses matched the one that had originally come in through Twitter. I was hoping this would happen and since it happens increasinglyy, I figured it would, but I did get lucky that it happened that quickly on camera!
Q3. How many leads would you say Twitter has generated for BreakingPoint? Are they leads you would not otherwise have acquired?
So far, we can point directly to a few dozen inbound leads having originated from Twitter and as they move along the sales cycle I fully anticipate sharing more in-depth information in terms of lead quality. The leads arriving through Twitter are from companies that would most likely have become leads at some point through other activities. I do believe, however, that we are reaching people more quickly and with more impact because they are already in a conversations with us on Twitter, know so much about our product, and perhaps most important, our company culture.
Q4. Are you the primary Tweeter for both your personal blog, EngageinPR and BreakingPoint Labs? How do you decide what to post where? Does that ever get confusing or complicated?
I am the primary Tweeter for BreakingPoint, but we have a full team of folks helping. I start every morning scanning our Twitter searches for folks who have started conversations about topics of interest, mentioned us overnight or are looking for some help. The early morning Tweets from @BreakingPoint are typically filled with news information or replies/DMs to folks. As the day goes on however it becomes a bit more interactive and Pam O'Neal and I are constantly sharing information that we can get out on Twitter.
Our ace in the hole--as it should be for any B2B Twitter--are our subject matter experts. BreakingPoint Labs is not only the name of our blog, but our team of researchers working at BreakingPoint who are consistently coming up with new features for our products. We are lucky, because this group not only provides us with amazing content on our blog, but they have embraced Twitter at the same time. The beauty of this process is that we have a corporate Twitter brand that allows us to talk directly to our community, but we add to that with all of these independent thinkers who help provide a unique perspective.
I think, all individuals who also manage a corporate Twitter strategy get confused at times, I certainly do. Between monitoring my personal Twitter conversations, the BreakingPoint feed and all of my colleagues, it is a wonder I don't "@" or "DM" the wrong people all the time. Fortunately, I've only tweeted incorrectly once when I told my personal Twitter community about 10 Gigabit testing, not surprisingly I didn't hear from anyone.
Q5 Talk to me about Twitter as a community tool. What is the value of that commnity to Breaking Point? What is the value of Breaking Point to that community?
Any business revolves around it's community, not simply it's customers.
On Twitter we get to talk with journalists, analysts, partners, prospects, customers and even competitors. Has there ever been that sort of instant focus group available for B2B marketers? When I look through the folks that are following us and I realize the company they keep I'm always amazed that more B2B companies haven't figured this out yet.
The community of people we now have on Twitter has become extremely important for us, not simply as potential business leads because that cannot be the reason to get involved, but more as a sounding board and an early alert tool to the latest industry news and needs. It takes the form of a person live Tweeting a BreakingPoint product demo in Paris, hearing about the latest security vulnerabilities, reading about what people think of our competitors products or simply sharing the latest blog posts with each other. Using Twitter BreakingPoint gains an additional level of insight into our business, but in this case it is from an outside and independent perspective; something companies never before could obtain so readily AND be able to respond to so efficiently.
When I look through our Twitter feed and the conversations that we've had, our value is in bringing folks highly-useful information about network equipment testing and security testing, but never relying solely on our own content. We make a concerted effort to share different viewpoints and promote the ideas of others...if it is of interest to us while reading, we will share it with our community. I know we are providing value to our community when I see folks retweeting the links we are sharing and posting up pictures of the posters that we sent along.
Q6. Would you say Twitter is better as a lead generator or as a community engagement tool?
Certainly a community engagement tool. Twitter should not be looked at as a B2B lead generation tool, much the same as public relations shouldn't be looked at as a B2B lead generation tool...but if you do it correctly the leads WILL come in through those activities. All good marketers know how to listen first, engage second, promote third and sell fourth. Twitter allows you to do the first three, but only in order and puts the fourth in the hands of the follower to decide when they want to be sold to (and become a lead).
Q7. The conventional wisdom is that Twitter is more useful for Business-to-customers than B2B. What advantages do you see for it in B2B?
Throughout my career in communications and marketing I've worked in B2B technology and a few times I tried to go over and work on the B2C side of thing only to be turned away because "you just wouldn't understand how it works". It seems like there is this same mentality happening with Twitter and B2B and to be quite frank I think it ridiculous.
B2B companies should be the first folks diving into Twitter, they are spending enough time and money paying for industry research and surveys to figure out what their customers want when they could be just entering the conversation directly with these folks. B2B has got to realize that blogs, Twitter and social networks are not simply another repository to dump your white paper or data sheets, they are where you will get your ideas for your next white paper, hear what people hate about your data sheet and as a side benefit a few feature requests they want to see in the next rev.
B2B may mean "business to business", but on each ends of those businesses are people who are buying, people who are using and people who are influencing decisions. Depending on your business Twitter may just have a few dozen of those folks hanging around, but who cares, numbers are the least important part of getting directly involved with your community.
Q8. What has BreakingPoint Systems achieved with Twitter that it might not otherwise have accomplished?
BreakingPoint is a fast-growing technology start-up in a niche industry competing against two archaic public companies for market share, Twitter gives us an enormous leg up in getting folks to first pay attention to what we have going on, but secondly rally behind us and our drive to alter the test equipment market. Twitter has allowed our company to be better recognized, get involved in conversations with enormous companies that we may have had a difficult time attracting and hone our own business to responds more quickly to the needs of our present and future users. Tactically however we also have used Twitter to name our monthly email news letter, get input on our testing poster, tell us what colors they liked on our website...we have a built-in focus & fan group that is ready to help as long as we keep up our end of the bargain.
Q9. What advice do you have for B2B companies considering using Twitter?
Listen first. Listen second. Engage third. Don't set up that Twitter account because you heard it was the next hot thing or it was mentioned during your favorite sitcom, do it because you've listened to the conversation and found that you have a voice that could contribute. Now when I say contribute I do not mean just Twitter yoru news releases and blog posts, Twitter is not a newswire and this is the biggest mistake I see B2B companies making on Twitter.
As you start to engage with the community on Twitter sit down and write down your strategy. This should include a mission statement of what your ultimate goal is, the topics you will discuss and how you will conduct yourself on Twitter each day. Stick to that plan!
Get others in the company involved, either with the main Twitter account or their own. The more the merrier, but make sure they also know your plan!
Don't just follow back anyone that follows you, be discerning in who you are following, build a solid core of folks who can help you build your business. Currently BreakingPoint follows less folks than we have following us, that is not a bad thing.
Create a Twitter background that gels with your corporate brand and website, make it an extension of your brand experience.
After you have successfully listened and engaged, I then recommend to folks to start building in some solid measuring tools so that you can start determining the impact Twitter is having on your business. Again this is not the primary goal, but if you are doing it correctly you are going to see leads and eventually business come in from Twitter, best to be able to track that and report it up the ladder.
Q10 Additional comments?
I'm really excited about what Twitter is going to do for B2B companies, particulary technology start-ups, in 2009. With a difficult economic environment it is paramount that all businesses find the most cost-effective and impactful communications techniques and Twitter can give any B2B start-up a competitive advantage.