This is a story about whether social media actually works to sell your small business to new customers. As a “digitally-savvy” customer, I was recently presented with the personal challenge of finding a service provider to work with in two entirely different industries. The first was an accountant, and the second was a builder for a home improvement project. How did I go about finding the right providers to work with?
The first place I started was search – but for local providers it didn’t turn out to be that useful because there were too many results and no way to really compare them. Instead, I found myself using a combination of polling and browsing my social network for suggestions, and resorted to the decidedly traditional method of finding phone numbers and calling these businesses directly.
The most interesting discovery of this process, though, was that the real value of social media was not in the initial phase of my search, but in the decision making process once I had alternatives for who to actually work with.
Here are a few lessons from the businesses I ended up working with in terms of how they used social media as a part of their pitching process to seal the deal:
1. Organize your portfolio. It is easy to forget the power of many social media tools to be supporting your business in something other than a promotional way. What if you used a photographic tool like Flickr to organize private galleries where you could access samples of your previous work from anywhere? When I met with the builder I chose, this sort of virtual portfolio was a key tool in how he described his business and past work to me using an online gallery form of social media what was not publicly available, but easy for him to access.
2. Share your philosophy (and differentiators). One of the things that attracted me to the accountant that I chose was their approach to educating their clients. They believe in conducting webinars, sharing presentations and generally taking an open approach to teaching customers and potential customers about bookkeeping and accounting. Their philosophy is that educating their clients helps their bottom line. To me, this indicated that they had a real expertise and that they were connected to a network they would share it with me instead of just billing me extra hours to do it themselves.
3. Encourage your promoters. If you do good work, chances are you have some strong customers who can serve as promoters for your business. One of the key behaviors that many are using social media for is broadcasting a question to their network so they can gather recommendations for providers to work with. I uncovered the builders of my project this way by asking for recommendations through Facebook – word of mouth, enabled by social media. You may already ask your best customers to recommend you to their friends and family, but extending this into social media to have them recommend your page on Facebook or incentivize them to share their experience of working with you on their social network can lead to more referral activity in the virtual world – where many of the first questions or requests for referrals happen anyway.
4. Work your own network. You are likely already connected to more people than you realize through your own personal network. Do you use LinkedIn? This was an important tool for me as I came to a short list of accountants to call in my area, based on "once-removed" relationships with people I am just now getting to know better and a simple search for the keyword phrase “CPA.” Make sure that your profile has the right keywords so your 2nd and 3rd level connections can see what you do and the services you offer. A friend of a friend on LinkedIn might become a customer.
In my case, both of the service providers I chose had novel ways of using social media to build awareness, increase their findability, demonstrate their philosophy and helped them to close the deal with me. I did speak personally with both of them and request samples of their work, so this real life evaluation component did not “go virtual,” but social media still served an essential role for both of them in landing a digitally savvy new client – and it can for you too.
Rohit Bhargava is the author of the best selling marketing book Personality Not Included, a guide to how to use personality as a secret weapon to promote your business. He believes every opportunity is one that can be used to improve your skills at marketing if you pay attention to the situations you’re faced with – like his recent quest for a new accountant.