Social media is the top emerging channel for lead generation among technology marketing professionals surveyed in May 2010, according to the annual Unisfair marketing survey. Furthermore, 66 percent of respondents said lead generation was their top priority for 2010, with only 17 percent ranking brand awareness and 16 percent ranking customer retention as top concerns. The survey illustrated that marketers are beginning to rely on social media as a steady source of new customers.
In another study, 51 percent of Facebook fans and 67 percent of Twitter followers said they were more likely to buy the brands they like on Facebook or follow on Twitter, strengthening the argument that social media is one of the most important emerging channels for lead generation.
Being that social media is a great place to attract new customers, we put together a quick guide on how to use social media for lead generation.
Continuously Point Users to Your Content
The first step to engaging a community of potential customers is sharing content that showcases your expertise. A simple social media update usually isn't enough to convey a full analysis on a topic. Include links with your updates that expand on key ideas. Keep in mind that your goal is to create value for your followers. Learn what your fans respond to and what they don't, and then adjust your updates based on that information.
Sarah Chong, co-founder and editor of Penn Olson, a marketing blog and consultancy, told me that their company shares 100 percent of the links that are generated on their blog. If they write a blog post, you can bet that it will be shared via Facebook, Twitter, Google Buzz and various social bookmarking sites.
Chong exclaimed, "Good content ought to be shared!" She continued, "Most readers definitely wouldn’t know Penn Olson without the help of social media. We built everything by getting involved in online communities." In the end, 35 percent of Penn Olson's web traffic is generated through social media. This wouldn't be possible without their incessant dedication to sharing valuable content with their followers.
Promote Your Social Presence with Social Links
Once you've set up your social media presence on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and Yelp, don't forget the power of promotion. Some people have the misconception that if you create pages across all of the social sites, they'll miraculously gain millions of followers overnight, all by themselves. In reality, just like everything else in life, gaining a following via social media takes time and effort.
If you haven't done so already, start promoting your social media presence. Having a Twitter or Facebook icon prominently displayed on your site gives visitors a recognizable channel for connecting with you. Print links to your social profiles on business cards, flyers and letterhead. Most importantly, don't forget to include links to your social profiles on your website or blog. Try using a service like Iconfinder to find free social media icons that best fit your website.
Take a look at Offbeat Bride or Offbeat Mama for examples of sites that have implemented social media links well. Ariel Meadow Stallings, publisher of Offbeat Bride and Offbeat Mama, shared her thoughts on designing a place for social media icons to live. She explained, "I was inspired by the social media fly-out on treehugger.com. It felt like an elegant but effective solution for getting my social media links out of the sidebar. I want them prominent, but not irritating." Stallings seems to have found the solution to providing valuable links for readers to stay connected with her content, without coming off as a gimmick.
Stallings’ diligence in finding fitting social media links has paid off. One-third of her site traffic comes from StumbleUpon and Facebook combined. She credits social media as a critical factor in the growth of both Offbeat Bride and its sister site, Offbeat Mama.
Monitor Conversations about Your Brand and Competitors
In order for a conversation to occur, brands must speak and listen. Traditional marketing models are all about speaking. When a brand puts an ad in a newspaper, on a building or in a subway train, they are broadcasting their message, but there isn't generally a direct method for responding. Social media is changing the ways brands approach marketing. Instead of broadcasting messages, brands are starting conversations and engaging individuals.
In an e-mail interview, Sara C. Lopez, Community Manager for 8th Continent soy milk, explained the importance of monitoring conversations and buzz on various social platforms:
"There are actually two of us constantly monitoring Twitter, Facebook and Google alerts. The other community manager and I use several Twitter clients, including Hootsuite and TweetDeck. But regardless of client, we keep columns that search mentions of "@8thcontinentsoy", “8th Continent”, “Soy Milk”, “8thcontinent”, and competitors.
We get several benefits from Twitter. We use it to monitor consumer perception, identify opportunities for one-on-one interaction, crowd source to learn how people are using our product, drive traffic to other channels we have, and connect with influencers who can spread word of mouth."
Lopez demonstrated the value of monitoring conversations and responding to leads. In one promotion, 8th Continent monitored mentions of Silk brand soy milk, one of their competitors, and offered trial coupons to users. Lopez explained their success, "One clear example of how it’s worked for [8th Continent] is that with coupons distributed via social media, we’ve seen a 39 percent redemption rate, versus the 0.7 percent redemption of hard copy coupons. During coupon promotions we saw huge spikes in our fan base and a lot of pass along."
One tweeter, Weily Lang, received a coupon after tweeting about her bad experience with Silk chocolate soy milk. Lopez interjected with a coupon, which Lang redeemed that week. This example is just one success story of trials generated by 8th Continent via social media.
Once you begin listening to what consumers are saying about your brand, products and competitors, you'll have a better sense of which platforms to monitor for certain types of feedback. To get started, make sure you're monitoring comments that your fans, followers or subscribers leave on your social profiles. This is the first step to mastering your listening skill.
As a secondary step, monitor buzz elsewhere. Use Twitter advanced search (or Twitter clients such as Hootsuite, TweetDeck or CoTweet) to monitor key terms around your business, including your brand names, trademarks, product types and competitors. Use Google Alerts to keep up with the latest news about your company. And search mentions of your brand in blogs via Google Blog Search or Technorati.
After trying out some of these methods, you'll begin to get a feel for your audience and their interests. Use this information to inform decisions, and don't forget to reach out to users that have questions or feedback. Respond with more information, links, coupons, follow-up questions, or whatever is needed.
Respond to Customer Questions and Feedback
You can listen all day, but if you don't act on your learnings, you will lose an opportunity to generate a meaningful conversation with a consumer that may be considering trying out your brand. Take action when you come across a useful comment, and make sure you clear up any customer questions when they arise.
"I try to respond to every review, whether positive or negative. And if there's something I can learn from it, then I will engage in a dialogue with the customer. And in fact, every time I've engaged in a dialogue with a negative review customer, with one or two notable exceptions, the review has gone from a two- or three-star review up to a five-star review."
Customer reviews on Yelp are a great example of useful feedback from paying customers. Not only are they interested in your product, but they've already tested it out. Their review is, therefore, very meaningful feedback on the quality of your product and service.
Try to set aside at least a few hours a week to respond to questions and feedback that flow in via social media. When you respond, focus on delivering a valuable answer to the person or community. Try to always refer the user back to resources on your site, where they may consider using your product again. Depending on the question, useful links may include a how-to video, blog post, product description or microsite.
Use Your Offline Skills
The keyword in social media is "social". People were social long before the Internet and social media. Take the offline skills that you've developed over time and put them to use online. Meet people, communicate and build relationships. Develop and foster complex relationships. As always, make sure that customers are aware of your product, understand its benefits, and have a way to purchase. Throughout your conversations with consumers, provide insightful resources and answer any questions that arise.
Lastly, treat your social media presence in the same way you treat your other customer service initiatives. Be genuine, track conversations and respond to inquiries promptly and thoroughly. The better your customer service is via social media, the more you'll generate site traffic and leads.
What are some of your tips and techniques for using social media for lead generation?
Image courtesy of iStockphoto, koun