I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Frank Carlos, a grassroots marketing expert on the IBM developerWorks team. Among his many accomplishments has been the development of the @developerWorks Twitter profile which has amassed a princely 33,000 followers.
In my mind, this makes Frank something close to the Ashton Kutcher of the B2B tech world.
So, how did he do it? A few lessons came out of the conversation with Frank.
Curation is the key
The @developerWorks twitter account works as a syndication channel: posting links to content from across the developerWorks site. However, rather than just automatically spewing out the contents of an RSS feed, Frank takes the role of editor, curating the content and only posting the pieces he thinks make most sense. This resonates with Paul Gillin’s claim in B2B Magazine that curation is the new creation and as the amount of information out there on the web grows exponentially, we find real value from those who can pick through the haystack and just hand us the needles.
Let’s be clear though, the role of curator involves some serious graft. Frank points out that he posts over 20 tweets a day. Every day. Obviously, in order to do this you need a large network of content to pick from.
Focus on the audience
developerWorks is an IBM resource for developers and IT professionals, allowing them to build skills around the gamut of technologies that IBM solutions touch. It covers IBM’s own platforms and tools such as WebSphere, Rational, Tivoli and Information Management. There is also a mass of content on popular programming languages and applications, including PHP, Java, Ruby, Android and HTML5, and it is in these areas where the @developerWorks account is focused. (As an aside, a recent developerWorks study shows just how important these technologies are to the developerWorks audience).
Going after popular topics is a shrewd play that has obviously paid off for the @developerWorks account. Just picking a random selection from today:
Here you can see posts covering Cloud, JavaServer, Ubuntu, RedHat, Scala.
Sure, many of the tweets are related to IBM solutions, but the relationship is made with popular tech topics of the day. The message here is if you know there is a popular theme related to your offerings, exploit that relationship!
Let folks know you’re out there
There are a few attention-grabbing tactics that have been employed to publicize the @developerWorks account: none of which have cost a dime to implement (well, beyond the internal resource).
The first, is the choice of a somewhat unusual URL shortener to post links: StumbleUpon. The advantage of this service over other shorteners such as bit.ly or the newer goo.gl is that the links are automatically added to the StumbleUpon network and Frank points out that his links receive a good chunk of traffic directly from the StumbleUpon channel.
Another technique used by @developerWorks is that of following people in the networks where you want prominence. Using the Android example, you can search on people using the ‘#android’ hashtag and follow those that appear to be tweeting on-topic. Following them also puts you on their radar. If you’re putting out quality content in that area, there’s a good chance they will follow you back.
The use of hashtags in tweets is a great way of associating your content with topics/subjects. How do you find the right hashtag? One way is just a simple search on Twitter, such as this one for ‘#android‘. What you are looking for is a hashtag with a hive of existing conversation around it. And, yep, the mighty Mashable has a primer if you want to know more on making the most of hashtags.
Prove the results of your work
Syndication is the core objective of the @developerWorks account. Frank keeps detailed records on each tweet and how many clicks it receives. As well as knowing that he drives 200,000 clickthroughs a month, he also can break that down by topic and IBM technology. All through the clever use of spreadsheets!
Much is talked about the ROI of social media. For syndication you can go beyond counting clicks and approximate the value of the channel by looking at how much it costs you to attract visitors using other channels. For instance, you can take your hashtags and find out how much it would cost you to get traffic for those terms through paid search on Google. You can take this a step further if you have a good connection between your web analytics and your CRM and calculate how many of these clicks have turned into customers.
Although I bring this up last, tracking the value of your work can be the most important piece. As you’re probably aware, if you can’t find a way to express the value of your efforts, you may find your management pulling the rug from under your campaign.
I should come clean and point out that one of the motivating factors in my decision to move to the developerWorks organization was wanting to be a part of a team that is making excellent use of social media in innovative and effective ways. Frank’s use of Twitter to build the @developerWorks profile is an excellent example of this.