By Bill Pirtle
MPCT Publishing Co.
Editor's Note: This is the first in a two-part series. The second part will appear in the Jan. 24, 2011, issue of The Green Sheet (issue 11:01:02).
I asked Bob Burg, co-author of The Go-Giver and author of Endless Referrals, what he thought of social media. He replied, "Social media is not an end in and of itself but simply another vehicle to establish and cultivate relationships. However, through social media and its various platforms, you have a very effective way to connect with people you might otherwise never have the opportunity to meet and with whom you can cultivate deep, meaningful, mutually beneficial and, often, profitable relationships."
So, how is it that a newly published author and sales agent like me gets to know Bob Burg well enough to get a quote? I don't know him well. I connected with him on LinkedIn through a common contact. I approached him, and he was gracious enough to reply. That is the power of social media.
The following is based on questions I presented to a panel of professionals comprising six social media experts and two credit card industry professionals:
I requested that, for the purpose of this article, the top five forms of social media be websites, blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Further, I tailored the questions to uncover best practices and tips to give salespeople confidence in using these tools.
The panel consensus was that social media allow people to connect with friends, prospects and customers. Terry Bean pointed out, "The cool thing about social media is how many different ways it enables that and how many people with whom you can be connected."
"Social media is the biggest communication revolution since the invention of email," Michael Caruso said. "The biggest challenge is how to sell through what are primarily social networks. People still don't like being sold to, even if you're a friend ... [but] if you're a little crafty and the slightest bit subtle, you can pitch your offering as a trusted information source."
Bean added that, as a subset of the overall marketing plan, social media "is not a silver bullet. The best things you can use social media for are as a listening post, a conversation platform and as an engagement strategy."
However, Timothy Dunn believes "social media should be your overall marketing plan."
"You measure it by influence," Bean said. "Did your posts get commented on, re-tweeted or shared by others? Did additional traffic get driven to the intended site? Did the phone ring? Were there questions asked? Did it attract, enroll and engage others?"
According to Dunn, people should organize from the start, which very few actually do. "Manually, you can ask a prospect or customer where he heard about you but, more important, you should already know," he said. "By using Quantcast, analytics and various tracking methods, you will not only understand where the customer came from, but also know who your optimal customer is."
Corey Perlman added, "We keep it simple. If we can drive more traffic back to your website, you're going to sell more stuff. So we monitor web traffic, time on site, conversions and where people came from. This can all be done by installing Google Analytics on your website. I highly recommend it. I look at my analytics every day like others look at their stock portfolios. And just like their stocks, when my numbers go up, so does my bank account."
Al Crawford sees Facebook as the White Pages, with fan pages there and LinkedIn being the Yellow Pages. He wants connections with everyone so he can decide the best person to contact.
Dunn recommended three things:
"If Facebook is a party with close friends and family, Twitter is more like a crowded subway with tons of strangers," Perlman commented. Caruso said, "The strangest quirk about LinkedIn and Facebook is that they seem to only want us to network with people we already know. Say what?"
I tend to agree with Caruso. That is why I typically accept a connection request from anyone on Facebook or LinkedIn. I am a LinkedIn Open Networker (LION), which means I will not refuse a request to connect. Remember, it is not just the person you are connecting to, it is his or her entire network.
If I get spammed, it is easy enough to sever connections. Social media has been compared to a networking mixer; accepting connections is merely shaking hands. It is what happens once connected that determines what develops.
"You may create two accounts on Twitter and Facebook to keep corporate and personal relationships separate," Jada Brazell replied. "To maintain existing relationships, it is valuable to recognize and praise those individuals and businesses on your - and their - forums. This not only nurtures relationships with them, it also attracts attention from their networks."
"Live a holistic life," Bean advised. "Your social media activity really shouldn't differ much based on these groupings. That's harder to do than say, because of the inherent nature of 'college buddies' and their ability to post on your wall."
Dunn finds that "genuine transparency" is best. "As long as you are always providing value and not selling in a traditional manner, you can use the same format for all contacts, whether personal or business," he said. "As much as information is key, the hunger to know the vendor is just as great. If you can be genuine in all of your communications, it lends true credibility to your goal of sales and product distribution."
"Social media is the world's stage on view to everyone," Tom Daly cautioned. "Casual, witty comments that might be appropriate to a peer, are likely [to be] offensive to a prospective new client." In other words, a single approach is all right. Just be sure to separate your lists on Facebook. Keep one for college friends and one for business contacts.
"Other than having a website, which is the most vital aspect of corporate social networking, I recommend LinkedIn for individuals who are looking to network on a professional level," Brazell said.
Dunn likes them all for different reasons. "LinkedIn is where business gets done," he said. "Facebook is by far the most fun and the easiest to market on. Tweets are crawled by Google, so I like Twitter for keyword-rich posts." For Bean, it "totally depends on your audience. I use Facebook most often because of its size. It also offers the most diversity in users and how people interact." Dunn believes social media success is not attained by using one platform. "You have to be involved in all five," he said. "They all intermingle and are all necessary. Get involved with at least those five basics. Then evolve from there."
Next month, panel members will share thoughts on how to set up a social media plan, privacy and more.
Bill Pirtle is the President of MPCT Publishing Co. and author of Navigating Through the Risks of Credit Card Processing. He is also a merchant level salesperson for Clearent LLC, Electronic Payments Inc. and Electronic Merchant Systems Inc. Bill's website is www.creditcardprocessingbook.com; his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. He welcomes all connections on Facebook and LinkedIn.
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