6 Tips to Maximize Twitter Event Hashtags

Originally published in Small Business Computing, 8-29-11.

Recently, a client asked me for some tips about how to get the maximum mileage out of Twitter event hashtags. Creating Twitter hashtags for your business events is a great way to multiply conversations about what you’re doing, and there are also lots of ways to maximize the impact of the hashtag. I put a few before, during and after the event tips here together for her, and thought I’d share them with you.

Twitter Hashtag Tips: Before the Event

1. Start publicizing your Twitter event hashtag a week or so in advance of the event. Of course Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook groups are good ways to do this, as well as adding this information to any schedules, confirmations or even press releases you send out.  This lets people start tweeting in advance that they are going to attend the event — “@bugsbunny can’t wait to see you at #acmeroadrunner next week!” It also lets people who can’t attend know where they can get a real-time feed of what’s happening.

2. Create a list of ready-made tweets for your internal team to get the ball rolling. When you have specific announcements slated, send your internal team several ready-made tweets that are related to the announcement. Plan to do this a day or two before the event. For instance, “Acme Co.’s Roadrunner on stage with demo of the new Wylie Coyote killer app.” Ask your team to add their own comments to the tweets to personalize them and send them out in conjunction with the live announcement.

Twitter Hashtag Tips: During the Event

3. Publicize the event hashtag on signage and check-in materials at the event. Make certain you provide the event hashtag, so that people don’t need to hunt for it when they’re ready to tweet. At too many events, it’s too hard for people to find the hashtag when they need it. You want to make it easy for people to tweet about the event.

4. Monitor the Twitter hashtag, and then identify and promote the most active tweeters. At most events, there are at least a few people documenting and/or providing a running commentary on what’s going on. Promote these tweeters to others with tweets such as “Thanks @bugsbunny @elmerfudd @sylvestercat for chronicling and commentary about #acmeroadrunner!” — or something along those lines.

Twitter Hashtag Tips: After the Event

5. Create a Twitter transcript of all the tweets from the event each day and tweet out how people can access it. Twitter chats are great for real-time information and opinion sharing at events and getting the back-story.  But people can’t always participate real-time, so make it easy for them to catch up.

These transcripts are also a great resource for active press and analyst tweeters, who increasingly “take notes” in Twitter and use the tweet stream to refresh their memories to write blogs or reports later on. This article tells you how to make a Twitter chat transcript using TweetReports. There are other services out there, too; I’ve heard they all have pros and cons, so you may want to search around on Google and compare, and I’d be interested to find out what you come up with.

6. Figure out how you can analyze all the great information you’ve collected. This Social Media Today post provides information about a number of Twitter tools that can help you analyze hashtag streams. Some of the tools include MentionMap, The Archivist and Hash Tracking. A lot of these tools are free and/or available in a freemium model.

Well, for now, that’s all folks! But I’m sure that there are lots of other great tips, and I hope that you’ll send me your own to add to the list.

The Impact of HP’s New Direction—An SMB Market Perspective

–by Sanjeev Aggarwal and Laurie McCabe, SMB Group

After HP’s announcement that it would ditch it’s new Touchpad and put WebOS in mothballs, rumors leaked about it’s intentions to spin-off or sell it’s Personal Systems Group (PSG) PC business and acquire information management software vendor Autonomy for $10.2B. Combined, these moves confirm HP’s CEO, Leo Apotheker’s strategy to get out of the low-margin device business and create a bigger footprint in the higher margin software and services arena.

On the surface, perhaps, not a bad plan. After all, margins in the PC business will only continue to shrink, HP has a (very expensive) white elephant on its hands with WebOS, and Apotheker is of course a software wonk. Furthermore, IBM made what turned out to be a great decision when it sold its PC business to Lenovo back in 2004— and it seems like HP has been an IBM-wannabe for at least the last 20 years, so why not follow suit?

But, there are some very significant reasons that the outcomes resulting from HP’s decision are likely to be very different from IBM’s— many of which revolve around the SMB market.

Being in the Right Place at the Right Time, with the Right Strategy

Unlike IBM, HP has had a significant presence in the SMB and consumer segments. Although PSG accounts for less than 15% of profits, it comprises about one-third of HP’s revenues. In contrast, IBM has always been an enterprise-focused company, with no intentions to make a big play in the consumer market. IBM had been selling off PC-related assets, and had already tipped revenue and profit scales in favor of services and software before it sold its PC division as part of a long-term strategy to exit commodity markets. The Lenovo deal also provided IBM with a partnership opportunity to make huge inroads into selling higher-value products—software, servers and services—into the burgeoning Chinese market.

There’s also the matter of being in the right place at the right time. This is 2011, not 2004. The consumerization of IT is well underway. Employees (whether in small, medium or large businesses) are increasingly choosing to spend their own money to BYOD (bring your own device) instead of using a company-issued brick. And more companies are giving employees an allowance to purchase their device of choice.  This trend will only accelerate as younger employees—who expect cool gadgets—graduate and enter the workforce.

What’s HP’s SMB Entry Point Now?

To be truly successful in the SMB technology market—especially at the low-end—vendors need both a compelling entrée and solutions that can help these businesses grow. You can do it with a must-have business solution—ala Intuit—or with a solid line-up of IT infrastructure products and services. But, on the infrastructure side, PCs and notebooks have historically been one of the first IT products that small businesses buy. This is changing with the rise of smartphones and tablets, but these too are client devices. And SMBs will continue to buy PC and notebooks for the foreseeable future.

Which begs the question, what entry point HP will have into small business without PSG? HP lacks compelling small business solutions and has scrapped its plans for mobile devices. Printers—which HP will presumably hold onto—are even more of a commodity solution at the low-end of SMB than PCs.

HP’s Weak SMB Prognosis

Our prognosis is that without PSG, HP’s value proposition will be much weaker in SMB with this exit. PSG not only provided an entrée to upsell servers and services, but has been, for all intents and purposes, HP’s major marketing arm and “voice” to these businesses.

Meanwhile, since SMBs lack IT resources, they typically don’t want or can’t deal with multiple vendors supplying different pieces of the puzzle. This means that when HP hands off its PC business, both SMBs and the HP VARs that serve them—many of whom are small businesses themselves—will have the opportunity to rethink whether they want to stick with HP on the server side.

Who Gains

PC makers such as Lenovo, Acer, SONY and Toshiba should get a good bump, but Apple and Dell are the big SMB winners.

  • Apple basically owns the tablet space until someone comes up with a way to beat them at their own game (which obviously is tough to do!). But its not just iPads. IDC reports that Apple sold 1.66 million Macs and reached an 8.5 percent share of the market, up from 7 percent in Q1 2010. While a lot of these sales are a result of the BYOD to work movement, more SMBs are also buying them because of their reputation for reliability and security. With HP’s imminent departure,  Apple which has the cool factor and typically affords  higher profit margins than PCs–may be very appealing to some VARs.
  • Dell is now clearly poised to be the #1 SMB infrastructure brand. Since Michael Dell came back in 2008, Dell has surged in the SMB market. Not only will Dell take advantage of market uncertainty, but it is well-positioned in its ability to serve the end-to-end IT needs of SMBs, from PCs to servers to managed services. In the last two years, Dell has made a significant investment in listening to and understanding the needs of SMB customers, and it’s paying off. At the Dell Take Your Own Path event we attended in December 2010, SMB business owners told us that they selected Dell precisely because it could provide the broad range of infrastructure solutions and services that have enabled them to out-perform their peers. Dell continues to extend its SMB strategy and portfolio, with acquisitions and solutions such as it’s KACE infrastructure management appliance; Boomi, for application integration; and storage solutions, such as EquaLogic.  This gives it a solid foundation for extending its SMB footprint beyond PCs and servers.

While it hasn’t fared as well in the mobile device area to date, Dell is building a range mobile devices–laptops, tablets and smartphones–layered with a consistent user-interface called Stage. Over time, and allowing for mid-course corrections, this strategy has more potential to pay off for Dell with HP out of the picture. And, just as Apple will appeal to some disgruntled HP VARs, Dell will appeal to others, particularly those that want to pitch a complete solution from a single vendor rather than piecing together a patchwork of components from several vendors—not only because it’s easier, but because they’ll get better margins by concentrating their business with one supplier.

HP’s departure also opens the door wider for some less likely suspects. For instance, a vendor that already has an ongoing relationship with a large swath of SMB customers, a focus on mobility and the cloud, and willing  to place a strategic bet on the huge SMB technology opportunity. Perhaps a telco, such as Verizon? Finally, the ambitions of Amazon and Google, and their potential to disrupt the SMB market with whatever they have up their sleeves can’t be discounted.

Summing Up

HP’s move to increase its focus on high-margin software and services solutions will definitely impact its ability to maintain a strong position in the SMB market. Unfortunately for HP, it is also likely to find itself outflanked by IBM and hunted down by Oracle in the large enterprise space. Ironically, after growing to be the largest technology vendor in the world by acquiring vendors from Compaq to 3Par to Palm, and now Autonomy, HP appears to be headed back where it started from when it made the Compaq acquisition in 2001: in an uncomfortable middle ground with formidable competitors ready to pounce on all sides.

Recap of Joint Social Business Webinar with Radian6 and CRM Essentials

Today I had the pleasure of joining David Alston from Radian6 and the legendary Brent Leary of CRM Essentials for a webinar live from CRM Evolution. We had a lively conversation about some of the key social business findings that the SMB Group and CRM Essentials uncovered in the 2011 SMB Social Business Study, which Radian6 helped to sponsor. If you missed it, you can replay the archived version, but here’s a quick summary of what we covered.

We kicked off with a discussion about the benefits of taking a strategic approach to using social media vs. ad-hoc use. Whether your business uses social media to for lead generation, brand awareness, increasing customer satisfaction or developing new ideas for products and services, having a plan is key to getting better results. While many SMBs use social media in a fairly random way, by having a plan for what you want to achieve and how you’ll measure success, you will dramatically increase the effectiveness of your social media investment.

One of the key points that we talked about is that when it come to social, you should spend more time listening, and less time talking. Too often, businesses look at social media mainly as a marketing tool to blast out promotions and create buzz. Many SMBs under-utilize social media when it comes to improving customer engagement  and building community.  Spending time learning where your customers are, listening to what they care about, and engaging in meaningful conversations can often yield better dividends than simply tooting your own horn.

We also discussed some of the other often-overlooked areas where social media can provide SMBs with big benefits. For instance, although a relatively small percentage of SMBs use social for things such as idea creation and connecting with people who are not customers (such as industry influencers), those that do use social in these areas are highly satisfied with the results they’re getting.

We wrapped up by talking about the fact that today, social media tends to be a silo in many businesses. It reminds me of the early days of ecommerce, when siloed ecommerce site that were disconnected from brick and mortar operations. Just like ecommerce has become much more integrated with other aspects of the business, the same thing will (and already is) happen with social. By integrating social strategies and programs with CRM, HR, product development and other parts of the organization, SMBs can become more agile, responsive, and proactive–and create the exceptional customer experiences that will help them to grow and extend relationships.

For more perspective on what we discussed:

Dell KACE M300 Appliance Enables Small Businesses to Take a Proactive Approach to IT Asset Management

–by Sanjeev Aggarwal and Laurie McCabe

Dell KACE recently introduced a new series of System Management Appliances targeted at small businesses with 20-200 employees. The Dell KACE M300 Asset Management Appliance is designed to deliver an affordable, plug-and-play IT asset management solution that reduces the repetitive, time-consuming task of managing PC inventory and software licenses. The M300 qualifies as a robust yet easy-to-use asset management solution—saving these businesses time and money, while at the same time addressing their compliance and inventory management issues.

Perspective

Dell acquired KACE, which designs and builds systems management and deployment appliances, in February 2010. KACE solutions are available both as physical appliances (delivered as a pre-packaged hardware and software appliance) and as software-only virtual appliances, which customers can buy and load onto servers they already own. Dell’s KACE appliances are designed to perform processes ranging from initial computer deployment to ongoing management and retirement.

Higher-end Dell KACE products (K1000 and K2000) have been available for some time. Since Dell acquired the company, sales have spiked considerably year-over-year. However, the existing KACE offerings are designed for companies with 100 to 10,000 employees, and cost more than most small businesses are willing to spend in this area.

With the introduction of the M300, Dell is making a play in the true small business market, targeting customers that want a simple plug-and-play appliance to meet both hardware and software asset management needs. The M300 is designed for smaller businesses that often have a part-time IT manager, typically overloaded with installing software and keeping systems and client devices up and running, and frequently unable to keep up with the detail-oriented task of tracking hardware and software assets.

Many small business IT managers are still trying to manage assets and software licenses manually with spreadsheets. While manual tools provide a point in time snapshot of a network, the information rapidly becomes obsolete as computers are added or additional software is installed on existing systems. IT managers either end up spending too much time trying to keep this up-to-date, or end up with outdated asset inventories. Offloading the labor-intensive minutia involved in this job can free them up to focus on more important things.

Although there are some free and small business oriented solutions available, Dell’s strong market footprint and direct relationships with existing small business customers provide it with a significant go-to-market advantage, and the opportunity to educate small businesses about the benefits of investing in IT asset management (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Benefits of IT Asset Management

In line with small business requirements to keep it simple, the M300 features easy set up. The IT manager plugs the M300 into the network, and the device automatically scans and discovers all the attached devices, obtaining information like system names, IP addresses, vendor, models numbers, memory and disk space, etc. In addition to the hardware configuration, the M300 keeps track of all the software licenses, on what systems the software is installed, versions of the software and level of patch updates, etc.

The M300 continuously tracks computers and software, and can report accurate information in real-time and for compliance purposes at a specific point-in-time. The appliance’s web-based intuitive user interface shows real-time information on all of the monitored parameters. It can match the installed software with the number of software licenses purchased and authorized users. It provides online or sends out reports and/or alerts on any monitored parameters. For example, an alert will be issued if an unapproved application is downloaded and installed on a monitored PC or whenever a new PC is connected to the network.

Priced at $2,498, the M300 includes a one year warranty and supports a maximum of 200 nodes. Assuming the useful life of the M300 to be 3 years, we estimate the cost to monitor each node (desktops and servers) on the network at approximately $0.49 per month per node in a company with 200 nodes. Figure 2 shows the estimated cost per node in companies of various sizes (according to the number of nodes deployed). Given the cost of a employing an IT admin to manage systems full-time (approximately $75,000 per year), the M300 will pay for itself in about one month. In addition, the M300 can relieve the pressure and any additional costs related to non-compliance in terms of number of software licenses, etc.

Figure 2: Tracking Cost Per Node, Per Month with the M300
Source: SMB Group

The M300 is compact–measuring just 1.52 x 5.79 x 5.79 inches, connects to the network via a single gigabit Ethernet port, and is currently available in the U.S. only, both direct from Dell and via Dell partners.  KACE has added about 100 new certified partners since Dell acquired it and currently has 143 channel partners in North America.  KACE is aggressively recruiting new partners to help it expand its footprint and reach Dell’s large customer base in the small business segment.

Dell’s future plans for KACE small business solutions include additional appliances that can be stacked on top of the M300 and will address time consuming IT management functions like OS installs, remote management, mobile devices, service desk, etc. As the systems management needs of these small businesses expand, Dell intends to help them manage this growth without the need to rip and replace their current solutions and investments.

Quick Take

Cost-efficiency, productivity benefits, ease of installation and peace of mind benefits—aided by Dell’s strong clout in the market—should enable the company to make significant inroads with KACE in the lower end of the SMB space. And, the company’s plans to incrementally build on the current M300 offerings with additional appliances for other repetitive tasks make sense.  However, Dell can significantly strengthen its story–and sales–by:

  • Offering small businesses options to add at least some new functionality via M300 software upgrades. Although the small business KACE appliances have a small form factor, some companies will balk at buying additional boxes (not to mention that Dell wants to move away from its “box-provider” image!)
  • Incorporating capabilities to manage non Windows-based systems, clients and networked storage devices.
  • Enabling remote management features to allow channel partners to offer incremental value-added IT infrastructure management services. This would not only have appeal for customers, who like to have a one-stop shop, but for partners, that can build higher margin services on top of the M300.

Looking at the larger picture, the KACE M300 provides further evidence of Dell’s deepening commitment to small businesses. The company continues to invest in and build innovative yet practical solutions that address real small business pain points without breaking the bank. Small businesses increasingly rely on technology to run their businesses, and Dell’s focus on supplying them with easy-to-use solutions such as the KACE M300 to help manage this technology is on the mark.

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