By Clark Turner, Editor UTalkMarketing.
Social networking can mean more than hanging with your mates online. It can mean business networking too, a means to drive business.
Rather than attending events and working the room, you can sit on your ass and work the virtual room with a few taps of the keyboard.
But just because you post a Facebook page for your company, don’t expect the fans to come running. Just as there’s a right way to engage with your friends and consumers, there’s a right way to engage with new business prospects.
Professional networks such as LinkedIn and European giant, Viadeo, have revolutionised networking but require a different approach from Twitter and Facebook. Just as what you share with your mates is not what you might share in the office, similarly what you post on Facebook may not also be appropriate on a professional network.
“Twitter is a useful tool for engaging with people we can’t normally get to via phone or people who ignore email approaches,” explained Mark Terry-Lush, Director of Renegade Media.
“Last week I tapped up a contact in the USA first by googling them, reading their blog, using LinkedIn to get some background and see who they knew internally. I cross referenced with Facebook to check if they had a public profile, which helped me understand what they’re up to/likes and dislikes.”
He added, “Then I emailed her based on what I’d learnt, Followed her on Twitter… she connected back, and we tweeted to set up a meeting this for afternoon.”
Terry-Lush has also used Foursquare to equal effect but it’s with an airline project that things have really taken off.
“Earlier this year we decided to do a ‘proof of concept’ – we created a spoof airline, Publicitair.com, as launched as ‘a social media phenomenon’.We built a site, a twitter, a FB etc etc… we launched it via a blogger outreach campaign. All in 72 hours,” he said.
“We got prospects and clients to sign up to the Publicitair.com ticket lottery, emailed the case study to all prospects. It got us lots of press, including BBC, which led to a couple of meetings. It won us an award, and we’re finalists in another award later this month, so it was worth it.”
Twitter has also proved successful for Simon Corbett, MD of Jargon Public Relations, who uses the channel to post links to the press coverage the company has generated for clients.
“We reference the client and the media through the Twitter post. Each of their respective followers see’s our tweets and this increases our followers. Linked-In allows us to contact new business contacts directly. Our Twitter fed is also syndicated to our Linked-In account so both audiences see the results we generate for our clients,” he explained.
For Daryl Willcox, founder and chairman of Daryl Willcox Publishing, however, the answer for driving new business is not Twitter, but blogging.
For him, the platform is a good way for agencies to position themselves as a source of knowledge and expertise in the eyes of customers, prospects, suppliers and the media. However it needs to be approached in the correct way.
“Don’t just use it as a sales pitch – use it as a means of telling your customers the latest trends in your industry and what they should be looking at. Offer useful, insightful thoughts and you’ll indirectly push people towards your product or service,” he advised.
"Once you have a website, and maybe a blog, then social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter is a very effective way to boost traffic to your site. More traffic to your site will mean more leads for your company.”
He continued, “Once small businesses begin their journey into social media, the road ultimately leads to more traditional forms of marketing. You can embark on these with a little more confidence having learned about your customers’ needs and profile through the conversational nature of social media."
The picture looks complex and potentially overwhelming, but Mandy Hassall, Director at Six Degrees PR, advises new business seekers to be focused.
“You need to be selective and focused or you could spend all your time on social media sites to no great effect. I find LinkedIn most beneficial, because I can track who has moved where, old clients, old contacts, ex-colleagues and so on, and what they’re doing,” she said.
“I can also see through the TripIt application on LinkedIn if people I know or want to catch up with are travelling to shows, conferences, seminars and exhibitions where I can catch up with them.
“I also use relevant Groups and contribute where appropriate but without selling. And the groups themselves like the IOD and Tech PR groups have their own networking events which are pretty useful.”
For Simon Mansell, CEO of London-based digital agency TBG. it’s not about how but how effectively one uses social media on the back of the platform segmenting audiences.
“Once marketers could divide an audience into tightly defined groups, now that task is complicated by the very nature of social networking. Getting face-time from a Facebook audience is incredibly difficult,” he said.
“The key lies in personalising the message in way that resonates with the individual. Secondly, you must be able to rotate and adapt your message and pitch hundreds of time a minute so that you genuinely appeal to the aspirations, needs and interests on the individual.
“The third aspect relates to the simplicity and ease of the message. We are all creatures of habit and understanding that is fundamental to achieving success via social media channels. In short, the right tools, the right team and the right messages must come into play seamlessly and continuously.”
Despite some companies having reservations B2B social media is something that should be embraced, according to Bob Dearsley, Chairman of ITPR.
He told UTalkMarketing that the B2B world should neither shy away nor be put off by the breadth of social media, but rather exploit each medium to brand build, raising their corporate profile and ultimately, identifying and attracting new business leads.
“Ensure that your messages are consistent across each medium – this is best achieved through using the same content, or subtly tailored versions of it. Do PR, and do PR well by realising that there are now, more than ever before, new avenues and opportunities for content and therefore your messages,” he added.
“Production of well-argued, timely and relevant content is key above all else and the expert use of the various media as multiple delivery mechanisms can produce brand trust, an increased following and ultimately sales.”
So how should agencies be leading the conversation? According to Philip Mutton, Account Manager at Summersault Communications, it should never be a hard sell message.
"In terms of marketing, by delivering the right messages, social media not only creates awareness, but also helps to associate the business with good advice and good practice,” he explained.
“If potential customers are aware of your business and see you as experts in a particular area, they will be more likely to contact or interact with you.”
Mutton continued, "With the right policies (e.g. blogging police) and moderation in place, social media can help to portray a personality for the business and allow staff members to give a more personable account of the business. This helps to leverage the company's key attributes and can encourage potential customers to engage with you."
One thing is clear, once an agency decides to engage in social media, it needs to commit to long term and on going conversations.
“We're conscious anyone researching for a new agency may come across the likes of Facebook and Twitter, so we ensure our updates remain informative and interesting, especially within the online retail industry,” Jess Wilkinson, PR Manager, Leeds based ecommerce agency Chapter Eight, revealed.
“We've tried a few approaches to gaining new business on Twitter, mostly through our staff personal accounts. The hard sell direct message rarely works, so we've spent time getting to know people and finding out what they are looking for and how we can help them.”
The company’s Search Specialist made contact with the MD at H2O Building Services, noticing he was unhappy with his existing agency.
“We met up, discussed the best options for him and now provide the client with a retained package of services including PPC, SEO and PR,” added Wilkinson.
“I think the main thing we've learnt just over the last year is that sites like Twitter won't give you instant, tangible results, but like any business relationship it takes time to build trust.”
If you are still doubting the power of social media for new business, let us bring Clare Rayner to your attention.
The Founder and Managing Director Retail Acumen claims to attribute over £500K of my business turnover within a two year period to LinkedIn alone.
“I find that twitter has become the primary ‘place’ to generate conversations. By sharing content predominantly about my areas of expertise, and then by backing that up with content shared on such tools as slideshare (via linkedin) and in my blog, the conversations on twitter have (over time) lead to referrals, recommendations and sales!,” she explained.
“Through having conversations and giving away some of my expertise I have won the trust of people who have become advocates and supporters of me and of my business interests.”
Rayner concluded, “I can absolutely attribute over £500K of my business turnover within a two year period to LinkedIn alone, and, twitter is rapidly overtaking LinkedIn as a phenomenally powerful platform for networking, starting to build more random relationships, giving advice and support to others, earning their trust and friendships which eventually leads to business opportunities.”
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