VARs Growing More Interested in Social Networking
At Ingram Micro's Venture Tech Conference, channel partners say they are increasingly using social sites as business tools. They can bring in new customers and be used to foster collaboration among employees.
Social networking may be widely perceived as a simple communications tool among students and young adult, but it is increasingly being used among VARs as a networking vehicle to attract new customers and employees. Channel partners are utilizing sites such as Linked, MySpace, Facebook and distributor Ingram Micro's own "The Zone" site as competitive marketing tools.
At least, that was the message in San Diego last week from three channel partners attending Ingram Micro's VentureTech Network (VTN) conference in San Diego. In a panel session that focused on Web 2.0 concepts put to practical use, Heather Clancy, vice president of strategic communications for SWOT Management Group, noted that social networking is being put to broader use by channel partners. She invited VARs involved in a panel discussion to talk about how they have used social networking tools effectively in their businesses.
"Networks like LinkedIn and Facebook have helped me link up with business clients and allowed for a deepening customer relationship," said Jane Cage, chief operating officer of Heartland Tech Solutions. "My Facebook account is a way to get beyond geography." Viewing the online pages of customers allows her "to learn a little more about them as business people."
Richard Vaughn, vice president of I-Tech Support, told the audience of VARs that he encourages his employees to maintain their own Facebook accounts which has led to new business. "We have actually gotten deals from customers coming in through our employees' Facebook pages," Vaughn said. "It does work, but it is kind of passive."
Cage noted that social networking tools can be leveraged to help company employees in different offices to collaborate more effectively. "I wanted to find out what my other employees in other offices were doing," she said. "It makes it easier for people who are not in the same place at the same time to collaborate."
Adam Eiseman, CEO of The Lloyd Group, said he liked the fact that Facebook offered a more personal platform than business-oriented sites like LinkedIn. "I wind up doing more business on Facebook because you tend to do more business with the people you are closest to. It helps to bring people in."
The VARs noted that there is a wide variety of social networking sites from which to choose. And the right site may depend on the application you have targeted. Ingram's Venture Tech Network's own The Zone site, for example, can be used by members to find particular expertise from other VARs. But the fact that it is limited to the VTN network makes it somewhat less useful than the more popular, open Web sites. "The Zone is just a collaboration tool," noted Vaughn. "I feel it is under-utilized."
He added that sites like Facebook are very useful in helping find information about niche markets, niche geographies or individuals with specific expertise. "We will noodle around in it a bit to find executives in a particular city or region. It's getting more valuable (as a resource)."
(Al Senia is managing editor of ITChannelPlanet.com.)