Seven reasons why social networking is shaping the cloud

Cloud buyers are different from IT buyers. They don’t read the manual but they do trust social media - anything to bypass IT departments

You could be forgiven for thinking that nobody trusts social media. Half the announcements seem to be up to the minute Round Robin statements - “Just had a Fab Lunch in my holiday home!” The other half can read like digital forms of pyramid selling. Would you buy a cloud service based on the recommendation of a modern day Amway salesman?

But social media is important when it comes to shaping opinion on technology purchases. Though only around 14 per cent of buyers do their research on social media, that figure is expected to multiply in the next three years, according to figures released by Media Mantra. The consultancy predicts that 71 per cent of buyers of IT services will base their decisions on the verdicts they read social media.

Here are some reasons why:

1. There’s gold out there if you’re prepared to dig.
Analyst Malcolm Penn, CEO of Future Horizons, says that among all the guff that is published on social media, there are some gems if you know how to search.

“If you know where to look there’s some gold out there,” says Penn. Twitter’s search engines can cut through all the “I’m on the train statements” and find useful intelligence on that can inform an end user’s buying decisions.

2. Cloud buyers are different from IT buyers
Since the bogus millennium panic and the dot com crash of 2001, there has been a shift in power, according to Tom Schuster, VP of SugarCRM.

According to Schuster, 80 percent of the IT purchasing his company enables is carried out by people outside of the IT department. "Thanks to cloud computing, users can solve a problem quickly and bypass the IT department,” says Schuster.

Since the 2001 crash, you are more likely to find the budget for solving problems being spent by non-IT people, rather than the jobsworths behind the firewalls.

3. Non-IT people get their information from new sources
According to Schuster, the non-techies who make cloud purchases are likely to use social media to research their buying decisions. Not only do they go to different sources (trade shows are less popular) they have a very different psychology, he reports.

"The IT buyers is more logical and predictable. The cloud buyer is more random,” he says. This is not someone a sales person could hunt down at a trade show. “Instead of us finding them, it’s more about them finding us when they have a query,” says Schuster.

This type of sale is much more suited to social media, which is a pull model, whereas IT sales was much more ‘pushy’. Hooray for social media, many would say.

4. Social media saves you time
Jeff Bradshaw, CTO for Adaptris says one of the main reasons people use Social Media for research is that it saves time. If you attend a roadshow, you have to sit through hours of enthusiasm sapping powerpoint presentations. Whereas social meda gets to the point quickly, says Bradshaw. 

"The biggest reason for using social media would be time saving,” says Bradshaw. “The information is presented to you without having to look for it."

5. Information you seek out is generally trusted.
Whereas an IT salesman will tell you what he or she wants you to hear, social media puts you in control. You can seek out the information you want. Yes, you could try asking an IT salesman a question, but they generally give you a politician’s answer, where they steer you back to their sales message.

"Verdicts from social media can be trusted, according to Bradshaw. “Generally this is from a source of information that you are following – hence you have already got a trust level with the content provider so there is less of a barrier," says Bradshaw. "I rarely login to news websites directly, but through following them on twitter I can pick things that are of interest to me, and generally that would influence me,” he adds.  

6. Social media is a soft sell that hasn’t been hijacked … yet.
Social media can influence cloud purchasing because people listen to what their peers say about products, says consultant Dr Graham Oakes.  “That colours their perception of what they need and which products fill those needs,” says Oakes.

People buy from people, as they say in IT. “Many professionals now use Twitter as one of their primary sources to find out what's going on in the industry and technology trends,” says Oakes.

They follow the thought leaders in their areas of interest, reading the blogs and articles that their peers and those thought leaders link to in their tweets. The influence on the final buying decision may be indirect, but it pretty well determines whether a vendor is considered or not in the first place.

As long as this system maintains its integrity as a trusted source of information, social media will become highly influential. Once social media thought leaders are corrupted into becoming branches of the marketing industry, all trust will be gone. Celeb tweeters are bound to endorse products for cash. Now many IT bloggers are being accused of hidden marketing agendas.

“I'm not sure Facebook is influential and Google Plus is still struggling, so far as I can see,” says Oates, “but sites like LinkedIn are important, as are specialist communities like Stackoverflow.”

7. Social Media Has the Numbers
One social media forum, Spiceworks, claims that 25 per cent of the world’s IT professionals use social networks to research IT purchasing. Some go on sites like Stackoverflow to ask their peers for tech advice. (Non-techies might be tempted to log on and tell the techies to read the fricking manual, in revenge for all those years of patronising us.)

“If cloud vendors don’t offer support, someone else does and they become the biggest influence on future sales,” warns Jay Hallberg, co-founder of Spiceworks.

If you are a cloud buyer, you can now do without all those expensive IT analyst reports, conventional wisdom seems to have it.

“You should be engaging on Quora and Twitter,” agrees  Rebecca Powell, VP of global marketing at Ebuzzing.

We’ll have to take their word for it. Where do you go to research which social media are trustworthy?

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