B2B Advocate Marketing in the HR Tech and Conference Community

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Just a few years ago, HR technology companies and conferences felt broken. Out of ideas. Low on cash. Innovating out of their assholes. Laying off staff. No money for marketing or sales. Doing more with less.

No, wait, doing more with less would have been an improvement. They were doing less with less.

This is when I started writing on Punk Rock HR. I saw executives jumping on Twitter and Facebook just to kill hours in the day. Reaching out to bloggers and independent consultants to create cheap content (white papers, webinars). Asking bloggers to participate in guerrilla B2B marketing campaigns (tweet-ups and unconferences). Asking consultants of all stripes to show up at events for free and talk about cool new things (social recruiting, mobile apps) with a promise that business would eventually follow.

For awhile, things worked out. Everyone seemed happy.

But as the economy strengthened in 2011, companies and conference organizers started to worry about associating their brands with bloggers and consultants. Some people referred to social media personalities as celebutards. And I started hearing the words “conflict of interest” and “negative brand association” from people who hadn’t cared about those issues from 2007-2010.

I did what I do best when things look dire: I changed tactics and got a marketing job just to understand what the hell was happening in my industry.

But many of my fellow bloggers and independent consultants continued to work for free. When they were paid, it wasn’t in a transparent or obvious way. They lived and died by the free conference pass and continued to do speaking gigs and webinars for very little cash.

And when marketing budgets were finally reinstated at tech firms and HR conferences, the first place that money was spent was back with credible consultants and firms. You know, the ones who didn’t give away the goods for free.

I tell you this story because I was inspired by Mark Organ‘s talk at Influence HR. His organization is on the forefront of aligning and measuring B2B advocate marketing with broader marketing and sales strategies. It might not make sense for every B2B HR tech firm and event planner to embrace bloggers and social media rock stars like it’s 2009; however, it is still important to manage and leverage your army of unpaid fans and supporters.

But those relationships are being killed off in my industry. Very smart men seem to have a very immature and myopic understanding of brand, reach, resonance and digital media. I look at these men and think — If you can’t manage a once favorable relationship with a blogger or a social media guru, you probably can’t manage relationships with your own employees.

I expect to see some turnover.

Anyway, I have been trying to tell marketing executive and event planner who will listen: The economy is a funny thing. What seems like an economic rebound can just be a lull. And your brand advocates are yours for the asking. They dance like there’s nobody watching, love like they’ve never be hurt, sing like there is nobody listening, and believe in your brand like it’s heaven on earth.

Mistreat and abandon them at your own peril.

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