ReadyPulse Interview Series - Elizabeth Houston, aap3 for Cisco – On Social Engagement and Advocacy

Q: How did you get your start in Social Media?

A: I have always been interested in technology in general, especially community building. When I worked at PeopleSoft several years ago, I was looking for ways to create communities online – this is when it was still an emerging technology – so it was relatively new and cutting-edge. And then afterwards, while in a Marketing Communications role at Cisco, I still kept looking for new ways to build community interactions. My role gradually transformed and I became more and more involved in social media – which led me to my current position.

Q: How would you say B2B Social Media differs from B2C Social Media?

A: I see the differences in B2B and in B2C in a few ways. In the B2B space, the channels can be the same, but the way we approach our audience, whether it be the tone or type of activities might be slightly different than B2C companies. When we’re talking about the entertainment industry or consumer products, for example, I think in those cases social media can be used differently. Pinterest is a great example of this – it’s skewed a bit differently. In B2B we can do a lot of those types of activities, but they’re going to be different because the topic matter is going to be intangible – we can share a visual but it’s not as easy to understand as a consumer product. The messaging is going to take more work. We spend a lot of time to humanize it. I also think the other big difference between B2C and B2B is the audience – B2C is not only a much broader audience, but appeals to a larger audience. Tons of people are interested in consumer products, but the audience in B2B is more of a finite audience – it requires a specific approach and targeted strategy.

Q: Who else does a great job in B2B on social?

A: A lot of B2B companies are doing great things on social. Each company does it in a way that suits their needs as well as their audiences. Among others, I think SAP and Salesforce.com do a great job on social.

Q: What has been your most effective channel and why? Would that differ if you were in B2C?

A: I don’t necessarily gravitate to one channel or another. My philosophy goes back to an integrated approach. It might be one channel or a combination, depending on the overall goals and strategy we’re trying to achieve. If an audience only watches videos, then my approach is going to be different than for audience members who mostly participate in blogs or on Twitter. I think it’s not so much about B2B or B2C – but it’s more about the interaction styles. It comes back to the initiatives and the audience.

Q: What has been your most successful campaign?

A: Creating an internal and external social media training program for Cisco – it’s a campaign in and of itself. It takes awareness building and encouragement to promote courses and reverse mentoring. This program includes the following tracks: an internal track for employees/contractors to learn about social media and earn 3 levels of certifications and badges, an executive track to meet one on one focusing on further building their skill sets, and an external track, providing Cisco customers and partners the opportunity to take on-demand courses or participate in customized one on one team sessions. We provide a variety of content for each of these tracks, industry’s best practices, practical examples, and opportunities to participate in hands-on activities. Our internal program has been in place since the end of May 2012 with thousands of courses taken already. We have over 35 countries participating – showing the demand and flexibility of our courses. And since we launched the external program in the middle of January 2013, we’ve seen a lot of interest and have received positive feedback. We’re continuing to take more on as we grow! I’m incredibly proud of this program.

Q: What piece of advice would you give other B2B companies on social?

A: Every business is going to use it differently depending on their goals, but they can definitely find great value in using social media. It can deepen their customer relationships, creating 2-way dialogues. And it can also help them understand what’s being said about them or around them and to be a thought leader in the space. They can uncover new relationships and open the door to new audiences they would have had a hard time reaching before with traditional communications. Also, it’s a prime opportunity to create a larger brand presence and build the company and it’s executives’ reputations along the way. Lastly it’s an opportunity, as a brand, to broaden awareness about what they do – they can tap into these watering holes if you will – and have straightforward educational conversations without simply being viewed as trying to sell.

Q: What are your 2013 Social Media goals? Business? Personal?

A: Business – certainly we want to continue building out the training program out further, providing fresh best practices coursework and helpful resources. And we would like to continue elevating the conversation around ways we can all use social media and how can we all benefit from the use of social. We’re always looking for what the new trends are and how they might work with goals and initiatives, opening opportunities to pilot new ideas.
Personal – I manage some personal accounts, and then some professional accounts. So I guess for 2013, one of my big goals is to get back into the routine of interacting with the Twittersphere – I used to participate pretty avidly in Twitter chats and I found great value in the conversations, as well as connect with social media practitioners. I’d like to get back into the balance of focusing in on developing those relationships further through LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs, etc.