Last week I spoke at an evening meeting of the Cass Entrepreneurs Network (an alumni group of Cass Business school at London’s City University) on entrepreneurs, PR and social media. The event, hosted at the CIPR’s headquarters in Russell Square, attracted a mixture of Cass and CIPR people, and, judging from their answers to my initial questions, some were very clued in to social media while others were yet to fully take the plunge.
After giving an overview of social media tools and why they are increasingly important as parts of our communications ‘toolbox’, I gave three examples of entrepreneurial businesses that had either embraced Web 2.0 as part of their B2B PR and marketing, or had been launched as Web 2.0 start-ups. Over the past decade I have worked with several start-ups – one of which, BIW, I helped win the Building magazine “Entrepreneur of the Year” award in 2006 – but I concentrated on more recent ventures:
- Woobius launched, in 2009 (post), a web-based service aimed at architects and other designers involved in construction projects
- Slider Studio is an architectural practice which had diversified into software development and launched a prototype Web 2.0 collaboration platform, StickyWorld, in late 2009/early 2010 (post)
- tCn: the Construction network, a Web 2.0 networking site, was launched in March 2010 (post), aimed solely at professionals working in the built environment industry (architecture, engineering, construction, FM, etc).
Of the three [disclosure: all are past clients of pwcom.co.uk Ltd], I mainly focused on the most mature, Woobius. During my preparation, I talked to one of its co-founders Bob Leung about their social media strategy and experiences, and he came up with some useful pointers for businesses considering adding Web 2.0 to their marketing mix:
- “We adopted social media for its low cost, high speed and easy trackability” – Bob explained how all the ‘Woobians’ were encouraged to Tweet and use other social media tools, resulting in a steady flow of rich online content including blog posts (Scribbles) and YouTube videos. Online buzz about the company quickly grew, helping it later get nominated for – and win – industry awards for its Woobius Eye app (and winning cash awards was both good for the bank balance and good for earning further backing from investors).
- “To build a good online following you need to be authentic” – A track record of active online engagement was vital to winning award support, Bob said; foundations needed to be laid down before you asked for people to vote for you.
- “Know no fear” – No constraints were imposed on using the various channels – even interns were trusted to learn the ‘netiquette’ and talk honestly about Woobius and their work with the company.
- “Work with existing events, even conventional CPD [continous professional development] can open doors” – using social media and developing new technologies don’t mean you stop talking to people face-to-face, Bob said. Woobius looked for opportunities to spread the word through learning sessions with industry professionals, and used meetings of the social media advocacy movement, Be2camp, to raise interest and get word of mouth recommendations from early adopters. “A few champions who really like your product can be invaluable in spreading the word to people outside your network,” he said.
- “Measure the results” – Bob talked about “a ten-fold return” from Woobius’s online social media work; in practical terms, this meant registration of 11,000 users of Woobius’s core design collaboration application in little over two years, plus invitations to develop new applications from customers impressed by its initial online services.
Woobius people used social media to promote a software service similar to but simpler than existing offerings, while the other two examples, I think, faced a slightly more daunting task: launching web 2.0-style applications or networks in an industry not yet fully conversant with web 2.0.
But in their own different ways, both StickyWorld and tCn have also learned some of the same lessons outlined by Bob. The StickyWorld team has cultivated its early adopters among research project partners, in universities and through industry events such as the 2010 London Festival of Architecture (StickyWorld Exhibition), while tCn has successfully developed awareness through marketing consultancies and existing membership organisations which have ‘championed’ use of tCn to their clients and members, and through its recent ‘tCnTop100’ campaign with Construction News (post).