Leveraging Social Media as part of a Referrals Program in Sales

You may have noticed that I have been thinking a lot about the concept of Social Selling. One reason is becuase of a new Neilsen report that shows our clients are spending a full 25% of their online time on Social Media sites.

“Now, we trust strangers.” That’s how New York-based Universal McCann sums up their 2008 study on the impact of online social media on society. They note that there has been a real explosion the number of ways in which people can share information and influence decisions. The marketplace used to be run almost exclusively on face-to-face meetings and transactions. Today, that has been transformed into a space occupied by networks of people where social capital is earned and valued.

This has important ramifications for sales, because the real power behind social media is how it can help transform you from being a complete stranger into a known quantityeven among groups of people you’ve not even met yet. As marketing and social media strategist Kneale Mann sums up rather nicely, the benefit is that “social media can eliminate the cold part of the call.”

To be clear, I’m not saying that salespeople and business owners should get out there and post ads all over the place on their favourite social media websites and ask for referrals outright. In fact, that’s a strategy that’s doomed to fail, because it breaks the golden rule of reciprocation: to ask something from others, you ought to provide them with something of value first.

Be a resource. Provide something that’s truly useful to readers. That’s the key leveraging social media. The referrals come later, only after you’ve demonstrated that value over a period of time, and after you’ve have earned it through your work providing products or services to your client.

Let’s look quickly at a few of the leading text-based social media tools out there today…

Twitter: Twitter has the unique advantage that it caps individual posts (or “tweets”) at 140 characters, so the onus is on you to be succinct. However, it also tends to encourage prolific tweeting, so you remain top-of-mind among fellow twitterati who follow you. Don’t just clutter your tweets with details of what you’re up to daily. Use this service as a modern method of broadcasting something of value. Have a link to a great product review…a great article featured in a marketing magazine…or a hot tip about a trend in your profession? Share it here. If followers find it useful, they can choose to re-tweet it. Voila! Your message just picked up extra traction.

LinkedIn: Widely considered as social media’s go-to place for business, LinkedIn helps you connect all your professional relationships and trusted personal contacts. This service is a great way to reinforce your network of clients and suppliers and discover previously untapped connections between people you know. It’s also a great place for testimonials—to receive them and to write them about others who have provided you with great service.

One of the best ways to communicate your expertise and gain followers on LinkedIn is by asking and answering questions. To do this effectively you can:

  • Join groups that are relevant to your business and participate actively in the forums;
  • Start your own group, focused on creating a community of focus on your product, service or topic / expertise area;
  • Search for questions based on keywords and supplant yourself in the middle of an ongoing conversation; and
  • Ask questions that will help you start a dialogue or gather research in an area that can better serve your customers and prospects.

Regardless of how you use questions make sure that you are delivering value in your answers. Do NOT shamelessly pitch your products or invite people to “check you out” on the web. Use the questions function in LinkedIn as a tool to showcase your expertise and knowledge in a specific subject matter and users will seek you out as a resource.

Facebook: While many treat Facebook as a more personal-focused networking tool, there’s no denying that it’s a great place to get noticed just by maintaining a presence. Remember: this is one of the most visited places on the web every day. Nielsen research in January 2010 ranked Facebook third among the top-ten web brands in America today. Therefore, if you have a time-sensitive message that needs to get out, this is a good place to do that. Top-ranked real estate agents are masterful users of Facebook, using the status updated to post news about their latest hot listings, encouraging readers to share that news with friends and family.

Make sure to create a fan page for your business and invite clients to join. The best companies ensure they deliver knowledge updates in the daily fan-page status field. They also share links and resources to fans on a daily basis. The aim is to create an active community that will dialogue with you and between themselves. You will attract referrals and testimonials if you provide high value advice everyday and reward the community for participation.

Consumer forums: For salespeople, online consumer forums can be a great place to share your product knowledge and offer advice…in other words, to be a valuable resource. Don’t EVER use these forums to pitch. Readers will frown on that and your social capital will be hurt. Instead, create a thread in which you introduce yourself as a sales professional who is knowledgeable about the products or services you sell and that you’d like to invite readers to post any questions they might have. This is a great way to start a dialogue with people and it gives you an opportunity to really demonstrate that depth of knowledge that you keep talking about.

There are many other social media sites, of course, and that list is endless. The list I’ve shared today is focused on text-based sites, but visual-based social media (e.g., YouTube and Flickr) is another important, rapidly growing segment. Take some time and do your research. Find out where your prospects gather online and find a reason to join in on the conversation. If you do this in a way that’s pitch-free and value focused, people will appreciate your efforts and that goes a long way to helping to build an online presence that is seen as memorable and as a valued resource for readers and potential customers alike.

Watch this spot tomorrow for an important invitation to a free event we are hostingto help you sell more socially!

Dedicated to increasing your sales,


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