Social Tools Have a ‘Following’ in IT Community

IT pros are engaging in a new kind of networking – the social kind.

A new survey released by Mindwave Research estimates 70 percent of business IT decision-makers leverage social networks weekly to find or share IT-related information for their jobs.

Case in point: Treff LaPlante, president of WorkXpress, a “platform as a service” company that lets customers customize and deploy cloud-based software.

Two years ago, LaPlante landed a new customer by searching Twitter for his competitors’ names. When someone tweeted that he was about to sign up with a large vendor, LaPlante messaged him via Twitter, asking him to take a look at his service.

“He responded, took a look and put the other deal on hold. It ended up being a very lucrative deal for us, and we were able to do a lot for his company,” LaPlante says.

Today, WorkXpress is all over Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, with a plan to develop an integrated social media strategy in the coming months.

To capture some of this attention, Spiceworks launched Vendor Pages, billing it as Facebook Pages for IT professionals.

Spiceworks was founded in 2006, offering free, ad-supported software for network management, network monitoring and help desk functions, many of which are also available via a smartphone app.

Spiceworks says its audience includes 1.3 million users, comprising 25 percent of the world’s small business IT professionals. They already use the service to manage, buy and share information about technology products and services.

“The long tail happens to account for about half of the total IT spend,” Hallberg says. He’s basing that on an internal analysis using data from the U.S. Census Department Bureau of Labor Statistics, IDC, Forrester and Gartner.

Of course, just like everyone else who uses social media at work, the IT executives in the Mindwave study spend the most time updating their profiles – 36 percent of their time, in fact. Are they looking for their next jobs, perhaps?

Still, according to Mindwave, they spend 15 percent of their time clicking on IT-related ads.

“Spiceworks contains both the applications they need to do their job and a community of IT pros they can interact with while they’re doing the job,” says Jay Hallberg, Spiceworks VP of marketing. “While they’re doing their job, they will see ads that are contextually relevant. If they’re trying to solve a gnarly storage problem, why wouldn’t they want to learn about opportunities to upgrade their storage solution?”

Hallberg says that in aggregate, clickthrough performance is at least comparable to those of ad networks, but advertisers typically see much higher conversion rates and deeper engagement. Marketers also can sponsor webinars or e-mails to users, as well as build branded apps or features into Spiceworks applications.

“It’s not dissimilar from the economy you see in Facebook,” Hallberg says. “Instead of a Kegerator, people are adding a Storage Advisor.”

In 2008, CDW wanted to increase awareness, consideration and purchase among small-business IT decision-makers. It used the Spiceworks community to understand the needs and interests of potential customers, and discovered that many members struggled with software licensing.

CDW ran a series of webinars and placed a Microsoft specialist into a CDW-sponsored Microsoft Group on Spiceworks, backing all this up with extensive content in the form of white papers and case studies.

Banners throughout the site built awareness for CDW, and a widget let users embed a branded search tool directly into the Spiceworks application. Transactions executed through the widget are trackable.

Spiceworks says that awareness of CDW within its community increased 6 percent in 12 months, based on a quantitative survey.

Vendor Pages adds a new way for marketers to connect with users. Vendor Pages are listed in a searchable central directory, and they can include embedded videos and webinars, as well as links to conversations about the brand within the Spiceworks community.

Community members can follow specific vendors’ pages and see whom others follow, while Spiceworks also recommends vendors and peers they might want to follow.

Mindwave gave survey participants the choice of using a browser cookie or routing the Internet traffic of their primary work computers through a proxy server at Mindwave to generate data on the actual online behavior of a subset of the respondents.

More than 50 tech brands have created Spiceworks Vendor Pages so far, including Microsoft.

Meanwhile, CIO, producer of Web and print content, as well as events, is set to launch the Enterprise CEO Forum, an online community where CIOs can learn from and make connections with their global peers. CIO says integration with social media is a key element of the initiative, and it will maintain subgroups on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

HP is the exclusive sponsor and will publish promotional material in the ECF. Visitors will need to register in order to access some content.

Hallberg says that Vendor Pages illustrates the continuing consumerization of the enterprise.

“Thanks to Twitter and Facebook, it became comfortable for us to introduce the notion that you can follow another IT pro. If we had done that five years ago — which we could have — people would have thought we were nuts. Now, on some of these threads, we have people from 15 different countries helping each other out.”

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