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Social Media in the B2B World: A Talk with Hoover’s Tim Walker

From time to time we like to take a break here at Marketing Pilgrim and talk about the actual practice or actually “doing” social media and search in the real world. Sure it’s fun to talk about ideas, news and theory all day but in the end if there is no action attached to it then, well, you just talked about a lot of stuff. How this plays out in the real world gets too little attention and we like to talk to those that are in the weeds every day for perspective.

I recently “talked” via e-mail with Tim Walker, social media manager for Hoover’s. Hoover’s is a Dun & Bradstreet company that provides detailed company and industry information to the business community. I had heard Tim speak at an event last year and liked his take on things. Of course, working for one of the largest B2B information services makes social media a bit different than trying to make the next great viral video to promote some product. Here’s Tim’s take on his work at Hoover’s and the industry in general.

Please describe your role with Hoovers and give a brief description of the business.

My title at Hoover’s is Social Media Manager, which means that I help with both strategic direction and tactical implementation for all of our customer-facing social media efforts, particularly on the marketing side.

Hoover’s is the world’s top publisher of business information about companies, industries, and the people who lead them. It was an independent company from its founding in 1990 until Dun & Bradstreet acquired it in 2003. Now we combine both our own industry expertise – embodied in our 80-person Editorial department – with the unrivaled breadth of D&B’s information on companies worldwide.

How long have you been in the Internet / social media space? How long has Hoover’s been involved?

As I see it, my involvement in social media started in the late 1990s, when I moderated an international listserv on current affairs. My tenure as an editor at Hoover’s – which publishes the vast majority of its information via the Web – began in 2000. I started my personal blog in 2005 and my blog for Hoover’s (hooversbiz.com) in 2007.

Hoover’s was very early getting online: having been launched in 1990 to produce reference manuals (which we still sell to libraries), we began to publish company profiles on Compuserve and AOL as early as 1994.

Did you initiate the programs at Hoover’s or did you take the wheel when things were under way?

A friend of mine in the company started our Twitter account (@Hoovers), and a group of editors started the blog at Bizmology.com. Otherwise, I’ve had a larger or smaller role in most aspects of our social media presence (and I’ve been running the @Hoovers account for nearly two years).

What have been the biggest success thus far?

I would say our involvement with Twitter, which has allowed us to interact with many customers, prospects, and other interested parties on the fly, and which has brought us positive attention from Mashable and others.

Have you had any ‘flops with a resounding thud’ that you are willing to share?

Had them? Yes. Willing to share them? Less so. ;)

The key to succeeding in social media, I think, is to keep evolving – just as the social networks and tools themselves do. You do your homework in advance, hopefully without falling into analysis-paralysis, and then you make an honest effort to get the thing to work. When it doesn’t work – and some things won’t – you retool and try again.

What are the most effective social media outlets for your space and how does your space differ from others?

Twitter has been effective for us, and we’ve begun to see some pickup from Facebook. Many B2B companies like us have also had good success with blogs, which is an area we expect to build out in the future.

The key difference for our market is that we’re B2B. Plenty of things in social media work just the same for B2B as for B2C, but some things don’t. You can’t expect to sell business information the same way you’d sell lipstick.

Are there any companies outside of the usual suspects (Comcast, Dell etc etc) that you feel are doing a solid job using social media to advance their business?

I’ll steal a line from my friend Bernie Borges of Find and Convert by citing Indium Corporation, which has been very successful using blogs to sell . . . solder paste.

The moral of the story: don’t limit your thinking about what can and can’t work in social media. Find your audience and serve them, and you won’t go wrong.

What do you see as the most important aspect of the space for the next year? If you would like to venture a 5 year guess feel free as well.

The biggest thing, I think, is that companies will be far less interested in the hype – and anti-hype – around social media, and far more interested in how social media does or doesn’t deliver results for their business. It’s time for everybody to get down to work.

What can we look forward to hearing from Hoover’s in the next year or so?

We’re doing lots of things to make sure that our users can get the right information when, where, and how they want it. For example, we just launched a great app called Near Here (http://hooversmobile.com/) for the iPhone; it allows road-warrior salespeople to find prospects in their vicinity and then access the relevant company and people information so that they can drum up more business on the fly. We’ve also just implemented a major upgrade to our subscriber platform, and we continue to improve the ways that users can access our information from other platforms, especially the major CRMs.

We expect to continue this kind of product innovation going forward, just as we expect to keep improving the mix of our social media efforts to better serve our audience. Stay tuned!

Thanks to Tim for taking the time to talk to us here at Marketing Pilgrim. My biggest takeaway is his sage advice to stop talking about social media and start doing social media. In fact, if you think you are “doing social media” well, let us know and maybe we’ll feature your efforts for the rest of the Marketing Pilgrim audience to see.

  • http://www.webdexmedia.com/ Melinda

    This is a great article for those people who want to know what Social Media can and cannot do for them. Because it is so hard to track the direct results of social media channels like Twitter, it can be hard to justify spending the marketing time on managing the dialogue there. The advice about finding the audience and serving them is certainly applicable.