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In this podcast, Rashmi Sinha, CEO of SlideShare talks about lead generation, user ratings, B2B social networking, making sharing beneficial to community members and encouraging meaningful discourse by discouraging anonymity.

These show notes are more complete and narrative than in the past.  I am currently writing a book with Paul Gillin on B2B social media engagement, and will be incorporating insights from this podcast.  
 
There seems to be a great deal of interest in understanding how B2C might differ from B2B social media engagement.  Paul and I are working to articulate the distinctions.  This is one of many B2B oriented podcast interviews I will be releasing over the next few weeks. Expect a few guest hosted episodes by Paul as well.
 
Also, with the release of this podcast, comes our first audience survey.  Please take the listener survey today.
 
 
SHOW NOTES

00:47 -- Rashmi Sinha's previous appearance on the Supernova Podcast, hosted by Christopher Carfi on Blog Talk Radio, where much of the discussion focused on object-oriented social networking, and what makes these types of services different from more popular social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook and MySpace.

01:15 -- As in the real world, and particularly in a business-to-business context, interaction is usually focused around a particular activity, like a meeting, convention or demonstration.   Popular social networks like Facebook and Twitter, when interaction is not focused around a specific activity, are sometimes awkward because there is no construct for that experience in the real world, where exchanges are organized around actions.

02:07 -- SlideShare branded channels, a new area of the site which allow organizations to establish a custom, micro-site with their own look and feel inside the service, so they can engage with the broader SlideShare community.  Microsoft and Adobe have established their own branded channels, as has the White House and the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project.   As part of the launch, SlideShares new branded channels are now open to other organizations and brands by request, which at the time of this podcast can made be submitting a form within that section of the website.

03:09 -- The majority of SlideShare's community members are business decision-makers. Community members use the service mostly in a business context, since the social network is designed to host, share and promote discussion around PowerPoint presentations, which are used mostly in business to help make a point.  As a result, SlideShare is primarily a business-to-business social network.  On Feb. 6, 2010, just days after SlidShare's branded channels launch, there were 11 featured business channels, 2 featured education channels, 4 featured nonprofit channels and 1 featured event channel.

03:54 -- The Slideshare Virtualization Channel, a new, curated channel put together by the B2B social networking service is one of many they intend to add over the coming months, to provide organizations with an opportunity to associate their product, brand or service with premium content appealing to a specific business audience segment by way of a sponsorship.

04:49 --  According to Rashmi, Facebook is a personal social network that has been edging towards business.  Twitter is a social network that has always had a mix of personal and business applications. And Linkedin is a social network that is completely professional, with no room at all for personal interactions. She calls SlideShare a social network occupying the space between Facebook and Twitter. She acknowledges that SlideShare is very business oriented, but says that because it is such a visually oriented network where the most popular presentations usually incorporate a great deal of personality and flair, the service is conducive to interactions that are more personal than on Linkedin.

05:49 -- SlideShare may be business-to-business, but the service's real strength is its ability to promote business with personality. For example, on SlideShare's homepage, the presentations that tend to rank high, combine a great deal of personality with their subject matter, rather than more dry, reference-type presentations, which may be packed with relevant, useful content, but are often suffer from dense copy block, too few images and no real visual punch.

07:12 --  From a user-interface standpoint, there should be no difference between a B2C and B2B social networks, according to Rashmi.  She reminds us that as is true in all forms of social media, ease of use drives adoption.  And popular social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are benchmarks for just how easy a social networking service needs to be to lure members.  We have become accustomed to interacting with others online in a certain way, and if a B2B social network is going to be successful, it should be as user-friendly as popular online social media.

08:21 --  Connecting with perspective business customers in hopes of generating leads is the dominant behavior on SlideShare and Rashmi says her B2B social network is built around that purpose.  Presentations are used to pitch products, brands and services.  They support more extended, in-depth explanations.  Display ads may work to entice you to click and go somewhere, but they can't walk you through the types of explanations that are typical of more complex products and services.  It is the explanation that determines the length of a company's sales cycle.  At this point, presentations are a good consultative sales tool, since they make it easier for marketers to incorporate the various business processes, case studies and best practices decision-makers like to appraise when evaluating business products that could be incorporated into a company's everyday processes.

10:17 -- Currently, from a measurement standpoint, Slideshare reports the number of views, embeds, favorites, comments and downloads.  In the future, the company plans to report referrals as well and offer more in-depth reporting capabilities.

11:29 -- People upload their presentations on the site not just to share them with their existing business partners, but to get in front of other members they may not know, but who may have a need for their products and services.   As is the case with popular networking services, if you see other members there who you want to connect with, it encourages you to join. So the network effect is just as important in a business-to-business social networking environment, as it is on Facebook and Twitter. For business-to-business marketers, niche networks may also have additional value by aggregating a more targeted, premium audience.

12:20 -- Rashmi reveals the typical pattern by which SlideShare embed codes wind up getting used to display member presentations.  First, members tend to embed their presentations on their own sites Then they tweet it out or share it on Facebook.  Next, people who find them on SlideShare may embed those presentations on other sites. The owner of the presentation tends to embed it only on their own side. But if it's good content it just takes off. Slide share offers numerous ways to syndicate presentations. But the quality of the presentation, as determined by the SlideShare community, determines how broadly it permeates online. In some ways, this makes it impossible to game SlideShare to generate leads. "Your content has to be good," says Rashmi. "We provide the tools for sharing, but if your content is getting distributed everywhere, it's because your content is good."

14:31 -- In a business to business social networking environment, the absence of spam is a key component of getting people to comment. The quality of conversation must be high. "People have higher standards for B2B sites than on B2C sites. They don't want to put up a professional conversation in a place where they might encounter trolls," says Rashmi.   She also points out that not all comments about SlideShare content occur on her company's site.  Those conversations can and do take place on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin as well.

15:42 --  In contrast to the SAP Community Network (featured in a previous episode of this podcast about B2B social networks), SlideShare manages their community by hosting a forum for discourse, with ease-of-use as a core focus.

16:28 -- Rashmi estimates that while only about 20% of the presentations posted on SlideShare get comments, 60% of all presentations draw either comments, embeds, favorites or downloads.

16:55 -- Rashmi Sinha has mixed feelings about user ratings as a feature, so SlideShare opted not support that option.  She references a Sept. 22, 2009 YouTube blog post which reveals that site users, generally, are more inclined to grant YouTube videos five stars than any other rating.  In some cases, if they really dislike a video, they'll give it one star.  But people seldom rate videos two, three or four stars.

On the blog Social Commerce Today, a Jan. 21, 2010 post titled "YouTube & The Death of User Ratings" by Paul Marsden offers the following interpretation:

"Psychologically, it's far less taxing on the brain to give feedback in simple binary like\dislike form, and binary feedback is arguably easier to turn into a useful format to inform choices. And culturally, binary feedback is less open to cultural bias, as anyone who has done a balanced scorecard review will know.  Americans overrate, Germans under rate." Marsden argues that when it comes to online social networking, like\dislike ratings are more valuable than star ratings. He prefers to, "... leave ratings to professional reviewers -- it's what they're trained to do...."

As a side note, this opinion is in stark contrast to Mark Yoltan's, who says that on the SAP Community Network, a business to business social network recognized as one of the most successful in the world, user ratings actually improve our performance, because poor user ratings in a public environment serve as a wake up call to either improve the product or encourage those who like it to rate it highly. Perhaps this is more a function of just how important what I'm rating is to me.  Could it be the more professionally relevant what I'm rating is, the more willing I am to invest the time to give it a star rating?  Any thoughts on this out there?

As far as Rashmi is concerned, she choose the simple favorite button as the best practice for drawing in members to rate presentations.  But perhaps most important is the fact favorites and comments drive presentation downloads.  "When you have a lots of favorites that means that you are showing up on the screens of people across the site, because if I favorite your present station, your presentation will show up in my area of the site. So you get a lot more distribution when you get favorite and commented upon," says Rashmi.

18:19 -- Tech-oriented content is the dominant subject-matter on Slideshare.

20:09 -- And it's the visually attractive and provocative presentations tend to draw the most downloads on Slideshare. Shift Happens is a presentation uploaded by Jeff Brenman three years ago is a great example of the type pf presentation that tends to do well on SlideShare.  As of Feb. 6, 2010 it had been viewed 901,425 times, received 258 comments, 2237 favorites, 79,092 downloads and more than 10,000 views on various sites where the presentation has been embedded. 
Rashmi Sinha says high quality presentations that are long and rely on dense copy block with fewer images tend to draw less attention, even though they may be packed with great information.  the premise supports the notion that good media is quite different from good research. The former promises quick insights, while the latter arrives at a perspective by covering all aspects of a rational process, but requires a more significant time investment. 
As a side note, this argument reminds me of Steve Rubel's 2009 interview with Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson of For Immediate Release: the Hobson and Holtz Report, in which Steve said that as a result of he is looking to shorter, more abbreviated media formats to connect with broader audiences, suggesting infographics as a format he is interested in experimenting more with.  From a sociological standpoint, filtering information through one's online social network seems apt to promote the rise of pithy, sensationalist content, as EPIC 2014 predicted.

23:08 -- Rashmi Sinha has learned a great deal about what it takes from a legal perspective to protect intellectual property rights in a B2B  social networking environment.  SlideShare does receive Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) complaints, but they are very infrequent.  From the beginning the service has sought to encourage responsible sharing of content.  Presentations on SlidShare are much more popular when they're downloadable, and content owners have the option of whether or not to make their presentations downloadable when they post them. "Overall, we've put in the hook for people to benefit from sharing their content and set up a positive loop so that if you go and share your content, you are getting rewarded from it.  Which means that often, the person sharing the content is the creator of the content or has the copyright," says Rashmi.

24:09 -- When people share under their true identity, which is predominantly the case on SlideShare, and it would follow would be the case in most business-to-business social networking environments where lead generation is an primary objective, people are less likely to violate copyrights then they may be in environment where participants can achieve their goals anonymously.  In a social network where people use their real identity, you get much more responsible actions and much greater respect for copyright.

24:53 -- The biggest misconception people have about B2Bs social networks is that the ease-of-use, functionality and usability standards for them can somehow be less than what they are in popular B2C social networking sites.  People have a certain way of using the web, and they want the same ease-of-use and they get from a B2B social network as they get from a B2C social network.

25:51 -- Currently, Rashmi says the "white paper download" is the dominant paradigm for online B2B marketing.  But she also it's really a broken paradign.  Because you forfeit your e-mail address and contact information before you know whether or not the content is worthwhile.  SlideShare solves this problem by adding a layer of social networking.  Most favorites and commented content, rises to the top, making it easier to find and more likely it's worthwhile.  And you don't have to relinquish your e-mail address either. Rashmi calls the SlideShare approach more permission-based, rather than interruption-based, which business buyers are more resistant to.
28:11 -- End

BONUS CONTENT
 
 
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ABOUT THE PODCASTER
@EricSchwartzman provides online communication training, strategy and governance to public relations, public affairs, corporate communications and marketing specialists. He has extensive experience integrating emerging information technologies into organizational communications programs through public speaking, hands-on training seminars, consulting and the development of corporate policies on social media usage. His clients have included Boeing, BYU, City National Bank, Environmental Defense Fund, Government of Singapore, Johnson & Johnson, Southern California Edison, Toyota, UCLA, US Dept. of State, United States Army, US Embassy of Athens, the United States Marine Corps and many small to medium-sized companies and agencies. Schwartzman is currently co-authoring a book on business-to-business social media communications with Paul Gillin, to be published by Wiley in Fall 2010. He is the instructor behind PRSA’s top-rated social media and emerging treads training seminars, the Social Media Boot Camp and the Social Media Master Class, which are offered monthly in the US through PRSA. Since 2005, he has been producing the weekly, award-winning public relations podcast “On the Record…Online” (@ontherecord) about how technology is changing the way organizations communicate, the official podcast of the PRSA International Conference for the past three consecutive years.
On the Record…Online is the Official PR Podcast of the 2010 PRSA International Conference.  Subscribe via RSS or follow us on Twitter @ontherecord.


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