Let's face it: cold calling is a painful reality that most of us must endure regardless of our profession. Whether you need to pitch a blogger, connect with an online influencer, find new clients/customers, or reach a potential employer, it can be difficult to pick up the phone and reach out to someone you've never dealt with before.
Social media, however, presents a smarter alternative for getting in touch with someone you've never met. You can use the social web to build relationships, meet key people in your industry, network, and ultimately turn your previous cold calling efforts into fruitful social media connections.
The Outreach Process
Chances are that if you want to reach a professional would-be contact, you can find everything you need to know on the web to get you started. First, decide who you want to reach and why. Then do your research, pick your platform, and find a way to be relevant.
Let's say you have a product or service that you want to get into the hands of an online influencer or member of the media. You may not know them, but they're likely to be active on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, FriendFeed, or a number of other popular social destinations, as well as blogging on their own domains, which means they're making themselves pretty darn accessible.
You can and should use their online presence and the information they make publicly available to not only get in touch with them, but tailor your approach and communication based on the information they share.
Start by searching their full name. If you use Google, and the person in question has a Google profile, you'll find a link to it at the very bottom of the results page. This profile will often point you to even more social profiles or provide contextual information to help along your efforts. If your search yields limited results, consider trying a username they've been known to use or adding specific social networks to the query, like "first name last name social network."
Twitter offers the most immediate way to reach someone, and you can start by following the individual in question. Don't get dismayed if they don't follow you back immediately, but instead use the public replies to respond to a question they ask. If you get followed back, great, you now have an instant way to reach them and introduce yourself via direct message (though make sure to explore contact preferences as many high profile Twitterers avoid DMs altogether).
If you're not comfortable with using the public reply approach on Twitter, you can also try sending a message via Facebook. This method is fairly straightforward and doesn't require that you become Facebook friends with the individual you're trying to reach.
If the individual you want to reach is on FriendFeed, you'll have quick access to the other social profiles they have on the web (which can give you even more insight), as well as an opportunity to direct a message at them using the service.
Plus, individuals that blog usually provide a myriad of ways for you to get in touch with them. Use their blog contact page or sidebar to find out how you can email them, connect with them, or sometimes even reach them by phone or instant message. If they put this information out there, they're open to hearing from you, as long as you remember to respect their time and interests.
Regardless of the platform you choose, the key to success using social media outreach is to be actively using the social web yourself. All of these outreach efforts will become second nature and more effective if you're an active member of the online communities you're trying to leverage.
Tips for Success
Find people who want to be reached. You can usually ascertain whether or not someone is open to hearing from a complete stranger based on their public social media activities. There are many individuals who don't want to be contacted or pitched via social media, so look for clues and start with the people who make it clear that they're open to conversations.
Be aware of the contact's schedule. If you're sending a message to someone on Facebook or directing a reply or direct message their way on Twitter, make sure you've glanced through their recent status updates for clues on whether or not the person is even available to process your pitch. Avoid outreach attempts if their status updates indicate they're in a meeting, on vacation, traveling, or generally more interested in non-professional matters at the moment.
Search for people you can actually help. The social web has become ripe with real-time updates about anything and everything. You can use the massive amount of information available and set up social web searches to find people who could really benefit from your product or service (instead of trying to blindly contact people who could care less about your offering). You can search Twitter, or use a web application like Collecta to search social mentions on the web, or even setup email alerts for blog comments via BackType, but make sure you search for industry and product specific keywords. Then use your social presence to respond with relevant and helpful information.
Put the other person's needs first. Of course your ultimate goal is to create more awareness about your brand, product, or service, but that can't happen if you're not providing real value to the person you're trying to connect with (and the broader community). Often times, you may even want to start a social media exchange without ever even mentioning your product. If you can really solve a problem or satisfy a need, that individual is likely to click on the links of your social media presence to learn more about you or your company.
Focus on the connection, not the sell. This might sound counterintuitive to sales people, but when it comes to social media it's all about the long tail, and the more contacts you have in your network the easier it will be to form relationships that will be fruitful in the long run.
What Not to Do
Your social media cold calls need to be respectful of the person you're trying to reach, otherwise you risk pissing them off and losing the opportunity to connect with them at all. Here are some common mistakes that you should avoid repeating.
Don't air your grievances using social media. Often times you might feel overlooked, especially if you're trying to reach bloggers or journalists who you think failed to include you in an article. These feelings are normal, but you should never voice your discontent via social media and direct your anger towards the person in question. Your goal is to become memorable, and this will only ensure that you're recognized for the wrong reasons.
Don't overdo it. Sometimes a few nudges are in order, but don't exhaust every social media touch point or send a massive amount of email. If you've tried a reply on Twitter, a blog comment, an email, and a Facebook message, and you still haven't heard a response, then you need to move on.
Don't stick to a script. Social media provides a way to truly get to know someone, and you should use this information wisely to help you tailor your approach to the person you're trying to reach. It's much easier to write a few canned responses and blast out to a huge pool of people, but this is not an effective approach. Instead figure out which selling points are most important to your would-be contact.
Don't be creepy. Yes, people make a wealth of information about themselves available on the web, and you should certainly put some of it to use, but be careful of crossing the line between awareness and inappropriateness. Don't show up at a publicly shared location unless you're sure you're welcome there. Don't get overly personal in email, Facebook, or Twitter communications, and always make sure that you're not coming off as a stalker.
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