How Social Media Impacts Business Development
Not all Social Networks Are Created Equal
Has your firm embraced social media? Be ready! The days of ignoring social media are long gone. Professional services firms looking to accelerate their growth need to embrace social media and dedicate the resources needed to create a strategy, implement it, and track it. In this article, the author presents research on the impact and value of social media to professional service organizations.
So, it might surprise you to learn that a large and growing number of professional services firms are including social media as an addition to their marketing and business development strategies. Â These firms are using social media to generate leads, cultivate relationships, and gain market insights to better address prospectsâ€™ issues.
If youâ€™re wary of social media, simply think of it as the online version of networking.
Social media has quickly become a powerful medium for communicating with clients and prospects, tracking the latest developments in your clientsâ€™ industries, and maintaining credibility with prospects throughout their buying decision process.
Building the Business Case for Social Media
A key point to appreciate is, even if you donâ€™t use social media yourself, itâ€™s very likely that your clients do. Â In particular, your target clients are using social media to learn about firms theyâ€™re considering using as providers or partners. Â And if your organization is missing in action on social mediaâ€”itâ€™s likely that your competitors are not.
We know this because we recently surveyed 1,028 professional services buyers, and observed a fundamental shift in the way they use social media. Â The most significant way social media is changing the discipline of business development is that about 60% of professional services buyers check out potential providers on social media. Â Just as significantly, social media has eclipsed formal references as a source of information.
Our research has also found that:
- 17% of non-client referrals are made because the referrer has interacted with the firm on social media
- 7% of buyers have ruled out a referral they received because the referred firm isnâ€™t active on social media
Social media impacts business development in a variety of other ways, including:
- Provides insights into the business topics clients are talking about
- Helps you monitor your brand awareness
- Increases your brand visibility and gets your content to a wider audience
- Drives website traffic and conversions
- Impacts your visibility in search engines
Not All Social Networks are Created Equal
Remember that social media is not one single platform or website. Â In fact, there are many choices (LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook to name a few). Â There are also private networks run by trade associations, professional organizations, and others.
The various choices feature vastly different formats for very different purposes, ranging from messages with a limited number of text characters to full-motion video.
Of course, some of the choices in social media are very relevant to your organization, while others may not be useful at all. Â The key is to determine which social media platforms are used most often by your clientele, and make sure your message on each is consistent, up-to-date, and compelling.
For professional services firms, we find that LinkedIn and Twitter are often the most important social networks to have a strong presence on.
Insider Tips for Power Users
In our research, we also looked at firmsâ€™ use of high-profile experts to change how they go to marketâ€”professionals we refer to as Visible ExpertsSM. Â These industry leaders help their firms by spurring growth, business development, and brand building, as well as raising billing rates and lead generation.
We found that social media was a key marketing tool used by these Visible Experts to build their personal reputations and brands, and:
- 92% use LinkedIn
- 76% use Facebook
- 74% use Twitter
- 54% use Google+
One last thing to note, even though social media networks generally allow users to create accounts for free, maintaining a strong social media presence does not come without costs.
For a truly effective social media strategy, you may have such costs as the time invested in implementing and tracking your presence, training staff, and monitoring and maintaining your program, among others.
Tracking the impact of social media on your firmâ€™s brand and business development activities is complicated, but not impossible. Â The key is to treat it like you would any other marketing investment. Â Commit enough resources to make it successful. Â And hold your social media to the same standards you use for your other online marketing and networking events. Â If you require a return on investment for golf outings, require it for social media as well.
Key Social Media Takeaways
The days of ignoring social media are long gone. Â Professional services firms looking to accelerate their growth need to embrace social media, and dedicate the resources needed to create a strategy, implement it, and track it.
If needed, start small. Â Focus on the networks most relevant to your goals and audiences. Â Follow the old marketing maxim, â€śbe wherever your clients are.â€ť Â Increasingly, thatâ€™s going to beâ€”at least in partâ€”on social media.
For more on creating a social media strategy for your firm, download our free Social Media Guide for Professional Services. Â And if youâ€™re interested in mastering LinkedIn, the premiere business social network, Hinge has developed LinkedIn Training specifically for NACVA members.
Lee W. Frederiksen, Ph.D., is Managing Partner at Hinge, the leading branding and marketing firm for the professional services. Hinge conducts groundbreaking research into high growth firms and offers a complete suite of services for firms that want to become more visible and grow.
Mr. Frederiksen can be reached at: LFrederiksen@hingemarketing.com or: (703) 391-8870.