The Challenge that is Social Media ~ Engagement is not enough

Social media is hard work.

But, absent providing something of value to your clients or referrers, you are sure to be disappointed with the return on your investment of time (“ROIt”).

You start with LinkedIn.

Developing your buyer friendly profile takes a few weeks. Then come the contacts and before you know where you are you have joined a dozen or so industry groups, and find yourself drawn into some interesting conversations (“How on earth do I turn off those daily alerts?”), but still the new instructions don’t flow.

You load a few applications – Slideshare and Amazon reading list. They sit there completely moribund.

Somebody mentioned your *stuff* going viral, but you are struggling to understand what on earth that means. YouTube? That Charlie Sheen video sounds vaguely familiar.

Ah … you remember … it was something to do with Twitter.

So, reinvigorated, you join Twitter – you are not sure if it is permitted by the firm – but, what the heck, no one has said you can’t and, for the moment, you appear to be able to get access.

You upload the Twitter application for LinkedIn but forget that every Tweet you send, unless you change the settings and decide to mark it #LI, gets replicated across your LinkedIn stream.

Lots of conversations later with a few like-minded people has resulted in some telephone calls, a few enquiries from non clients and a whole slew of time going down as non-chargeable and still the work doesn’t flow.

You are beginning to run out of steam and certainly those naysayers who were quick to mock your sudden interest in this social media malarkey are ringing their cynicism in your ear: “I told you it was a waste of time”.

In one last desperate attempt to prove everyone right and restore your sanity you go for a WordPress blog.

SEO is the name of the game, and so you set out, with the help of some searches on Google Adwords, populating your blog with lots of highly relevant key words. Initially, you get some nice comments (from other professionals) but with the pressure of work you are finding it harder and harder to maintain momentum and think up something of interest. Two posts one week, none the next week and one the following week. Hardly the best start in the world. You don’t know how long they are supposed to be but you have stuck with about 1,000 words.

Of course, in the good old days of outbound marketing none of this would have prevailed. And, of course, the other big factor is that even though you would have been involved in writing some copy for PR/marketing, going to events and speaking, the expectation was not so singularly focused on you. Or, more particularly, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post on BrandYou, developing your on-line presence.

I am fan of Seth Godin and Tom Peters. Reading their material and watching quite a few YouTube videos what has been brought home to me is doing *it* (social media) is not enough.

I won’t recite the complete works of either but would simply repeat the message from Seth’s book The Dip:

“Anyone who is going to hire you, buy from you, recommend you, vote for you, or do what you want them to do is going to wonder if you’re the best choice. Best as in: best for them, right now, based on what they believe and what they know. And in the world as in: their world, the world they have access to.

….

Best is subjective. I (the consumer) get to decide, not you. World is selfish. It’s my definition, not yours. It’s the world I define, based on my convenience or my preferences. Be the best in my world and you have me, at a premium, right now.”

And therein lies the problem: To work out if you are the best, it is no good you telling me you are the best (how do I know?); but I have to perceive you as the best or infer it from what others are saying.

I have to have a way of judging the experience without initially committing myself to the uncertainty that comes with instructing a professional. Of course, if there was much greater certainty with your pricing or service offering I might have less to be nervous about.

And that is where the alchemy of social media strains at your historical (marketing) perspective. Either you have had less competition or clients have been less discerning.

Any client worth their salt is bound to check you out. What will they learn? Yes, you have a website but so does every other firm, and they all look and feel pan flat, insipid and dreary. Yes I know it is easy to knock websites but they are symptomatic of what is wrong with professional practice.

Back to the social media backdrop.

Start engaging with your clients. If you want inspiration watch this Malcolm Gladwell TED talk. Yes it concerns spaghetti sauces but the message to take away is that until you stop telling clients what they want and present them with the physical alternatives how will you even make a connection let alone turn your clients into sneezers (see the Idea Virus by Seth Godin) or better still fans.

It is all very good me or others constantly bemoaning the lack of remarkable content but until you have asked what form your clients wish to receive said content, there may be insufficient take up and syndication let alone the urge to buy from you.

My view is that at some stage you need to reach out to your clients and start offering value. You might want to offer a product or service which is allied to the material you have been promulgating. Don’t always expect new clients to beat a path to your door. Hopefully if you have created a newsletter or a mechanism for capturing their email addresses then it should be much easier to reach out and connect. But don’t overplay your hand. Too many emails means they might pull the plug.

Start thinking about your objectives for the platforms that you populate. You need to be focused how these fit into your firm’s strategy. If it is a time issue, then what is the current thinking for taking some of the money out of the outbound pot and putting it into inbound marketing? You need to be realistic. There are only so many hours in the day, and if you are struggling to co-ordinate your efforts then have you thought of recruiting or outsourcing? It might enable you to spend more time on listening and engagement.

You need to keep looking at the ROIt not to convince yourself that you are on to something but to make sure you understand if your objectives are being met. If you are on Twitter you might have given yourself the target of growing your followers and those following together so that you reach 500 followers within 4 weeks. But don’t think that more of one equates to more revenue. The point is that if you don’t set some goals you will have no way of measuring your progress.

Social media is here to stay and is not a novelty. Finding your voice, space and raving fans is not easy. But like all new things it is rarely achieved without constant iteration, field testing and failing from time to time.

If you feel like giving up then join the club.

Yes I am insanely passionate about the paradigm but even I have my off days where I wonder if all the effort is worth the candle.

What sustains me? A belief that by reaching out I might just inspire a few people to make a difference in the way that they do business. Or to borrow a phrase from the book Practically Radical by William C. Taylor “To be the most of anything”.

~ JS ~

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