IT Vendors Tap Social Media Sites to Drive Sales, Marketing

Channel partners outfitted with new tools to build marketing initiatives and spur sales opportunities.

A startling rise in popularity of social media web sites such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and others is prompting some IT vendors to retool channel partner sales strategies to include avenues not previously considered suitable for business.

For instance, when hardware maker Lenovo recently needed to reach channel partners about its products aimed at small- to medium-sized business customers, the vendor included in its marketing portfolio YouTube videos, a Facebook page and messages on Twitter.

Now, IBM Corp. has gone one step further, adding social media tools, education programs and technologies built for its service-oriented architecture (SOA) community, a group that includes some 7,500 business partners as well as architects, developers and universities. In addition, IBM has rolled out seven new SOA certifications and corresponding training programs to urge channel partners to incorporate social media into their sales lexicon.

In May, at its Impact conference, the vendor plans to introduce nine new social media tools intended to help its business partners generate sales leads, build marketing initiatives and spur sales opportunities. Included among the tools are a virtual trade show, a social network for IBM’s SOA community and an update of the vendor’s Innov8 game that enables customers to test scenarios to manage business processes. IBM is also offering a catalog of SOA-related products for its channel partners.

“Partners want more opportunity identification to drive business without breaking the bank,” said Sandy Carter, vice president, IBM SOA and WebSphere. “They want a tighter listening mechanism to customers,” Carter said. “Internally, as we experimented with social media tools and found out what works, we wanted to share it with our community. It became our programmatic approach to social media—to show partners that adding it to their marketing mix can save them money.”

Carter said that IBM’s collection of social media tools and initiatives initially will be offered to its software channel partners and later expanded to the vendor’s entire roster of resellers.

If the meteoric growth of social media in the past year is any indication of its usefulness as a business tool, IBM may be onto something. According to Mashable, an online guide to social media, in the last eight months Facebook has grown from 100 million to 200 million users. In March alone, YouTube posted more than 100 million U.S. monthly viewers.

In addition to the sheer volume of visitors, social media web sites, once the sole province of a younger audience, now have broadened their appeal and gained the attention of older people. According to media researcher Nielsen Online, in 2008, Facebook added 13.6 million visitors aged 50 – 64, nearly twice the number of new visitors aged 18 and under that came to the site. Where sites like Digg and Reddit have been regarded as inappropriate business conduits, they now serve as digital megaphones for breaking news from all corners of the world.

Encouraged by IT vendors, some channel partners are moving forward with social media-based initiatives. For example, Prolifics, a New York-based SOA systems integrator has used IBM’s Innov8 game in collaboration with the vendor to present “real world” solutions to customers.

“The game is designed game to teach people SOA concepts,” said Devi Gupta, Prolifics vice president of marketing. “It’s a fun way to learn in the beginning.”

Gupta said that Prolifics is “exploring how social media can benefit us and our customers. We see that professionals are starting to creep into Facebook. We don’t know where [social media] will end up but it’s not going away and we can’t turn away from it any longer.”

At its Impact conference, IBM will be providing channel partners with specific tools to create a corporate Facebook page and learn how to use Twitter and LinkedIn, a social media site for professional networking. At this point, 52 channel partner companies have signed on exhibit at the show. IBM expects about 1,000 business partners to attend the event.

Partners that sign on for training and certification at the show will receive the services free of charge.

TAGS: Facebook,IBM,social networking,marketing,channel partners

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