by Allison Banko
Despite its name, social media isn't always so social. This can hold especially true when it comes to businesses practicing social media marketing. Take VMware, for example.
As a global IT solutions company with half a million customers, VMware's audiences surpass 100,000 on each of its social channels including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. However, these VMware accounts have more of a focus on pushing out messages than taking them in, explained Amy Wagman, Senior Marketing Manager, End User Computing, VMware.
In addition to the company's social media touchpoints, VMware's marketing team organizes in-person and virtual events as well as webcasts — practices the team has found very effective.
The marketing team kept this in mind when brainstorming ways to promote virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), a solution that enables IT to support end users no matter where they are and what device they operate, Wagman explained.
However, VDI is a specialized solution that doesn't apply to every company's needs. The solution is more relevant for use in market segments such as call centers, education and financial services.
To market the solution, the team sought a social media tactic that would enable a dialogue between VMware and its specialized target audience.
"Social has been such a great platform when it came to us pushing messages," Wagman said, "but we were like, 'How do we really start engaging people in a conversation?'"
While VMware has a strong presence on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, the company also has a presence on other networks including Google Plus. However, VMware's Google Plus account was used to the same capacity as its Facebook: the emphasis was on pushing out messages.
Unlike Facebook, Google Plus has the Google Plus Hangouts functionality.
While Google Plus Hangouts are often used for live video calls with up multiple people, they can also be live streamed for an online audience.
When the Hangout is finished, the live stream is hosted both on the linked Google Plus account and on the connected YouTube channel as a public video.
The team wanted to try the feature themselves by hosting a Google Plus Hangout on VDI. This was the first time VMware leveraged Google Plus as a potential platform to communicate with its audience, Wagman explained.
The Hangout, "Building the Business Case for Desktop Virtualization," featured a panel consisting of a moderator, two vExperts and two VMware customers. VMware's vExperts are a special community of enthusiasts who have made important contributions to the VMware community.
"We know having our customers and our experts speak for us is much more powerful than us pushing out a message," Wagman said. "So that's why we thought this would really be a nice platform to at least test and see what the responses would be."
Viewers engaged with the live Google Plus Hangout by asking questions through the event's Twitter hashtag, #VMWareHangout, or directly on the Google Plus platform. During the event, VMware promoted The Business Case for Desktop Virtualization
, a white paper download gated by a lead generation form.
The team's biggest goals for the Hangout were to generate engagement and convert "attendees" into sales leads.
Step #1. Pick a topic that interests the audience
"We wanted to be sure that content we were going to deliver was something that would resonate with our audience," Wagman explained.
To achieve this, the team turned to VMware's community of vExperts.
Informing the group that VMware was hosting a Google Plus Hangout, the team polled the vExperts on four topics they were considering for the event:
- Managing desktops and data in the era of mobile devices
- Driving the cost out of VDI — an interactive discussion looking at innovative approaches to storage and VDI
- Making the business case for VDI — a look at the cost of getting started, when it makes sense and when it doesn't
- vExperts could suggest their own topic
Wagman said because VMware has such an active community, the team was able to collect responses with 24-48 hours.
The clear winner was "Making the business case for VDI — a look at the cost of getting started, when it makes sense and when it doesn't."
"We were able to vet out the actual topic [and] to develop the content and any assets associated with that to what they're actually interested in talking about," Wagman said.
Step #2. Select a moderator and panelists
After determining VMware's Google Plus Hangout topic, the team needed to select the event's moderator and speaker panel.
The team wanted to ensure those featured in the Hangout weren't too stacked in one industry, Wagman explained.
The ideal panel included current VDI users offering insights such as:
- How a customer got to the point where they decided to move forward with desktop virtualization
- What particular business challenges these customers wanted to address
- How the customer came to the conclusion that VDI was the answer
- How the implementation process for VDI went
The team also sought to have some technical individuals on the panel to speak to a tech audience that wanted to know their responsibilities in regard to implementing a VDI infrastructure.
"We do have a very technical audience — we've done a lot of polling," Wagman said. "They really are dying to know the technical details, so we wanted make sure we had the [panel] that could give both of those insights to the technical side, but then also [explain] 'this is why VDI is a good solution for these types of business challenges.'"
To encompass all of its goals, VMware formed the following panel for its Google Plus Hangout:
- Brian Gammage, Chief Market Technologist, VMware (moderator)
- Rick Varju, Director of Engineering & Operations, Foley & Lardner LLP (VMware customer)
- Sean O'Mahoney, Vice President and Senior Manager of Technology Services, Republic Bank (VMware customer)
- Barry Coombs, Pre Sales and Technical Architect Manager, Computerworld Systems LTD, Co-author of Building End-User Computing Solutions with VMware View (VMware vExpert)
- David Davis, Virtualization Evangelist, TrainSignal (VMware vExpert)
Gammage received the moderator nod not only because he hails from VMware, but for his VDI expertise, Wagman explained.
"He's been engaged with desktop virtualization for years and years," she said. "So he was really able to drive that conversation and engage the panelists."
The team reached out to VMware vExperts who had a passion and expertise in desktop visualization to star in the Hangout. But to help with the customer selection portion of the panel, Marketing turned to VMware's customer reference team.
Wagman collaborated with colleagues such as Cynthia Hester, VMware's Director of Global Customer Reference Program, to find the perfect panelists.
"They're constantly reaching out and talking to customers," Wagman said. "So [Hester] gave us some recommendations. To be honest, typically for activities I would give several weeks to lock in a customer and we were able to lock in our two customers within a week."
Step #3. Promote, prep and launch Google Plus Hangout
VMware began promoting the Google Plus Hangout three weeks prior to the live stream. The team focused on the company's social media platforms to leverage those strong communities.
On VMware's owned channels, the team posted updates about the event on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and Spiceworks — an online community for IT professionals.
They also engaged paid social media such as promoted posts and sponsored stories, targeting VMware fans and individuals who were early technology adopters or had an interest in computer programming, science and technology.
The majority of VMware's paid social media efforts launched a week prior to the event. The team promoted the Hangout in its email newsletter, as well.
Attendees were asked to preregister for the event and received reminders in their inboxes leading up to the Hangout.
"We wanted to kind of gauge the number of people and be able to provide them reminder emails of like, 'Hey the event's about to start,'" Wagman explained. "We did do what is basically a short form — it wasn't a lead at all; it was just for reminder emails."
Online dress rehearsal
Because the Google Plus Hangout was live, the VMware team and on-air experts performed a few run-throughs, developing an outline for the moderator and the panelists.
Though the team wanted the event to be unscripted, they wanted to ensure the conversation would move along throughout the Hangout so the panel wouldn't get stuck on one particular topic, Wagman said.
The live event
The live Google Plus Hangout
boasted about 330 preregistrants, surpassing VMware's goal of 200. The event was one-hour long, and was promoted on Twitter as #VMwareHangout. According to Wagman, Twitter is the strongest channel among the IT audience.
Viewers were encouraged to ask questions during the Hangout, though most came in toward the end, Wagman said. Questions could be submitted through the hashtag and on the Google Plus platform. The VMware team moderated these channels, then sent questions to Gammage. He reminded the audience of the hashtag over the course of the hour and promoted VMware's information guide download.
Step #4. Post-event promotion
"One thing that's great about the Hangout is that it has a lot of legs after the event," Wagman said.
The YouTube video of the event went public after the live event and was search engine optimized, living on VMware's Google Plus page. The full video can also be edited to create — and promote — additional content.
In VMware's case, the team selected five highlights from the Hangout to edit as short, two- to three-minute clips featuring one or two panelists. They uploaded these videos to VMware's YouTube channel and inserted annotated links to the information guide.
VMware also shared the YouTube video of the full event on VMware's blogs, Twitter
, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google Plus accounts.
VMware's Google Plus Hangout "Building the Business Case for Desktop Virtualization" attracted more than 400 sales leads. The event led to a 1,600% ROI, taking into account the cost of an agency, tools and paid promotions.
VMware achieved 70 social media mentions during the live event and altogether, the full replay and video clips have garnered 5,100 total views to date.
"It did create true opportunities for us, and I hope that it's because we provided that insight that that person was looking for at the right time," Wagman said. "It's all mixed bag, but I think it has just really helped move the needle."
She credits a relevant topic and an engaged, passionate panel to the success of the Hangout.
"I was seeing how these guys were interacting with each other during it — they loved talking about this stuff," Wagman said. "And you can really feel it. You don't get that feeling from a [webcast] where you're watching a slide presentation or from a prerecorded video."
Though she admitted it would've been nice to have a better quality of the video itself, the Google Plus Hangout offered an authenticity she said she hadn't experienced from other marketing activities.
The event's setup invoked a more personable experience for the viewers, given the panelists were simply using a camera on their computers.
"You're seeing these peoples' faces, you're seeing that they're in their work environment, you see their books in the background, or if they're in a cube or an office," Wagman said. "You feel like you're really kind of peeking into their day-to-day."
Google Plus Hangouts fit into different tools you can leverage to continue a conversation with the audience, Wagman said. While the team experienced success with the Hangout, they don't think it should replace a webcast, but should instead serve as another marketing tactic.
VMware's primary goal was to create a dialogue with its audience, something its social media marketing struggled with on its Facebook and Twitter channels. The team found success thanks to an expert panel that put its customers onstage with a relevant topic and engaged the audience through asking questions.
Combined, these factors transformed VMware's social reach into sales leads and ultimately, revenue.
One thing Wagman said she remembers walking away from this Hangout was its authenticity — the audience felt like they were involved in an actual dialogue, not in a sales pitch, she said.
"That's what people are really hungry for: to be able to be part of that type of conversation," Wagman added. "They're receiving so much information from all these different channels, they're being pushed different things. I think social is great because they're able to actually opt in to what they do want to receive. The Google Hangout is another tool that can really engage your audience and continue that conversation in a different way."
- Twitter post-promotion
- Google Plus Hangout screenshot
SourcesVMware Zócalo Group
— VMware's social, digital and word-of-mouth marketing agency
Related ResourcesSocial Media Benchmarking Report 2014
— [From B2B Marketing] Building the Business Case for Desktop Virtualization
— VMware's Google Plus Hangout [Video]How to Calculate the Real Cost of VDI
— Clip from the live Hangout used for post-promotion [Video] Web Optimization: Simple CTA test yields 956% increase in clickthroughSocial Media Marketing: An inside look at Neiman Marcus' Pinterest and blogger relations strategies