Channel partners are beginning to take advantage of social networking tools -- such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube -- to create tighter relationships with their customers and to find new business.
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Social networking strategy boosts new business for channel partners
Exigent Technologies, an IT services firm and managed services provider, hit the social networking strategy jackpot when Carlo's Bakery, based in Hoboken, N.J., chose it to do a complete IT makeover. Carlo's Bakery's master baker just happened to be Buddy Valastro, a national reality show celebrity on TLC's Cake Boss.
"Buddy Valastro put out tweets and Facebook posts about the work we did for him, and we've seen massive amounts of traffic on our website, Facebook page and on Twitter," said Daniel Haurey, president of Exigent. Carlo's Bakery has about 145,000 Facebook followers, Cake Boss has over 4.6 million Facebook followers, and both have hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers.
Hired last November as the official IT services provider for Carlo's Bakery's original Hoboken site as well as its expanded 30,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art site in Jersey City, N.J., Exigent Technologies implemented a virtualized network infrastructure, security architecture, servers, a storage area network, and also provided PCs, laptops and printers. Carlo's is also leveraging Exigent's fixed-fee ASSURANCE managed IT service plans and PREVENT managed backup and disaster recovery for SMBs. The outsourced IT services include 24/7 remote monitoring and management of Carlo's Bakery's entire IT infrastructure, including business continuity.
Haurey reports that 15-year-old Exigent got into using social networking tools about two years ago and, through its work with Carlo's Bakery, the technology has become a powerful way to collaborate with peers and customers and to generate new business.
Exigent uses LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to engage customers and keep them up-to-date on company news. It also uses the tools for hiring and building market thought leadership by posting case studies and videos, and by answering questions for current and prospective customers.
Social networking tools: New ways of discussing complex technologies
Social networking is equally powerful for Cisco partner Force3, a 20-year-old solution provider that focuses on the federal public sector. The company recently hired a social media guru to better steer its social networking strategy, to stay connected with customers and potential customers, and to monitor social media channels to identify opportunities.
For Force3, social networking tools are particularly powerful for getting conversations going on less easily defined technologies, such as cloud, virtualization and BYOD, but less so for transactional sales.
LinkedIn has become an especially compelling social network tool and one that Force3 uses to pool content.
Krissy Kelley, vice president of marketing at Force3, credits Cisco for leading by example and encouraging partners to use social media. "They gave us a pilot to start blogging, and we've made it part of our process by even getting our engineers writing," she said. Cisco also invites Force3 to guest blog on one of its sites, which Kelley said is a win-win for both companies.
Social networking strategy getting corporate advertising support
Social networking tools are gaining steam now that vendors and partners alike consider them an important part of their traditional advertising and marketing campaigns.
John Fago, Ingram Micro North America's senior director for channel marketing, says that the company's once-fragmented social networking strategies are now cohesive and are bolstered by policy and corporate support.
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Ingram Micro has become more advanced and effective in its use of social networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and is adding blogs and is working on further integrating these tools within its business.
"We connect with our 330-plus Venture Tech Network (VTN) members on a VTN Facebook page [and] Twitter feed, and a lot of these channel partners are setting up their own Facebook pages to communicate, engage with each other and share content, creating strong channels," said Fago.
Today, Ingram Micro will help its partners set up a Facebook page, create consistent branding and provide access to social media or SEO experts.
"Next year, we hope to formalize our strategy around consulting with our partners on social media channels, becoming more of a resource for all things social," said Fago. Ingram Micro also plans to drive more vendor social networking campaigns sometime next year, to increase awareness and presence.
Similarly, at a recent Cisco Partner Summit, Cisco ran a marketing breakout on how partners can utilize LinkedIn for sales professions -- for example, how to do advanced searches, how to stay in touch with contacts and how to use connections to get more connections.
"We're invested more with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn," said Force3's Kelley, who adds that connecting socially is the first place the company advertises, turning less to traditional media, phone and email.