Sustainable—and valuable—social media strategy. PART I

Social interaction, online and offline, is one of many ways people get connected to products and services, so it makes perfect sense that many professional services marketers are looking at social Web tools as a means to that end. However, it’s easy to make the mistake of focusing on the tools instead of your goals.

For example,  just the other day someone asked me how law firms are “integrating the various social networking sites into a ‘campaign’; e.g Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter.” My initial reaction was to ask, what kind of campaign and why those tools?  Are they the right tools or are they just cool tools right now?

Many brands in the product world are finding their way through the online social universe quite well and often make it look deceptively easy. For most law firms, the benefits may be quite subtler.  I’m sure there are other ways to show value, and I’d love to hear from you, but here’s how I do it.

I suggest that if you haven’t already, stop thinking about the social Web in terms of Facebook Fan Pages, Linkedin profiles, blogs, and YouTube videos and start thinking about your clients, prospects and your goals. This approach will be much more sustainable, measurable and valuable to your prospects, clients and your organization.

In the beginning, experimentation with the tools is necessary.  You may have already randomly put up a Facebook Fan Page for your law firm, polished the firm’s LinkedIn profile, played around in the Twitter sandbox, and even swappped out your newsletter for a blog. This is how pretty much everyone started out, yet at some point you will, if you haven’t already,  realize that it’s a lot of upkeep for little reward unless you know where you’re going—and why.

So, when you think you have a good handle on how some of the tools function, and you understand the principles of online engagement, its time to start thinking about how you will define value. Here are a few things I’ve been learning.

First, it is wise not to isolate social media in the marketing mix. You wouldn’t isolate public relations or advertising, either. They are each strategies that work together in a mash-up—your Marketing Plan—that is designed to engage your prospects at the various stages of the marketing funnel or sales cycle.

For example; it takes a variety of approaches to help people find you. Then, once you exist, you use different strategies and tools to help them learn more; more about your work, your brand, and your service promises. They will also need to understand, through their own research, how you measure up to others so you’ll need to work on your positioning and visibility. Ultimately, you’ll want to give them specific and relevant reasons to give your services a try and so you work to earn a face-to-face opportunity to help them in their selection. And, finally, after they become a client, you’ll need different approaches to convert them into a loyal client who in turn can influence others in your direction.

Seth Godin’s January 19, 2006 titled “Understanding the funnel.”

Funnel“Keep in mind that in the early stages of the process, the job is not to make a sale. Your job is to exercise a range of things to do to further drive the prospect down the funnel. You can engage in a dialogue (by phone or email) that takes place over time, you can further inform or entertain, all in the service of your goal of increasing the interest, education and value of this prospect.”

So, if within these fundamental principles you can see a path to your goals using online engagement, at any or all places in the process, then by all means, leverage online social tools to help your prospects. But keep in mind that social isn’t right for everything. Ask yourself and others–including your current clients and friends–what will best help my prospects in each stage— exposure, knowledge, consideration, selection, purchase and delivery?

Exposure: the person learns that your services exist using publicity, advertising, sponsor relations, word of mouth, and/or etc.
Knowledge: the person begins gathering knowledge about your services specifically and also comparable and competing services via word of mouth, research, trials or samples, reviews and/or etc.
Consideration: the person considers their objections, compares services and narrows their options to the top three using individual interactions, interpersonal relations, objective content, peers, directories, and/or etc.
Selection: the person does more due diligence using recommendations from those they know, like and trust, they conduct online and offline research, reviews, results, recommendations, and/or etc.
Purchase: the person chooses you and you deliver on your promises. You want them to tell others how wonderful you are so you provide them with some ammo and some tools. You nurture the relationship, and/or etc.  Alternately, if you don’t get the engagement, you try to stay in the prospects mind because the first choice may become the worst choice. You nurture the relationship, and/or etc.

Now, what tools—traditional, digital and social—will help you engage with your prospects in each of those stages? (see PART II)

There’s little value in the tools themselves except as a means to an end. The value lies in providing your prospects–and clients—a path to you. If you can see a path—helping people find and select you—using social Web principles and tools, then by all means, leverage them.

What have you been learning about social media strategy? What can you add to the story?

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