Web Strategy (Advanced): How to Serve your Entire Industry; Case Study of the Data Storage Industry Wiki

Warning: For Advanced Strategists only
This is for the advanced only, not a company that is still trying to answer “what or why”. To gauge the sophistication of your organization, see this chart. Deploying this strategy without grasping the foundations of social media, the cultural changes it implies or testing trial programs will likely lead to failure.

You: A Web Strategist
If you’re responsible for the direction of your online strategies for your company or organization, your ultimate goal is to serve the business needs, and satisfy users, customers, and the market. You may also be involved in a community program using social media tools to increase communication and knowledge opportunities. The following is a strategic tutorial, with a tactical case study that I implemented as a community manager.

[The customer advocate will go to great lengths to help customers, including promoting competitors. Today, the Community Manager role is appearing at many companies, their job; put customers first, and the vendor second. The opportunity? provide value, and build trust.]

Web Strategy Theory to know before you go forward
If you’ve not already figured it out, the corporate website is becoming less relevant, and web marketing (and support) has spread off your domain and google results. You also know that prospects trust the opinions of existing customers (who are ‘like them’) far more than marketers, your brand is decentralized –embrace! If you don’t understand these concepts, it’s hard to move forward, please re-read those posts above.

Opportunity: Why serve your industry?
Become an industry resource by putting customers first, demonstrate the importance of caring about those who actually consume products rather than putting the vendor first.

Situation: Look for a void
You may have a distributed or disport industry resulting in silos of information in your industry. Or perhaps there’s disdain and mistrust of vendors from customers

Challenges: Internal resistance, market distrust
Being a customer/industry resource will require you to promote anything that could help your customers, as a result, you may need to promote competitors. Your corporate communications department may not understand why you may want to promote competitors, as a means to an end.

What you should know:
The Strategy: Think bigger than your role at a vendor and serve the entire industry by creating a resource.

Tactics: Depending on your market, select the right tool, from a blog, a podcast, or a wiki.

For example, Scoble, who was a big influence on me, after analyzing his MS behavior, then joining him as a colleague, I learned that much of his success was attributed to his generous nature. From his early days working the counter at a San Jose camera store to being the top blogger at Microsoft, he would point to vendors to guide customers, even if it meant pointing to customers. He was confident enough to realize that customers would recognize this, build trust and return.

Case Study: Data Storage Industry Wiki

Background info
In 2006, as the community manager at Hitachi Data Systems (2005-2006), I created the Data Storage Industry Wiki. There was (and still is) some mistrust in the Data Storage Industry, on multiple accounts have customers voiced to me that they often feel like they are being duped over by vendors.

A need emerges: Isolationism
Mario Apicella, who covers the Data Storage Industry, wrote this thoughtful piece “Why aren’t more storage folks not blogging?” The industry was segmented, and the online conversations were few and far in between.

Early Development
It was part of my job to ‘listen’ to the marketplace, as a result, I had a list of blogs in my industry that kept on growing. Putting them on my feedreader was certainly helpful for me, but sharing it with others wasn’t as easy, how could I share this with Mario?. I created a wiki on an inexpensive non-branded website, and called it the “Data Storage Industry Wiki” I first started to populate it with blogs in the industry, segmenting by vendor, customer, and consultant, and then added other sections; a list of vendors, research, price guides, and links to other related content. Eventually the goal became clear, I wanted this to be the index for storage practitioners, a place to start to get educated, make decisions, and connect with others.

The Community Responds: A Vendor Trick? No, an Industry Resource
After it was populated, I released it to some of the key bloggers, by leaving comments, or emailing them. Some were impressed, while others thought it was a ‘vendor trick’. They had the ability to logon to the wiki, add pages and make changes, some did, and were surprised to find it wasn’t a ‘trick’. Even some of the industry press wrote from their own columns that this was useful:

Is this title another clever marketing gimmick from some vendor? No, not this time. What I am referring to is the Data Storage Industry Wiki , a new comprehensive index of just about anything you may want to read or hear about storage.

he continues:

“We have to thank Jeremiah Owyang, self described as Web Geek for HDS, for this jewel. Don’t let Owyang’s affiliation with Hitachi Data Systems sway you. His Wiki is hosted on neutral ground and doesn’t have any bias. I asked Owyang when and how he began working on the Wiki and that’s what he had to say: I think it’s pretty clear based upon the comments I’ve already left and what others are saying! I just want to be a helpful online resource for the storage community.”

-Mario Apicella of TechWorld writes on the ‘humanization’ of the industry:

“One of things this Wiki achieves is to give the storage industry a lot of faces, and this helps humanise vendors. The media people on it are used to being ‘faces’ and we don’t really need any more exposure.

-Writes Chris Mellor of Techworld.

For additional community responses, I linked to all the blogs talking about it, you can still find a list on the first page of the wiki to read their feedback.

The wiki got buzz in the industry, was linked from blogs put in blogrolls, and even HDS’ former public relations firm emailed me to congratulate me, although they weren’t involved. The wiki scored incredibly high for many search results, as the content was both niched, and many of the industry blogs pointed to it. If you do searches for “Data Storage blog” the wiki comes up first (in my session at least) as well as many other queries.

At least two of the community members visited me for lunch at HDS, I treated with the same respect we would treat an Analyst, Press, or Media. To date, my relationships are still intact, in fact, I’m having dinner with many of them in two weeks in Boston.

The most important outcome was the relationships built with real human beings. I was able to have email conversations and conversations from blogs with many of the members of the community, including customers. My relationships grew so strong, that when I emailed a few of them about a product announcement, they were very likely to blog about it, and add their unbiased commentary. My manager at the time also sent out internal communications to the right teams, informing them about the wiki, it’s benefits and how to use it. For my career, this was great, I was being noticed in the industry, eventually received a promotion, a raise, budget, and headcount.

Challenges, and final resting place
Sadly, public wikis have many challenges, as they get more popular, they become vandalized or corrupted. Eventually, the wiki had to be locked down, and the passwords were distributed to key members of the community, mostly unbiased non-vendors. The wiki still continues to live, but the updates have been minimal at best. Don’t start any business programs if you can’t support them for the long term.

[Serving the industry and customers requires putting them first, including promoting competitors. The return? real human relationships are built, you’ll bringing the market closer, making you more relevant]

Getting Started

1) Gauge if your internal culture is prepared for an advaned strategy, gauge the sophistication level.
2) Find a ‘void’ in the market or industry that needs to be filled, only then, decide on which tool should be used.
3) Put customers first, brainstorm on finding a whole that your overall industry or market needs. Consider using your customers to contribute to the market, let go, give them ownership for collaboration.
4) Attempt to turn over control to the community, while you maintain an administrative role in order to keep the value high, and remove unwanted content.
5) Stay vendor agnostic, be fair, and let go to gain more.

Connect to me
As an analyst, often many of my reports will require purchase, I’ll continue to post these free “Web Strategy” guides from time to time, why? I want to build your trust, and build a relationship with you. I’m available as an advisor at the strategic level, you can contact me a variety of ways:

  • Facebook: Add me, I’ll add you back
  • Web Strategy Community: Join the Web Strategy Group (your peers) in Facebook
  • Twitter: Add me and I’ll add you back
  • My bio and profile
  • Watch the Web Strategy Video Show