Social Media

Right now, you would have to be hiding under a (massive) rock, not to hear the thunderous footsteps of social media.

Practically everywhere you look there is some nod in the direction of one platform or another (and no doubt many more to come as investors seek to capitalise on the growth and sale potential – LinkedIn being a good example).

It may be overstating the case, but social media has gone mainstream. My sense is that businesses don’t want to be left out. That said I certainly can’t think of many where I would define them by their social media presence: their product and or service still defines them (but for how much longer I wonder – think of Blendtec).

But the truth is that very few businesses, and particularly professional service firms, really understand social media. This, of course, is just my opinion; but I can support my hypothesis, at least in part, by the dreadful way a lot of firms are still blasting out their news on Twitter with zero engagement.

Just wait until they get started on Google+.

I can hardly wait!

I have been doing my bit to give a (strategic) overview to what firms should consider doing both before, during and after their adoption of one platform or another. The trouble with social media, much like the ethereal term ‘marketing’, is that there is no guaranteed road map of success or manual which provides for a predictable outcome. Of course, that has not stopped many budding authors from producing book after book on social media.

I have made the point that you have to count for something, and stop being boring.

EARN the attention of your followers instead of bugging the hell out of them.

Of course, you will say: “What does that mean for my business?” Ultimately, the only way you will know is by doing something, and something remarkable? And I don’t just mean amassing a bunch of meaningless numbers – followers et al. You have to produce something that creates a ruckus, a (positive) storm so that people can’t help but beat a path to your door.

For me, social media is all about making ‘real’ connections; and Helping people to reach their destination. If all you are trying to do is sell, sell, sell then social media will be no more effective than the old school outbound marketing. If you need to understand how you can reconfigure your approach then go and read the book The Go-Giver. It inspired me on my journey, and although it is based on a simple premise, the 5 Stratospheric Rules set out in the book are quite profound.

Every day I learn something new from social media, and I don’t just mean how to ‘play’ with another shiny platform (look how quiet Quora has gone?). I mean something about myself.

I don’t profess to have all the answers and recognise that the market is moving so quickly that I need to focus on what works for me. I intend to keep pushing the envelope as hard as I can. As I have said already, the blog will be revamped and the material will be grouped in a way that is more accessible. WordPress is great but a lot of the content, over time, becomes lost.

The heading to this post “Have Yous” is inspired by a free download that Tom Peters produced. I thought I would produce my own 50 Have Yous but I knew that I would run out of steam mid-way. Instead, I thought I have put together my shortlist of those issues that I think you should be working on if you want social media to mean more than a Twitter symbol here or a LinkedIn profile there.

My ‘Top 10’ Shortlist (and it really is very short when you consider the issues at stake)

  1. Define success. Ideally, you need to start with ‘Why?’ before you move to the ‘What’ or ‘How’. If you don’t know what success looks like then how will you know if you have reached your goals?
  2. Have a strategy. And I don’t mean a prolix, keep in the bottom drawer style document. No, I mean something that is work in progress, the optimum word being progress.
  3. Align your social media efforts with your business goals for the business and not the other way round. Too often I see social media pop up in a discussion, and it then dictates the future direction (at least until the next meeting). Any business planning will be focused on a number of critical areas: (1) revenue generation; (2) growth in specific sectors; (3) staff engagement; (4) brand awareness; (5) dealing with the competition; (6) client engagement/fulfilment; (7) retention and recruitment; and (8) dealing with the internal projects. What you need to do is go back to the plans or discussion documents and put your community management hat on and ask how you might do things differently and, hopefully, better with the aid of the social media tools at your disposal: Twitter, Blogging and LinkedIn being the most likely. Please don’t lose sight of the fact that any on-line presence can be a sales channel and even though I have pleaded with you not to succumb to bugging for attention, there is no reason why, after you have earned sufficient authority in your space, you cannot invite your clients to buy from you.
  4. Social media is not free. It requires a budget. If you have a budgeting process then you need to look at the areas where you could transfer some of the spend into the social media space. At the very least you need to invest in your people to make sure they understand the nature of social media and how they can help in the deployment. You also need to consider how you are going to analyse your results. Will you buy a analytics package from someone like Radian 6?
  5. Social media has a habit of developing a life of its own. What initially wasn’t a problem when you had one or two people with their own Twitter accounts, can quickly become a headache, particularly once you remove the lock down. I would recommend that you put in place a short social media policy which includes the various platforms. Better still consider if you need to develop your own social media hub or centre of excellence so that everyone in the firm is trained to a particular level before they are unleashed on the world. That way your social media policy might actually mean something and possibly be read by someone other than the person who drafted it.
  6. Decide what model you are going to deploy to allow for engagement. Will it be Hub and Spoke or command and control or something different? Here is an excellent Slideshare presentation given by Jeremy Owyang which illustrates the point I am making.
  7. At some stage you will reach a point where everyone is saying the same thing? The gist of the question will be: “How do I get more followers/engagement.” In essence people will be stuck. My advice is to ensure that everyone is involved in the project, from top to bottom. Meaningful and interesting content is key. Once you have repackaged your news and put out a few bits of law, what comes next? The question should really be answered from the demand side of the equation? What is it that your clients want from you? And I don’t mean something for nothing. What questions do you repeatedly get asked or what do you think is the one thing that would make the biggest difference to your clients that you have influence over? These are only two areas for you to consider. In addition to the content think about the media. Have you considered audio, video or a well designed e-book? The point is that for most firms the appearance of giving something away may be enough for a client or prospective client to remark that you produced something that was really helpful, and they didn’t have to pay for it. Your nearest competitor may have been vexing your for some time but you really need to look at what a search on Google or Bing throws up to understand how a client’s mind works.
  8. Don’t judge your efforts by one mistake. Don’t let your social media vehicle be derailed by one mistake. I am not suggesting you go looking to screw things up but accept that mistakes will happen. The law of unintended consequences will catch someone out. Learn from the mistake, change your policy and/or strategy but don’t immediately apply the brakes or listen to the naysayers who will be only too pleased to say: “I told you so.” It is a trite expression but it is how you respond to your failures that defines you more so than your successes.
  9. Social media is an interactive process. Or as I like to think of: Softly Softly catchy monkey. You need to persevere and keep checking back to instances where you got positive and negative engagement. The blog posts that generated the most interest. The Tweet that was Re-Tweeted more than any other. The sentiment that lies behind these happenings are gold dust. The problem is that very often they get overlooked in the mad scramble to get ahead.
  10. Have a measurement for the Return on Investment by all means but accept that some of your efforts cannot be measured any more easily than your previous business development efforts. It is worthwhile keeping track of the numbers but ultimately, and certainly in the early stages, you will know if you are getting results because there will be more activity on your platforms, there will be more traffic to your website and, hopefully, there will be more interest in the firm from within. As you progress you will want to become more systematised and certainly see progression in your efforts – number of clients instructions being your principal aim – but don’t be seduced into constantly measuring.

In the final analysis you have to do what works for you. Social media is not a panacea for lack of leadership, the ability to retain clients who want the cheapest provider or those sectors who will never want to engage electronically. If you have a model that works then leverage it for all its worth.

But in time, more of your clients will expect a presence on line, and those that have done more to instill confidence in their offering will be difficult to dislodge.

Please don’t commit to this in a half-hearted way. If you say that social media is a priority then make it so. How many hours a week are you committing to it? If you don’t know then track it. If, after having tracked it, you realise that you are only giving a few hours then guess what, it’s not a priority.

~ Julian Summerhayes ~

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