developerWorks: This is the developerWorks podcast. I'm Scott Laningham. Last week, New York-based AMI Partners announced the winners of its first annual Small and Medium Business Social Media Marketing Awards: These awards acknowledge information and communications technology providers who effectively use social media to inform the purchase process of small and medium businesses.
developerWorks received the "best in class" award for community development. And Don Best and Ryan Brock of AMI Partners are here to talk about it. Thank you guys for doing this. Appreciate it.
Best: Hi, Scott. Good to be with you.
Brock: Glad to be here. Thanks, Scott.
developerWorks: I wonder first if you two could give us and give the audience a sense of who you are with AMI Partners. What your roles are there?
Best: Sure. I'm the EVP (executive vice president) of Worldwide Business Development and Client Services and I manage our relationships with our clients around the world.
Brock: I'm vice president of Worldwide Cloud Services, which includes our social media practice.
developerWorks: Wonderful. Thank you for that. Now Don, what about AMI research in general? Could you describe the company and what you all do?
Best: Sure, Scott. AMI Partners provides market intelligence and consulting to IT suppliers. And what we do is support their small- and medium-business marketing strategies, as well as their customer acquisition activities.
So how do we do this? The foundation of our work is primary: We track SMB decision-makers in over 30 countries, identifying their IT needs, their preferences, as well as their purchasing behaviors.
And we also track similar elements for channel partners; that is, those partners who focus on the SMB market. We synthesize this data and deliver to our clients [packaged data on] market sizing, market forecasts, market segmentation, as well as lead generation.
Now IBM has been an AMI client since our beginning 14 years ago. We work with IBM to help them with their go-to-market strategy as well as channel development. We've also done some specific projects in helping understand different and vertical markets as well as, of course, social media.
developerWorks: What led you guys to initiate these particular awards at this time? And I ask that because I'm wondering if we're reaching some kind of critical mass moment with business acceptance of the value of social technologies?
Best: That's a great question. The moment that was our "a-ha!" moment was early this year in spring of 2010. We launched our social media practice as a distinct practice back then. Now we've been tracking this social media for quite a few years, but we decided that it was an important enough marketing medium and making large enough impact that we wanted to really focus on it. So as we delved deeper into how SMB buyers engage social media sites in the IT buying process, we also came across a number of IT suppliers like IBM who were being very creative and innovative in their social media marketing strategies. And when I say creative, I'm referring to the use of social media to build business value.
You're not design elements, for example, or the features, but creating direct revenue, demand generation, and community development as well as others. So that led us to this idea of identifying the best practitioners of these areas of building business value through social media.
And so we thought it would be really good for the industry in general and these innovators in particular to have this award program for two purposes:
- One is to highlight the best practices in this emerging marketing medium by recognizing these leaders.
- And secondly, and I think this is really important as well, is [for AMI] to provide third-party recognition of these efforts so that the marketing professionals behind these initiatives could demonstrate the value of social media marketing for their senior management.
developerWorks: Absolutely. And we could never have too much help in achieving that, that's for sure. Ryan, can you talk about the results of the social media study?
Brock: As Don mentioned, we set out not only to characterize how businesses are using social media, but really [to] understand the impact that social media's having on these businesses as they go through their technology purchase cycles.
And what came out of the study that was most interesting was that these businesses are really using soccial media actively in that purchase process. In fact, three out of every four businesses in the U.S. are using social media as part of that process to become aware of and consider and make purchase decisions about information and communications technology.
That statistic — along with the fact that [for] one out of every two of them social media actually changed their decision in some way — really underscored the point to us that this is not a flash in the pan here ... social media; it's really becoming part of the cycle that SMBs will go through when they evaluate technologies.
developerWorks: So what some of us might think is what started with user comments on places like Amazon or Rotten Tomatoes or whatever has really grown into something far more complex and very impactful for people all over the place really.
Brock: It has. And SMB has recognized the fact that there is a lot at stake for their businesses and them as individuals within those organizations, so they want to make sure that if they're going to deploy a solution, they've done everything they can to be certain that that solution is going to work well for them.
And you can get a lot of that information, of course, from the vendors, but when push comes to shove at the end of the day, us as individuals and SMBs as decision-makers, we'd much rather hear it from a colleague or a peer of ours who is in the same position as us who has experienced the same challenges and has the same needs as us and has used a particular solution to meet those needs.
And that's what social media really allows. It allows that peer conversation so that when these SMBs are evaluating technologies, sure, getting the information via the vendors themselves is important, but what's becoming more critical is getting that information and getting it from somebody who sat in the same seat as that decision-maker.
developerWorks: Yes, absolutely. If you hear Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the web, speak, talk about all this, that's what he felt the vision was from the very beginning ... a very collaborative experience on the web.
Don, I wonder if we could talk about why IBM developerWorks won best in class for the community development category? What about developerWorks stood out most to you all?
Best: Let me start just by explaining that award and the criteria for community development and what it means.
We define it as the "use of social media to provide an incrementally and quantifiably improved SMB customer experience resulting in greater customer retention." This really means that IBM developerWorks has created a watering hole, which is attractive to the SMB buyers.
You go back to what I was talking about earlier, which is that these SMB buyers don't have a lot of time and they don't have a lot of resources and they really ... if they're going to go online and spend their time on a site or group of sites, they want to get something out of it.
And what we found is that developerWorks offers that. And what the site offers is just extensive, technical content across the board through articles, tutorials, forums, and blogs, including, by the way and most importantly, a lot of non-IBM bloggers, as well as podcasts like this one.
In other words, if I'm in the midmarket or small business, I know that I can go to developerWorks and find answers to questions. I can talk to my peers through the forums.
One of the things that we've noticed at AMI in general is the sort of migration from general search. Probably as recently as a year ago, if you want to find something on the Internet or find information on anything, you would go to Google.
And what we're seeing now is a migration to more relationship-oriented or context-oriented searches and more people, particularly SMB buyers, are going to these spots or going to these vendor sites or public sites because they know that people like them are there and [they are] people who they trust. And IBM has done a great job in capitalizing on that and delivering the kind of content.
developerWorks: Well thank you, Don. And we are grateful for additional confirmation of the value of what we are doing on developerWorks. Certainly music to our ears.
Ryan, I want to ask you one more question, if I could, about patterns or trends that you all might be seeing in business adoption of social technologies. Do you think that social networking, for example, is moving from simply a new way to network to more of a paradigm-shifting influence maybe on the way we display and access and collaborate around information?
Brock: Absolutely, Scott. I think that's definitely the case. And if you just look at the different solutions that are really starting to gain traction in the marketplace, I think therein lies the answer. And it's not only for marketing purposes. I think to your point, it really is a paradigm shift in the way that we as individuals and individuals within businesses collaborate around information.
IBM itself is doing a good job of bringing those types of solutions to the marketplace to enable businesses to access and share information anytime, anywhere. And the growth of mobility solution certainly has not hurt that.
And you know, we're seeing it from other vendors as well, the idea of collaborating and being able to get your hands on information, whether it be in your office on a desktop, while you're at a client on a notebook, or on the road on your handheld or netbook.
And that's really the way that the market is heading on a global scale; social media is really just one facet of that shift that's taking place. And the impact is significant. On a dollar basis in the U.S., US$23 billion of spend was impacted by social media in the last 12 months. So it's not only a way that businesses are changing the way that they work, it's a way that is changing the way that businesses make decisions and spend money, and it's impacting the dollar flow as well.
developerWorks: Don Best and Ryan Brock of AMI Partners, I really appreciate you both making time for this talking about these very interesting trends and this award that we're so grateful for at developerWorks. Thank you both.
Best: Hey Scott, congratulations again and thank you for the time.
Brock: Our pleasure. Thanks for having us.
developerWorks: Read more about the AMI award and other recent awards received by developerWorks at ibm.com/developerWorks/aboutdw. You'll find links on that page. This has been the developerWorks podcast. I'm Scott Laningham. Talk to you next time.
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