For Consultants, Social Media 101

Using Twitter, LinkedIn, and other sites to get more business

8 July 2013

Social media expert Patrick O’Malley has a message for consultants: Everything you thought you knew about LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube is wrong. A frequent speaker on social networking, O’Malley recently brought this surprising bit of information to a meeting of members of the IEEE Consultants Network in Boston.

“I look at social media differently than everybody else who presents on or teaches it," he says.

While most social media experts tell consultants and business owners to update their statuses on these sites and work will pour in, O’Malley disagrees. "You know what?” he says. “Nobody cares about your status update."

LINKEDIN

O’Malley says most people, including consultants, use LinkedIn simply as an online résumé or networking opportunity. He takes it much further. “LinkedIn is a search engine,” he says. “If you think about it from that point of view, then all of sudden you see it completely differently.”

The advanced search on LinkedIn should be in every consultant’s bookmark list, he says. Using it lets you not only find possible clients with specific job titles but also narrow down the search to everyone with that title within, say, 25 miles of your city. For example, network consultants can search for those who typically hire them: vice presidents of operations. If you don’t know the specific job title of the person who hires consultants, you can use keywords on the advanced search tool to look for titles that might reveal that information. You can also use this feature to find people in a particular industry.

That’s just the beginning, though. “The real magic,” O’Malley says, “is when you look at the search results.” The first entries on the list will be the people you are already connected to on LinkedIn, who may already be your clients. The next set of entries will be second-level connections—in other words, friends of friends. They can be very helpful leads when looking for assignments.

“You can call these second-level connections, tell them you’re doing consulting work, and that both of you know a particular first-level person,” he says. “That type of introduction tends to make it easier to get in the door.”

O’Malley says people looking for full-time jobs can also use these same techniques to find and connect with hiring managers. And hiring managers often look up job applicants to see if they know anyone in common.

“You can find out a whole lot by doing the right kind of searches,” he says. “It blows me away that this has been available for years, but most people don’t even know it’s there."

TWITTER

And don’t ignore Twitter, continues O’Malley. “I consider Twitter a 500-million-person cocktail party,” he says. Use its advanced search to find the right people to follow and communicate with. For example, search for people tweeting about the technology you’re consulting on. You can even use the search tool to hone in on a particular city. And once you find these people, you can develop relationships with them.”

One great way to get noticed on Twitter, he says, is to retweet people’s messages or mention them in your own tweets. But instead of just using Twitter’s retweet button, copy the original tweet into a new message. Mention the person’s Twitter ID to identify your source and enhance the tweet with a few words of your own. This helps keep the conversation going and shows that you value what the first person had to say.

FACEBOOK

For business purposes, O’Malley sees little value in Facebook, although he does accept friend requests from business associates. But he does apply a little-used feature for putting acquaintances into various friend lists—for example, one list for relatives and another for coworkers. Once you establish these lists, you can select which ones see your posts.

O’Malley does see one major advantage to Facebook, however. “It’s great for promoting events,” he says. “More people use Facebook to look for events than anywhere else. Not only that, but people can share events and invite their friends. This can help get the word out quickly.”

YOUTUBE

Although he notes that most people probably think of YouTube as a great place to post cat videos, O’Malley terms it today’s most underrated social media site. That’s because YouTube is now the second-biggest search engine behind Google.

“I don’t think a lot of people have caught on yet to how amazingly populated YouTube has become,” he says. In particular, it has become the go-to site for instructional videos.

O’Malley recommends that consultants film short how-to videos of their own to show off their skills and knowledge in their fields. These can quickly establish them as experts and may even garner a following.

“If you’re the person who shows everybody how to do something, you’re more likely to get a job and you’re more likely to become famous because of it,” he says.

You can even show off what you know by linking to your videos when you solicit new clients.

No matter which social media outlet you use, however, O’Malley says they all boil down to the same rules that have helped run businesses for thousands of years.

“People like to hire people they trust,” he says “Until now, finding those people usually meant going to meetings and hoping to meet the right executives. Now there’s a way to do it all online. This has made a consultant’s life a lot easier.”

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