You can't afford to ignore social media

You know it's important to have a LinkedIn and Facebook profile. But how do you harness the power of these new Web tools?

Social media marketing is the hottest new trend and is a cost-effective way to dialogue with your clients, prospects and referral sources. The key to success is following the dialogue and following up, and establishing a plan to manage your goals and track your return on investment.

Social media marketing is about connecting, engaging and building relationships with your clients, prospects and referral sources through various social networking sites. Think of it as a Chamber of Commerce/Rot­ary Club mixer or cocktail party online.

Web sites are no longer just for information. We're living in a new participatory culture where dialogue (versus monologue) is paramount. This is Marketing 2.0, folks. And here's a heads-up: SMM truly is an art form. It takes time, patience, commitment and strategy to make it all come together in an effective marketing campaign.

The top five formats for SMM are Twitter, blogs, LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube, with an honorable mention going to social bookmarking sites like Delicious.

Every time you engage in SMM, you are generating exposure and opportunities for your firm. The more time you invest, the greater benefits you will receive. Something like 90 percent of consumers research on the Web prior to making a purchase. While your Web site is not the reason your clients chose to work with you, have no doubt that they have Googled you.

In a white paper written by Michael Stelz­ner, he documents the following list of SMM benefits:

1. It generates exposure for your firm.

2. It increases traffic to your Web site and opt-in lists.

3. It opens the door to new business partnerships.

4. It raises your ranking in search engines.

5. It generates qualified leads.

6. It reduces overall marketing expenses.

7. It helps close business.

For those marketers who are just starting to utilize these technologies, plan to spend a minimum of five hours per week focusing on these efforts. The most experienced and savvy social media marketers are spending 20 hours per week with proven results. Get the whole firm involved.

A word of caution regarding SMM etiquette: No spamming! That seems obvious, but you would be surprised at what is considered spam when it comes to SMM. Remember the rule of the cocktail party: How would you react if you were at a mixer and a stranger (or even a friend) approached, shoved his card in your hand and launched into a sales pitch? Turned off and tuned out.

Treat your online social network as you would your "live" social network. Remember, you are there to connect, engage and build meaningful relationships - which means not always talking business. Learn about their interests and build rapport. Regularly read newsfeeds from your friends and contacts and post comments. A full pipeline will follow.

One often-overlooked aspect of social networking for business is blogging. Blogging is an important part of social media marketing, and you'll always want to post your most recent blogs to your social network sites. However, if all you ever do is post new blogs about your firm, your contacts will begin to tune you out (this is sometimes interpreted as spam). Write about business practices that affect your clients, even though they have nothing to do with your firm services. You can even segment your contacts into different user groups to ensure that everyone is getting the most relevant news and information for their business. And again, don't always talk about business. Listen to what your contacts or friends are saying and respond to their needs.

Finally, remember that SMM is a dialogue with your clients, prospects, referral sources and friends. It is not broadcast media, or a monologue. All communication should be meaningful and, when possible, provide something of value to your friends/contacts. The key to success is the Law of Reciprocity: The more you give, the more you get.

Kristin Gentry is a professional services strategic sales and marketing expert with a specialty in social media marketing. For a copy of Michael Stelzner's white paper, visit www.savvysocialmediamarketing.com/smm.html.

(c) 2009 Accounting Today and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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