Social networks, online communities, blogs and
wikis, have taken the Internet by storm, giving savvy marketers powerful new
ways to reach consumers. So what about companies that sell to businesses? Are
they missing the boat on the social networking craze? Not necessarily,
according to Open Text Corporation, a leading
provider of Enterprise Content Management (ECM) software, which helps Global
2000 companies manage information. While the challenges are different,
business-to-business firms are beginning to use online communities, blogs and
similar technologies to help establish deeper customer connections that can
boost the corporate bottom line.

Compared to social communities, such as Facebook or MySpace which target
people in casual, social settings, business communities must reach people in
the context of their professional lives, offering a wide range of information
in a self-service setting that helps them in their jobs and careers. Open
Text’s customer community initiative, called Open Text Online (OTO), has
helped Open Text better connect with its corporate customers, giving the
large, global organizations that use Open Text’s software a powerful new
resource over and above the formal support and training programs.

“What our customers want more than anything is detailed, useful
information they can take back to their business, and a genuine exchange of
ideas, minus a heavy-duty sales pitch,” said Open Text’s Vice President of
Customer Partnership Programs, Martin Sumner-Smith, who recently participated
in a podcast
on business-to-business customer communities and Open
Text’s approach. “Through Open Text Online, we have established customer
communities which allow us to gain enormous insights and new ideas on how to
improve our products and better meet the needs of our customers – all gained
directly from an open, ongoing exchange with customers.”

“Open Text’s software is strategic to our business,” said Jeff Brown,
Business Analyst with BMO Financial Group and an OTO member. “The idea of a
forum where we could access information, share ideas with our peers in other
organizations, and learn about innovative things other Open Text customers are
doing appealed to us. Enterprise software, by its nature, is very complex, so
offering a forum like OTO which facilitates knowledge sharing isn’t a ‘nice to
have’, it’s a necessity.”

OTO already boasts close to 9,000 active members and many of Open Text’s
largest customers have as many as 50 to 100 members each in the community.
Community members access a wide range of information, including customer case
studies, product and strategy presentations, white papers, recorded webinars,
and detailed information on how to effectively deploy technologies, such as
enterprise records management software.

OTO is divided into three tracks, one for business and department
managers and executives that use Livelink ECM, one for technical and
development staff at customer sites, and one for partners. Open Text tracks
what type of OTO information is most popular, helping to keep the site’s
content fresh and useful.

OTO was a highly strategic component which helped the company communicate
with customers during Open Text’s acquisition of Hummingbird in October, 2006.
Following the acquisition, Open Text created a special site within OTO for
Hummingbird customers, where they could exchange information, get questions
answered, and find details on Open Text’s strategy and product plans. The site
opened another channel of communication to better understand customers’ needs
and concerns.