Putting the Social in Social Media

"The more I use social media the less social I become." That’s a quote from a conversation I overheard recently at the U.S. National Speakers’ Association… and it’s been on my mind a lot since then.

It’s understandable that some business professionals are still a little wary of social media and social networking—and by the way that’s a list of websites that includes Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, among others. Indeed, time is too valuable to waste on fads, but the facts suggest that there is much more going on here than just another trend fueled by the power of everyone-else-is-doing-it psychology.

Take a step back from the technological allure of these websites and online apps and you can see that top-ranked social media share some important characteristics that are invaluable in sales:

  • They can filter content and connect you directly, one-on-one, with others who are interested in similar things that matter to you;
  • They help keep you in the conversation loop on topics that matter to you and your customers, including those that mention you or your company by name; and
  • They provide you with a easy-to-access medium to be as useful to others as that medium can be for you.

In other words, the best social media sites have in common a key attribute that all top-ranked sales people look for in networking: they are places that can help you showcase your value as a resource to a well-defined group of people. That’s something to be valued well ahead all others benefits associated with social networking, and yet it’s the one that I find is still under-used by professionals…and that takes me back to that quote I heard at the conference.

If you are becoming less social while using more social media, then you’re not using that tool correctly. Social media is not meant to replace physical contact. It’s meant to compliment it, providing an additional outlet to listen and engage with your clients. And, in this marketplace you need as many customer contact outlets as possible to stay in that coveted top-of-mind position.

There’s no question that social media has caught on with a large segment of today’s marketplace. A 2010 Nieslen study in the U.S. found that it now occupies roughly 25% of online activities—and that’s nearly double from just a year ago. So it’s fair to say that this is an activity that’s already being embraced by your existing customers as well as people with whom you’d like to do business.

Your challenge, therefore, is to find ways to make social media part of your client-attraction system (see my earlier article for more about that topic). Here are five ways you can build on the social in your social networking activities:

  1. Share useful tips, articles and announcements on Twitter. This includes retweeting good news about your customers. Showcase your skills by answering questions tweeted by others. By participating in the networks of your customers, you increase the chances they will want to engage with you offline more often.
  2. Engage in conversations with clients via LinkedIn and blogs. At Engage, our most successful clients use LinkedIn and the comments section of their own blogs to ask and answer questions, create groups specific to their products/services and ensure they are connecting likeminded clients who can help each other. Some of our clients have great success creating virtual advisory groups that meet both online and offline to improve customer service and enhance products.
  3. Create special offers for followers. Encourage participation in Facebook Fan Pages by giving away products and offering special discounts. This can also include inviting readers to join online newsletters and other promotional material…and don’t forget to mention those special offers in your "on-hold message" for inbound client phone calls. By using a multifaceted approach, you engage customers many more times in a month than they could using only traditional media.
  4. Elevate awareness by promoting live events and hosting virtual launch parties and special event pages on Facebook and LinkedIn. Invite customers to participate online and reward them for inviting others. It’s a great way to attract new clients and reward existing ones.
  5. Make yourself available using live chat. Let’s face it. Some prospects might not want to pick up the phone and call you, but will be more receptive to chatting with you online. It’s less formal helps build trust because it’s dialogue established on their terms.

Social media and social networking sites are worth effort! It can help attract and retain more clients, but like all tools, you have to use them properly. Remember: this does not replace the legwork you have to do as a sales person in seeking out prospects, determining what they want and finding ways to meet those needs. Rather, it is an extension of those efforts; one more element in your arsenal to help you hit those sales targets month after month, year after year.