Although the majority of channel partners disappoint brands they represent by taking a pass on many of the marketing support programs offered to them, participation in social media amplification appears to be on the rise.
For example, when Xerox announced that it was undertaking a massive effort to make it easier for partners to do business with the company, its social media program was already “one of our more popular co-marketing and co-branded programs,” according to Lisa Graham, Channel Marketing Manager.
Indeed, Xerox reports that monthly engagements of its social tools run around 70% of all partners. Still, the company is striving to enable partners to use social media even more effectively by providing a variety of content syndication tools and creating more content for partners to share.
At HP, a three-year old social syndication program continues to evolve as the company and its partners drive more awareness for their brands. And at VMware, an understanding that partners are eager to leverage social media to drive their business has led to tremendous growth in partner participation across the company’s social media program.
Channel partners don’t have the best reputation for participating in the marketing programs provided by the brands they represent. For example, even when supported with channel marketing automation technology, only 20% of partners executed 50% or more of their marketing activities, according to the AFV 2018 State of Partner Marketing report. And the fact that nearly 60% of MDF is left on the table each quarter is another indication of how challenging it can be to enlist partners in marketing programs.
But as Xerox, HP and VMware have discovered, getting partners to participate in social media syndication programs may be the lowest hanging fruit of through-partner marketing programs.
According to a study by Datto, managed service providers (MSP) are active social media users. More than 90% use social media, including Facebook (70%), LinkedIn (54%), Twitter (29%) and Instagram (27%). Nearly 25% spend two to three hours on social media and 62% spend less than an hour.
The trick to getting MSPs and other partners to use that time to more effectively share the messages of the vendors they represent, as well their own ideas appears to be offering a comprehensive program that includes thought-leadership content, easy-to-use social media tools and ongoing training and communication.
“Partners want social media, but they need help getting it set up, getting the content and developing a schedule, so that they can consistently post and continue to get that digital omni-presence,” said Ashley Frizzell, Manager of Global Partner Marketing at VMware. “So, yes, partners are eager to leverage social media. That's why the syndication programs are great, because it's an opportunity for us to package social posts for partners to leverage. It's easy for them. It's automated for us, as well. So, it’s a win-win.”
The keys to compelling more partners to participate in social marketing programs is to deliver compelling content through various publishing tools, provide ample training on how to use the technology and be vigilant about reminding partners of the value that social marketing and selling can generate.
“What we embarked on about three years ago was to make social selling a reality for our channel partners by doing two complimentary tasks at the same time,” said Vincent Brissot, Head of Digital Automation and Channel Operations at HP. “The first one was demonstrating to partners how they can use content to build their own reputation online.”
The second thing was providing partners with the content and digital tools that make it easy for them to be social sellers and marketers, he said.
Yes, Content Is King
While automated tools can simplify the process of sharing messages with partners and enabling them to publish them, sourcing a desirable steady stream of thought-leadership content, as well as brand-focused messaging, is a key component of a successful social syndication campaign. Experienced social media practitioners insist that non-branded content must constitute the lion’s share of the messaging to ensure traction with target audiences.
“In the B2B and IT space, lots of people spend all of their time saying, ‘Hey, check out my latest product launch. Check out my latest white paper. Visit our booth at our trade show,’" said Chris Kenton, CEO of SocialRep, a supplier of integrated social marketing and sales enablement solution and services. “That type of approach gets very little engagement. But when you simply change your approach where you spend 75% of your time saying, ‘Here's an important bit of news or an emerging trend’ — something that is objective and related to what’s keeping the customer up at night — we see click-throughs go up consistently.”
Vendor-based social media teams are indeed making significant efforts to source more content for their social programs. At Xerox, the social team extracts content from around 50 sources — 13 of which are Xerox specific — related to small and midsize businesses and IT managers. “It's really important that we get a rich amount of content that will help our channel partners position themselves as subject matter experts,” said Andy Hill, Partner Content Strategy.
HP uses a sophisticated algorithm to filter through as many as 6,000 posts daily to deliver a substantial set of curated content to its partners in its Social Media Center. The vast majority of the content discovered is rejected. Ultimately, the Social Media Center, built on the SocialRep platform, provides partners with a mix of content that addresses industry issues (about 70%) or is specific to HP (30%).
“If we at HP enable our partners to talk only about HP, then we're missing the point,” said Brissot. “Our goal is to help partners really be seen as experts in their fields. As we keep telling them, ‘If you are only talking about HP, it's going to backfire on you. People will see you as press release people, as advertisers on behalf of HP, and you don't want that to happen.’”
Nonetheless, "The end goal of social selling is to sell," said Brissot. “It's about having a call to action and making sure there's something for your prospect to engage with.” A relevant call to action is critical, he said.
VMware also offers a variety of content including thought-leadership posts from subject matter experts, relevant news articles coming from business newspapers and magazines and VMware-related announcements, said Frizzell.
Most recently, the company started enabling partners to leverage social posts directly related to campaigns, inviting customers to download assets.
Automating Social Syndication
Companies employ a variety of methods to enable their partners to share social messages. VMware takes a twofold approach by uploading posts specific to three industry-relevant categories. Partners can then select which content categories they want to share. The system will automatically deploy posts in those categories based on a weekly schedule for three channels — Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.
Partners may choose the option of enabling automatic posting of the content provided by VMware, or they can choose to review posts before publishing. After VMware uploads posts, partners can choose to receive an email notification prompting them to log in and view all the posts to then approve and deploy.
Xerox uses two social media syndication tools to align with the different marketing capabilities of its partners, or to support the use of social messages by an extended team. Using an Impartner-supplied solution, Xerox provides the partners' marketing leads and their entire sales force access to the tool. This enables the partners’ marketing staff to manage the company’s social media channels. In addition, the partner’s sales staff can manage their own personal profiles through the tool as part of a social selling program.
With a Zift Solutions technology, Xerox enables a single point of contact for the partner to collaborate on social media programs. Typically, the platform is used to syndicate messages on the partner’s LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook page.
Both tools offer partners the flexibility to decide whether they want to automatically post the content or review it before sharing.
At HP, partners are required to actively publish all syndicated content. When partners access the system and select a topic of interest, a list of recommended articles are presented. Partners can customize descriptions of the content, or they can simply choose the social channels — LinkedIn or Twitter — on which they want to share the content.
“Generally, the content is self-explanatory and nothing else needs to be said to build interest in it,” said Brissot. “But if you're trying to get engagement and dramatically raise interest from the prospect, adding your own narrative to it can be very effective.”
HP encourages partners to be actively engaged in social message activities, including addressing any comments or questions that result from their posts. Brissot and his team do not engage customers or prospects in those situations.
“We’re very careful with how much we do because we want social engagements to be genuine,” said Brissot. “If we start answering questions that are outside of our realm — maybe it's particular details of an MSP’s business — that's where people see through the veil and realize they’re not communicating with the partner. Nothing breeds distrust more than when a customer realizes that they’re not having a conversation with the CEO or the MSP, but a lower-level employee or an outsourced firm.”