The serious business of social networking
(Written by David Tovey)
All major brands across the world are interacting with their customers and potential customers using social media. In both business-to-consumer and business-to-business communication, social media has become an important tool for people serious about marketing. The great news is that the benefits can be achieved whatever the size of your organization. Even individuals are making themselves and their brand famous online in weeks and months these days – it doesn’t take years to establish yourself as the Go To person anymore!
Business use of social media is not about banal or trivial chat, it is not a fad and it is not about geeky technology. It is a serious business tool and, as you read in Chapter one, its use is growing at an incredible rate. It is no more about technology than using your smart phone or driving your car is – both complex technical products that you learn to use for the benefits they give you.
Social media is the term used to identify the various platforms that provide you with the opportunity to undertake social networking. Sadly social networking is a term that many businesses misinterpret as something employees should only do out of working hours. Some organizations misunderstand social networking in business so much that they ban their employees from using it and even spend money on technology to bar access to social networking sites. In the context of winning more business it is no more and no less than another form of business networking. You use it alongside your offline networking and marketing activity as a great way to motivate your target market and prospects to engage with you, buy from you and buy from you again.
The really savvy and switched on business winners have now realised that you need online and offline networking, i.e. joined up networking tools and skills in your selling kit bag if you are going to get ahead of your competitors.
Heather Townsend, FT Guide to Business Networking
What is networking?
Networking is about interacting with people. Using networking effectively as part of your M2M marketing activity involves building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with your target market, named prospects and specific contacts. When you network effectively you have a purpose which is more than just meeting new people, cosy chats or working a room. Principled Sellers use business networking to:
- Increase their profile
- Extend and strengthen the community around them
- Generate opportunities to win more business
- Build business insight and intelligence
- Learn new skills.
Principled Selling Tip: When you focus on relationships as their own reward lots of serendipitous things just happen.
Amazing things can happen when you develop relationships through business networking. While your networking activity needs to be planned and structured, unplanned and valuable opportunities present themselves. Getting this book published for instance started with a Tweet that within a few months led to a book proposal and formal offers from two leading publishers – one of whom I had never actually met face-to-face.
While social networking is now being adopted as a credible alternative to face-to-face networking, the more traditional forms of networking still have their place. You just need to be strategic about where you network so that you are meeting as many of the right people as possible.
Winning business through networking
For information they trust, people go to:
- People similar to themselves
- Their social networks (online and offline)
- Micro-blogging sites
- Websites which share Valuable Content.
Source: Edelman Barometer of Trust
When you use business networking effectively you tick all the boxes. You will be trusted as being a player in your target market, as someone who understands the clients’ world and who invests in their world by sharing meaningful content through networking activities.
My colleague Heather Townsend in FT Guide to Business Networking, identified that business relationships can be categorised on five levels.
Level 1: Identify
This is where someone first appears on your radar. They will be someone connected with your target markets(s), who are associated with a named prospect or someone who is a specific contact, they could be on your list of dream customers. It is possible they found you before you found them because of your online networking activity. At this stage you know their name, but you have never communicated with them.
Level 2: Connect
You are communicating valuable content via social media that will attract the people you want to build a business relationship with. Connections are made on LinkedIn and maybe Facebook. You follow each other on Twitter or interact in a forum or other online discussion group. You are now having a one-way or two-way conversation via social media. Both parties are asking themselves if there is a benefit in getting to know each other better and if they like each other. Your valuable content is being shared ‘virally’ by those people who trust your content and find it useful and interesting.
Level 3: Engage
Before you can generate any business from a relationship or via a relationship, you need to get to at least this level. At Level 3 you continue to build trust via a phone call, video call (Skype) and a face-to-face meeting.
Level 4: Collaborate
Your relationship has now progressed sufficiently so that you are both regularly communicating together. The relationship might have developed because the person has become a client and you use social media as one form of maintaining communications. It might have been that there was no immediate opportunity and you are staying on the radar of a future dream client. You will also be maintaining relationships where you will be helping each other in little or big ways; for example, sharing useful intelligence, passing business opportunities to each other or introducing each other to members of your network.
Level 5: Inner Circle
There are plenty of Level 5 relationships around; people who like each other as well as doing business with each other. Sometimes the business relationship becomes so strong it turns into a personal friendship. Friendship doesn’t automatically make a Level 5 relationship; Level 4 activities which make the relationship collaborative at a business level still need to exist.
When you understand which level a relationship is at, you can focus on investing in that relationship and business opportunities will follow.
How social media engages your prospects and clients
(Written by David Tovey)
Social media as part your inbound marketing strategy
“The key in social media is to share things of value”. Charles H. Green, Trusted Advisor
Human beings like to connect with like-minded people; it is in the DNA of people to build communities. There is plenty of research by eminent psychologists that shows this is why social networking has had such a huge impact in such a short time. It is why recommendations from connections via social media are trusted more than advertising or old style marketing.
How social media supports your inbound marketing
Social media fits so well with M2M marketing and Principled Selling because it is a type of ‘pull’ marketing. You attract people to you by the messages you communicate, the valuable content you share, the profile you build and the conversations you have. While the search functionality of sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn can provide you with a massive ready-made prospect list, this shouldn’t be used in the same way you use a mailing list or subscriber database. Just as you shouldn’t go up to someone in a networking event and start to pitch your services to them, you shouldn’t do this on social media. Any business won via social media is built upon a foundation of trust and credibility, which is often built up over months rather than on the basis of one email only.
Principled Selling Tip: Don’t use social media as just another way to broadcast your sales messages.
You can be up and running with social media in minutes. There is little or no upfront cost; your biggest investment will be time.
- Decide why you want to use social media and how this will support your M2M marketing efforts. Social media should be part of your marketing effort but not your only marketing effort. You might use it to support Valuable Content Campaigns, to increase visitor numbers to your website or to gain subscribers for your monthly e-newsletter.
- Using the selection criteria you developed for target markets, named prospects and specific contacts, identify whom you want to attract and engage with on social media.
- Identify which social media sites you will use to connect with your chosen audience and to share your valuable content.
- Identify what your target audience will find useful and interesting to read
- Decide what you want your target audience to do as a result of interacting with you via social media. Do you want them to sign up for a mailing list, be motivated to meet you, download your e-book or buy your book at a bookstore?
- Decide who within you organization will be responsible for communicating with your target audience. There is a time implication and the more people you can involve the better.
- Identify Key Performance Indicators, processes and systems to enable you to measure the impact of your social media activity. This could be you tagging people in your CRM system when you have engaged with them on social media. Or it could be using Google analytics to measure how much traffic you are getting from social media and what visitors do when they visit your website.
- Finally, train up your team on how to use social media tools and how to build business relationships online.
Social media tools and how to use them
The term social media refers to the platforms that like-minded people use to connect, share information and build relationships. Like everything, social media has its own jargon but don’t let that put you off – with just a little understanding you can be up and running in no time. The most common social media platforms you are likely to use are:
- Online forums.
If you are new to social media, the platforms of most interest to you will be blogs, Twitter and LinkedIn. While some business-to-business organizations have a Facebook presence, it is generally most useful in business-to-consumer marketing.
What is a Blog?
The term blog is a short for weblog or web log. When you write a blog, maintaining a blog or adding an article to an existing blog it is called blogging. Individual articles on a blog are called posts or entries. A person who posts the entries is called a blogger.
It is a powerful marketing and communication tool which helps you and your organization to communicate with prospects, customers and clients. You will develop better relationships and greater trust with your target market, named prospects and specific contacts.
As with all the social media tools mentioned here you don’t need any complex technical skills to use a blog. You can post to your blog site using articles you have written in Word documents. It is an easy and quick way to present your own material and you don’t need the permission of a commissioning editor to publish it.
Your blog helps people to see beyond marketing messages, giving you an opportunity to share valuable content and to demonstrate that there are real human beings behind the products and services you provid
Tweeting with Twitter
Twitter is what is known as a micro-blogging site. Users are called Tweeters who post short messages of up to 140 characters. Users choose people to follow and if you follow another user you see all their updates or Tweets. You can send an open message, reply to others’ Tweets and if you and another user follow each other you can send a private direct message.
As a businessperson, Twitter is likely to be your number one social media platform for networking and engaging with potential clients. At present it’s by far the most popular way of sharing a business-related blog article. It can work as well for salespeople, accountants, business owners and lawyers as it does for plumbers. It is easy to build up a targeted list of people that you’d like to connect with. With a limit of 140 characters, there’s no room for waffle!
One of the great things about Twitter as part of your inbound marketing activity is that it allows everyone to contact everyone else. Past relationships or status doesn’t matter and it allows you to start a discussion with all sorts of people in your target market and named prospects. It can also help you to connect with specific contacts. It’s possible to build really powerful connections on Twitter, both as a fantastic way of attracting people to your content, and expanding your network.
Principled Selling Tip: Don’t fall into the trap as some do and just use Twitter to send out sales messages. You will soon find you lose your audience if you use it as just another database to broadcast to.
Frequency and content
Try to post at least three times a day. It’s only 140 characters and doesn’t take long. If you do business across different time zones you can even schedule Tweets to be posted at the time your followers are most likely to see them.
Your following will increase and you will become a popular Tweeter if your posts are roughly:
- One third Valuable Content from your own sources (blogs, articles)
- One third shared Valuable Content from other sources (Retweets)
- One third social chat and general comments.
Valuable content from your own sources might include tips and sometime links to your blog posts or articles. Try to resist promoting products or services in Tweets; it’s a sure way to lose followers.
Retweets make sharing valuable content easy. The people you follow will supply you with lots of content, most of which is interesting and some of which your own followers will find interesting. One click and all your followers receive that content.
That last third of your Tweeting input is about showing you are human. It simply isn’t the real world to be talking business in every conversation offline and it’s the same online. That one third social chat might be anything from your frustration with public transport this morning to mentioning a concert or show you are going to later. Some Tweeters share their favourite quotes, some discuss sport. Steer clear of politics and don’t start or participate in arguments. Even if you feel strongly that you are right, you will waste time and inevitably alienate someone.
Being personal with Facebook
Facebook is a personal social network which is for some businesses and not for others. Facebook’s millions of users update their status regularly with personal stuff. Where they’re going, how they’re feeling, what they did last night. They share things that make them laugh, rant about things that annoy them, laugh, talk, flirt, argue. All human life is there. In short it’s a vibrant, noisy, lively place where people let their hair down. If your business fits well into this upbeat, social environment, then starting a Facebook page for your business could be an excellent idea.
Connecting with LinkedIn
Often described as Facebook for professionals, membership of LinkedIn is growing at a phenomenal rate. Two new members sign up every second of every day. What you share on LinkedIn is your professional persona rather than anything personal. It is a place to connect with potential customers and clients, to use as a contact base and to share valuable content.
When someone wants to check you out – a prospect, supplier or even a headhunter – the first thing they usually do is Google your name. If you are a member of LinkedIn your name will appear in the top few results. Your profile on LinkedIn is your online resume and you do need to ensure that the impression it gives of your brand is the one you want to give. There is an old saying that you only get one chance to make a first impression and you should make sure that the first impression people get of you on LinkedIn is the one you want them to have.
Probably the most important feature is the status update which allows you to share information with your connections. You can let your connections know about product launches, new projects, new client wins, your latest blog and share content that they will find useful.