As a small business owner, entrepreneur or ambitious individual, I'm betting that you have at least thought about leveraging social media for your business. But how?
There are lots of ways, of course, but let’s start with four actionable steps you can take to find new business, generate more leads and make more sales through social media.
1. Join a group discussion on LinkedIn
It's easy to overlook LinkedIn with all the fuss about Google+, Facebook and Twitter, but the site is a very powerful network. In fact, the average household income is higher on LinkedIn than it is on both Facebook and Twitter.
Higher income means deeper pockets—and deeper pockets mean better customers.
One way to access the deep pockets on LinkedIn is to join groups related to your business and start answering relevant questions that are asked in the discussions section.
There are some groups on LinkedIn with over 100,000 members (browse the full group directory).
You can imagine that when 100,000 people gather together around a topic, a few of them have questions to ask.
If you're the one providing answers to those questions, then it's a natural extension to send them a detailed message with more information. With group discussion serving as the conversation spark, you might find yourself with a new client in no time.
2. Leverage the answers section of LinkedIn
Another wonderful place to find quality leads on LinkedIn is in the "Answers" section.
This area of the site is where people can ask questions about any topic. Other users—like you—can then search those questions and provide answers. All you have to do is go to the search bar and select "Answers" from the dropdown menu. Then, simply search for a relevant topic.
For example, I just searched for the term "small business" and there are currently 132 open questions on LinkedIn for that term.
Let's say you're a small business consultant. Think about how powerful this feature is for you. That's 132 people who are actively looking for answers to their small business questions—and you could be the one to provide the answer they want.
As you can see, the Answers section has the potential to be a very high quality pool of leads for your business.
3. Twitter search
Twitter has a massive audience of more than 200 million members. They also have a search bar right at the top of the screen. You would think that people would start putting those two things together and search Twitter like crazy for clients, but my experience tells me otherwise.
The real shame is that there are people on Twitter actively telling the world that they need help with problem X or issue Y. All you have to do is search for them and you’ve found a potential new client.
So how exactly does this unexplored universe of Twitter leads work? It's pretty simple. All you need to do is search for relevant terms in the search box.
For example, if you run a graphic design company, then you might search for "logo design," "infographic" or "brand designer". Then, people who use those words in their tweets will show up in the results. It's not unreasonable at all to expect that someone might have recently tweeted, "Anyone know a good logo designer?"
4. Google+ Circles
Google+ is all the rage right now. Over 10 million people have received invites and joined already, and you can be sure that Google will be rolling the service out to everyone else soon.
The beauty of Google+ is that it allows you to segment your communication efforts—it allows you to create "circles,” which are just groups of different people. You can put anyone you want into a circle and then send out a message to a specific circle, multiple circles or everyone.
This is great for businesses because you can choose the specific people you want to target with your message.
Let's say that your business offers three products and you just built a great upgrade for customers of one product. If you let the world know about it on Twitter, you might reach a few of the relevant people, but many of the people who see it couldn’t care less.
On Google+, however, you could create a circle of customers for each product. You could then notify the relevant circle of people when you have a new product update, an upsell offering, or a new customer service feature.
Unlike most social networks, Google+ offers a way for you to group your customers and then address each group specifically. More specificity means better messaging, more traction, and more sales.
The key takeaway
Social media, regardless of the network, is filled with people who have interests and passions, problems and pain points. They are just waiting for someone to reach out to them and lend a helping hand.
The methods might be different—groups, discussions, search, circles—but the approach is the same: use the strengths of each network to find people you can help. The strategies above won't always bring you a paying client, but you can be sure that the more people you help through social media, the more social media will help you.
James Clear is the founder of Passive Panda. He is an award-winning writer on business strategy and entrepreneurship and has delivered speeches in the United States, the UK, and Switzerland.