Embrace social media for professional services marketing
by Carey Bettencourt, Dave Hofferberth and Jeanne Urich, SPI Research
Social media — the seemingly infinite universe of web-based and mobile technologies through which users interact — is a pressing topic. It’s so pervasive with hype so ubiquitous that it’s easy to be overwhelmed when considering how to best incorporate this channel into your marketing strategy. In fact, some may question social media’s business value or even its permanence. However, the explosive and unprecedented growth of this global communication channel, supported by staggering statistics, isn’t debatable.
According to Pew’s 2010 annual “State of the Media” report, more people now get their news from the Internet than from newspapers. Facebook has over 800 million active users. LinkedIn has 100 million users with a new user added every second. YouTube gets over 3 billion views every single day. Twitter processes 230 million tweets a day, a 110 percent increase since the start of the year. Over half of all people in the U.S. over the age of 12 have set up a social media profile.
Although this channel is in its infancy, businesses are investing in social media and achieving significant quantitative and qualitative returns. If your organization is part of the majority that has not fully incorporated social media into an overall marketing strategy, have no fear. Best practices have emerged to help your firm successfully begin using social media for marketing.
Recognizing the benefits of social media for professional services
In professional services, where talented, highly skilled people are the product, effective use of social media can become a competitive advantage. For the first phase of social media marketing, it is important to establish a realistic set of objectives, scope and target use of specific technologies, or social media sites.
Following are key social media benefits:
- Build company brand and reputation.
- Broadcast thought leadership.
- Lower marketing costs.
- Increase marketing campaign efficiency and effectiveness.
- Provide real-time insight to industry trends and client preferences.
- Gather intelligence.
- Do prospecting.
- Create another channel to manage client relationships.
- Expand recruiting sources.
The most popular social media for businesses are:
- Social networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook have become powerful marketing vehicles for providing visibility into relationships, news, events and jobs.
- Twitter as a service channel.
- A company blog.
- YouTube for presentations and product demonstrations.
In particular, LinkedIn helps individuals promote their experience and skills, and highlights the diversity and range of their contacts and references. This network has become a primary source for referrals, relationships and jobs. Few business meetings occur without all parties researching the background and relationships of the people invited to the meeting.
Creating a social media marketing plan
The most important element of the social media marketing plan is to establish a clear set of business goals and objectives. A recommended goal of social media marketing for professional services is to share unique thought leadership, brand values and market differentiation.
Consistent with other business plans, objectives should measurable. Be conservative with these measurable, yet attainable objectives when beginning. Following are some sample objectives that would require a specific quantitative measure for a plan:
- Building awareness.
- Strengthening relationships with clients, prospects and influencers.
- Increasing referrals and references.
- Targeting buyers.
- Increasing website traffic.
- Improving search engine rankings.
- Driving traffic to webcasts and events.
- Generating leads.
- Generating sales.
- Sharing thought leadership and knowledge.
Determine which sites, networks and technologies to use for this phase. Prior to deciding, research target client social media preferences to ensure you reach this audience.
Use social media to publish white papers, presentations and case studies, to showcase knowledge of and approach to solving client business problems. Pick topics that create market differentiation and build buzz. For those who do not currently publish, create an editorial calendar of thought leadership topics and line up content experts. Once core content is developed, it’s easy to polish it to make it industry-leading and newsworthy.
Plan a trial period to test results and line up high-value content providers. Content must be fresh with a unique point of view that provides value to the reader. The more value provided, the more people will read it. When companies search specific topics, they may find your work, which might help them solve a pressing problem.
With time and attention, company awareness and audience will grow, doors opening up around the world.
Monitoring social media
If you do nothing else with social media, the very least you need to do is monitor social media for mentions of your company, competitors and industry. People will talk about you and your business regardless of whether or not you’re involved in social media. Companies that have shunned social media have gotten in trouble for not responding to complaints. By the time they did, the damage to the company’s reputation was done.
Domino’s responded well to a complaint from a customer with a disappointing experience. Because the company monitored and listened to online activities, they saved face by responding with a genuine apology video.
The way to monitor is to create automated searches for your
organization’s name, key executives’ names, your brand names, competitors
and their brand names, and other industry keywords. Some search services send
you an email as soon as the mention happens, daily, weekly or some other
Accepting that not everything you hear will be positive will help you prepare the right response for when it does happen. A good way to manage this is to have a (informal most likely) team in place to monitor and manage any chatter, both good and bad. The most important thing is to acknowledge quickly even if you don’t have answers yet, and follow-up with updates.
Moving ahead with social media marketing
Many leading professional service organizations have a reputation, or cachet, that goes with their names. Based on their premium brand, they are able to win first-class projects, hire elite employees and charge top rates. If your organization isn’t one of those, you must explore ways to bolster your reputation and to highlight past work so new clients with a similar business problem will knock on your door.
Social media marketing is an exciting new realm that will have a sweeping impact on your business. There are hundreds of networks and sites available with a few like LinkedIn and Twitter dominating the professional services landscape today. However, with the pace of this technology, professional service organizations must stay abreast of new social media technologies and sites that will eclipse the way they work to realize greater market opportunity while enhancing their brand. The most successful firms we track demonstrate a deep knowledge of their areas of focus. Social media can reveal the depth of your knowledge to a broad audience.
When social media first appeared, many thought it would be a fad, as most could not figure out how to monetize the work they were doing, unless they received payment for blogging. It turns out social media might be one of the most efficient marketing tools ever. It provides an inexpensive way to market expertise and respond quickly to changing market conditions and preferences.
Before starting, consider these quick points about social media. First, you must watch out. Like letters, voicemail and other types of media, what you type, write or say can come back to haunt you. Strong opinions or blatantly incorrect statements can damage you and your company’s reputations. Do your research and try to balance your opinions showing others that you can see both sides of an issue.
Also, watch the people in your social media circle, because guilt by association is a natural human emotion. You probably have requests from many individuals who you don’t know very well, if at all. Check them out before you accept them into your circle of peers.
Social media has the power to extend marketing reach, to extend relationship management. This is only the beginning and the professional service organizations that harness its power now will be ahead of the pack.