One of the least appreciated, and still relatively undeveloped, values of social media is support of channel partners. For large companies that rely on an array of resellers, social media can be an attractive two-way street.
“Original equipment manufacturers can't do social programs for their partners, of course, but there's a flip side,” said Jeff Mesnik, president of content management company ContentMX. “If I'm Microsoft, for example, I can get benefit from my resellers who write original content about their customers' use of my products.
“Then, as the mothership, why wouldn't I promote my partners' content on my own blog and reward them with links back to their websites?” Mesnik said. “The power of social for channel partners is that they can establish more mutually beneficial relationships with their manufacturers.”
One of the most active companies in support of its channel partners is cloud and virtualization computing company VMware Inc., which offers turnkey marketing campaigns, content and social marketing training to its 55,000 resellers.
“Most of our partners are solution providers who are ready to sell, not to market,” said Toni Adams, VP-global partner and alliances marketing at VMware. “So what vendors typically struggle with is how to make it very easy for their channel partners who have little or no know-how—or time—to build a pipeline and convert customers. Social media is part of the portfolio of things we offer to partners.”
VMware's partner-ready campaigns are offered through its platform, the VMware Grid. There, partners choose the topic they're interested in, their target audiences and other elements, and the campaign is preassembled for them. Content can be co-logoed, and materials are distributed through the platform.
VMware also offers Social Media Syndications for Partners, a platform through which participating resellers can receive up to 60 pieces of content for social distribution. It also sponsors “social media 101” webcasts for its resellers, among other initiatives.
Resellers that are active in social media can become quite valuable to their suppliers. Altico Advisors is a reseller of Microsoft Corp. customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning solutions. Marketing Director Marcia Doron, an active blogger on independent sites that focus on these products, has caught the attention of Microsoft.
“I belong to the CRM Software Blog and the ERP Software Blog, and these have become extremely visible to Microsoft,” Doron said. “The company often goes to these blogs to get its own content. In fact, Microsoft has started mirroring some of these blog sites, republishing many of their posts.”
Doron said Microsoft hasn't yet done much to supply Altico or other resellers with content and that her major social liaisons are with fellow resellers. However, if she thinks that one of her blog posts may be attractive to Microsoft, she'll send it to her partner account manager there, who might tweet it out.
“Channel partners represent an army of people who are online and marketing themselves,” said Omri Duek, product marketing manager at Visible Technologies, a social media analytics company. “But they're also part of an OEM's sales pipeline. We're seeing a lot of companies taking interest in helping resellers leverage this army of people via social.”
Duek recommends that OEMs focus on their most socially influentially channel partners and reward them with recognition.
“Social is ego-driven,” Duek said. “When an OEM gets publicity via the channel, it can reach out to the reseller and say, "It's great to hear you're selling our gear.' And the reseller then will say, "Wow, we're getting attention,' and will retweet the OEM's post.”