Cisco kicks off its 2009 Partner Velocity conference in Paris Tuesday, and the networking titan is betting that the 150 or so partners in attendance have social media on the brain.
The conference, which will take place Tuesday through Thursday at Pullman Paris Rive Gauche, gathers analysts, media and Cisco channel partners from around the world to hear from marketing consultants on how to leverage social networking tools and other marketing trends as part of their efforts.
"It's purely external speakers, teaching them how to do marketing better," said Luanne Tierney, vice president of worldwide channels marketing at Cisco. "We're building on the whole aspect of social media tools. The No.1 question I get from partners is, 'How do I incorporate social media and end users into my marketing activities?' How do I take advantage?' "
Cisco has hosted Partner Velocity in Miami for the past two years but moved this installment of the conference -- its third -- to Paris so it could draw in more international partners, Tierney said. The attendee split at last year's Miami show was 70 percent U.S. channel partners and 30 percent international, but she expects the attendance in Paris will be split evenly between U.S., European and emerging markets.
Cisco capped registration at 150 organizations -- with mostly CEOs or marketing chiefs attending, Tierney said -- although the event was open to all Cisco partners. Distribution executives will also be in attendance, Cisco confirmed.
Partner Velocity is not designed to take the place of Cisco Channel Exchange, which the company last hosted in Portugal in November 2008 but has since been reworked as a primarily virtual event, Tierney said.
Neither event is the same as Cisco's traditional Partner Summit, which took place in Boston this year and will be in San Francisco in April next year, a Cisco spokesperson confirmed.
Cisco wants partners to come away from Partner Velocity with a better sense of social media-influenced marketing strategies and also opportunities to use Cisco marketing tools.
"The creative formula was something we saw with the first conference," Tierney said. "We're going to look at creative ideas, not just expensive ideas vs. nonexpensive ideas, and look at very tangible examples of how [partners] should be building their marketing pipeline, especially around things like video, which is blossoming like crazy."
Krissy Kelly, director of marketing for Force3, a Crofton, Md.-based solution provider, said Partner Velocity has in the past been a good opportunity to hear from marketing gurus and network with peers.
"We've heard the social media message since the first one in Miami, and since then we've been active on Twitter and trying to figure out how best to use that platform," she said.
Like a number of organizations experimenting with how to leverage Twitter, Facebook and other social networking portals, Force3 has had some bumps along the way.
"We now have a lot more followers on Twitter, and we had a problem where we put up a video that probably wasn't intended for external use," Kelly said. "You're dependent on individuals to make decisions, and we weren't prepared for the negative impact. It wasn't too big of a deal and we were able to nip it in the bud, but that's part of finding the way. Customers want to talk to you in different ways and Twitter is one of them. You can't ignore that stuff."
Among more successful social media campaigns, Force3 earlier this year used Facebook to help come up with a T-shirt slogan for a local sports team it works with. It advertised for slogan ideas using only its Facebook community.
"It was the type of thing where we'd have used a local radio spot or a billboard in the past," Kelly explained.
The ROI on social networking campaigns is tough to measure, she admitted.
"We measure who's coming to our Web site from Twitter, and we also look at how often it's used as an internal resource. We have one or two people focused on that; it's not taking an exorbitant amount of time to do so that's good," she said. "Any ROI that comes through these right now is gravy. We measure success on people talking about us and how it works in combination with the advertising we do with Cisco. You can't just look at one, like just Twitter or just Facebook or just a micro-site here or telemarketing there. You have to understand all of it."