Vendor Channel Blogs: Growing Up or Dying Off?

Vendor Channel Blogs: Growing Up or Dying Off?

Earlier today, Cisco Systems' channel team finally launched a FaceBook fan page. What took so long? Instead of criticizing the networking giant, it's time for The VAR Guy to take a closer look at channel-related vendor blogs and social media efforts. Some are growing up and thriving. But others seem to be dying off. Here's a five-point reality check.

When The VAR Guy launched his own site in January 2008, Dell -- yes, Dell -- had an early lead in the social media space. The company's IdeaStorm site provided a gathering place for Dell customers and partners who had ideas and brainstorms for the PC giant. Dell also built out its blog site, including the Direct2Dell and Dell Channel Blog destinations.

Gradually, other vendors caught on. The Cisco Channels Blog has been a must-read for The VAR Guy for more than a year. Other regular reads include channel blogs from Lenovo and Oracle, plus massive social media communities such as the SAP Community Network, and offbeat musings from executives like Nimsoft CEO Gary Read.

What Have Vendors Learned?

But back to the question at hand: What have vendors learned about social media, and how are their efforts evolving? Here are five takeaways:

1. Don't Build Yet Another Network: During  Cisco Partner Summit 2009, Cisco launched a social media network called Vibe. The Vibe network was largely tied to the partner summit. So when the summit ended, the online community essentially went quiet. More recently, Cisco and other vendors have depended far more heavily on existing social media platforms -- LinkedIn, FaceBook, Twitter -- to engage online audiences.

2. Careful With That Evangelist: Dell's early Social Media Efforts frequently involved former Dell Channel Community Manager Amie Paxton. Amie was a social media rock star, posting comments all over the web, and directing partner questions to the most appropriate Dell channel representatives. At the same time, Dell's own Channel Blog was updated 8 to 18 times per month in 2008. Pretty engaging.

Alas, Paxton ultimately left Dell somewhere around the 2009 time frame and Dell's channel social media efforts have quieted down a bit. During the first half of 2010, the company's channel blog was updated one to five times per month, with no updates since June 2010. (Still, Dell does have some strong blogging voices in the house, particularly Barton George.)

Clearly, channel vendors need to maintain a balancing act. Social media mavens like Amie Paxton can help to raise a vendor's channel voice. But ultimately, it takes a group commitment -- across multiple social media pipelines -- to keep the dialog going.

3. Here Comes Video: Check the Cisco Channel Blog and Oracle Channel Chief Judston Althoff's blog. Video is everywhere. As is Ustream. 'Nuff said.

4. No Login, Please: Want to have an open dialog with readers and channel partners? Don't force partners to "Log In" to virtual trade shows and comment areas. Instead, keep your communities wide open for readers to come and go and share their thoughts. Sure, some competitive content should require a login. But the more wide open vendors keep their systems, the more frequently readers come back and engage in a dialog.

5. Build Highways to Your Castle: Take a look at channel blogs run by Cisco or Oracle, and you'll find that they're information hubs. And multiple roads -- vendors pages on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Flickr, etc. -- lead into the hub. In other words: Before you spend time building an island out on Facebook, take some time to build a killer blog. Then, link all those social networks into the blog.

That's all for now. Time for The VAR Guy to get back to polishing his own blog...

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