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Social Media Portal - Profiled - Ivan Croxford - BT Tradespace

Staff (Social Media Portal) - 05 June 2009

Profiled - BT Tradespace - The social network for businesses


An Interview with Ivan Croxford, General Manager at business social network BT Tradespace

BTTradespace logoSocial Media Portal (SMP): What is your full job title and role at BT Tradespace?

Ivan Croxford (IC): General Manger of http://www.bttradespace.com. I look after all of the propositions, product development and partnerships.

SMP: When was BT Tradespace officially launched and what are the latest improvements to the service?

IC: The site was launched in April 2007. We are constantly developing and upgrading it, but the latest innovation was the BT Book It Now online booking service http://info.bttradespace.com/bookings/.This allows small businesses to take bookings and appointments online from their customers any time of day when the shops are shut.

SMP: What was the most challenging part of building the service?

IC: Building a new service without much (any!) hard data to go on. We had some strong hunches and insight about whether the proposition would resonate with small businesses. However, because what we were doing was so new, we had very little experience to feed off. We had to make a big commitment in terms of time, effort and resources before we were able to get any major level of feedback from the marketplace.Photograph of Ivan Croxford, General Manager at BT Tradespace

SMP: Who are your target audience and why?

IC: Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and their customers.  Our job is to create platforms to enable small business to do more business. We also want to help them to build a stronger online presence as well as develop strong relationships with customers, suppliers and like-minded enterprises online.  We’ve got over 350,000 SMEs now signed up.

SMP: How did you initially attract users to your site / service, and how do you do it now?

IC: Initially, we did not do any formal marketing. It was largely through word of mouth and small businesses discovering the site. This worked well during the beta period before the launch and is still effective. However, now we are embracing some of the latest tools such a Twitter to spread the word. We are also supplementing this approach with traditional online and offline marketing and PR. Finally, we are using established BT sales channels and entrenching BT Tradespace as part of our overall business offering.

SMP: What are your low moments of what you have been doing so far (and that of BT Tradespace)?

IC: We built the service very quickly and got it into the market in a matter of months. There were a number of internal technical challenges with regard to how the site could scale and grow. The low point was when we had to face those challenges and realised how tough some of them might be, but overcoming them helped us to grow as a team and learn an awful lot

SMP: What are your high moments of what you have been doing so far (and that of BT Tradespace)?

IC: There have been a large number of successes and it has been fantastic to see how BT Tradespace can really make a difference to the way our members operate online. There have been so many times when they have found new customers, new suppliers and new business partners. One seller of traditional Scottish sweets Granny Jacksons http://www.grannyjacksons.co.uk saw a 450 per cent increase in online sales in a year.

SMP: Now that you are established, what do you see as your biggest challenges and opportunities?

IC: What we are doing is still very new, even two years on. Social media tools are still novel to many small businesses and they are only just starting to be adopted in any significant number. Our biggest challenge going forward is to continue to provide these tools and make them simple and straightforward to use and to provide guidance and information to drive adoption.

There is still a lag between their availability and use. We need to show SMEs how relevant these tools are in generating sales, driving marketing and engaging with consumers. It is a big opportunity for BT Tradespace to be at the centre of the campaign to highlight the power and simplicity of social media to businesses.

SMP: What are the next moves for BT Tradespace?

IC: We have been taking a very long and considered view of our user experience. We are going to see some significant changes to the site to improve this and functionality. We want to develop it into a social commerce platform.  By that, I mean we are looking at BT Tradespace widgets and tools which can also be used on and off the BT Tradespace site. A good example of this is BT Book It Now to help small businesses capture business opportunities from social networking.

We are also going to focus a lot more on how video is used on the site as it is going to be massively important as a marketing tool. Consumers spend more time on a site if there is video content on it.  It is a far more appealing experience. Video is already big for consumers and businesses will follow suit.

SMP: What’s the next big step for social media and networks?

IC: What we are starting to see is the emergence of social commerce. Seventy five per cent of a purchasing decision, awareness and research, takes place before anyone goes near a businesses’ website. It is all based around word-of-mouth, discussions across the web by email and instant messaging and people asking questions in communities and price comparison sites.

Businesses have to try to draw their e-commerce strategy away from being site-centric to socially-aware so they take part in the conversation away from the comfort and control of their site. They have to start using their communities as lead-generation platforms. Social networking and e-commerce will be coming together and businesses must learn to operate in new environments, pinpointing those that are relevant to them and using a language and tone that customers can relate to.

SMP: What’s going to be the most interesting aspect regarding social media / technology throughout 2009?

IC: The growth of mobility. People are able to interact with social media whilst on the move. They are adopting mobile applications and services which are socially aware. This means features such as emails and instant messaging have more social relevance.

SMP: What impact is the global recession having and what do you think the best way is to manage it for businesses such as yours (and SMEs of course)?

IC: The global downturn is having a very important impact on everybody. However, it gives as many opportunities as it gives reasons for concern. Investment decisions of time and money have to be very carefully taken and there is a much higher level of expectation, whether for a home-based business or a large corporation such as BT.

BT Tradespace wants to help SMEs with a set of tools and services which will demonstrate value and return in terms of making more sales, retaining and attracting customers and improving their online profile. We want to make it quick and easy for SMEs to get the best out of the internet and turn the web into the global, 24/7 sales and marketing channel for them it should be.

SMP: What are your top five tips for SMEs in using social media and networks?

IC: Replies with

a) Strong social networking is essential in building a reputation and creating advocacy so use mechanisms such as BT Tradespace for this. And also recommend other businesses you like and respect – build the network!

b) Generate content such as customer case studies and testimonials to show expertise and build trust.

c) Be a content producer – use rich and varied media such as blogs, podcasts, photos and videos – these are great for engagement and for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) too

d) Think where your customers are and track what people are saying about you through Google alerts, Twitter and Facebook.  Be ready to join the conversation!

e) Be open, honest and transparent in what you do and say. You should strike a balance in your language between friendly and business-like to fully engage with the customer

SMP: There have been a few new entrants (more notably from the US); what impact has this had upon BT Tradespace?

IC: We keep a careful eye on any possible new entrants but we are not primarily focussed on this. Our main aim and challenge is getting small businesses to appreciate how social media can benefit them. The more people that are creating a buzz around this area the better.

Just because somebody is using another service does not mean that they won’t also use ours. This is not a zero sum game. I have got a blog and have joined LinkedIn and Twitter. It doesn’t mean they are mutually exclusive.

SMP: How does this fit into plans at BT Tradespace?


IC: Competition in the classic sense is not a problem. We will be looking to do partnerships with other platforms. There is plenty of space for many different operators and providers. Watch this space!

SMP: What is the best way to contact you?


IC:  By email team @ bttradespace.com, the team on Twitter on twitter.com/bttradespace and you can also follow me on Twitter twitter.com/croxy

Now some questions for fun

SMP: What did you have for breakfast / lunch?

IC: A Blueberry muffin and black coffee on a plane back from a two-day conference in New York.

SMP: What’s the last good thing that you did for someone?

IC: I let a business partner beat me at table football (smiles).

SMP: How many hours to you work a week?

IC: 50-60 hours - lots more when we have new launches coming up!

SMP: If you weren’t running BT Tradespace what would you be doing?


IC: Setting up a new cool business venture for BT using emerging technologies.

SMP: When and where did you go on your last holiday?
 
I went to Madrid for a week at Easter. 

SMP: What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office of a morning?


IC: Checking emails on my BlackBerry on the Tube. When I arrive, I grab the FT and then leave it unread on my desk!

SMP: If you had a superpower what would it be and why?

IC: The ability to fly. This would mean when I go on business trips I wouldn’t have to check in or X-ray my shoes.

SMP: Are there any other sites/s that we should be aware of that relate to the above?

IC: Vark.com which enables people to use email and instant messaging to ask  and answer questions in social network environments looks like an interesting start-up. Get satisfaction, a collaboration site between companies and consumers to provide better customer service is really useful.   And of course Twitter is massive and only going to be more important for SMEs as time goes by.

SMP: Is there a corporate or personal blog/s we should know about?

IC: Blog.bttradespace.com http://blog.bttradespace.com is our official blog and a great read; Fumoir.com http://www.fumoir.com is my personal blog


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