Using Social Media to Attract New Business

A marketing expert discusses Facebook, LinkedIn, and other tools for promotion

6 October 2010

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Blogger, Foursquare. So many social networks, so little time. What’s a busy business owner or consultant to do? Which network is likely to bring in the most clients with new business?

Barbara Bix, managing principal at BB Marketing Plus of Newtonville, Mass., has the answers, based on more than a decade of helping companies leverage their online presence. Bix recently spoke to the IEEE Boston Section Consultants Network and later discussed social media strategies with The Institute.

“The power of social media is that you stay at the top of the minds of people who care about you the most,” Bix says. “You want people to follow you because you’re a thought leader, you have a unique specialty, or they’re your friends.” Participating in social media networks keeps you in front of your friends, peers, and customers so they think of you first when they have a problem that needs solving.

“You think people are thinking about you, but they’re not unless they ‘see’ you often,” Bix points out. And they need not only to know that you exist, she continues; they also need to know every single thing you do in case they’re looking for someone to do that very thing. Updating your status in small, frequent doses on Twitter or Facebook is a great way to do that.

“You have to ‘drip’ on them,” Bix says. “People are predisposed to reading quick drips, and your drips on social media sites are searchable. You need to be out there often, because otherwise no one will remember you.”

Where do you start? Whether you’re a job seeker, a working professional, or a consultant, the first place you need to be online is wherever your customers or peers are, Bix says.

To find that place, ask around. Find out what others in your industry are doing. Search the Internet for where discussions are taking place. Pick a person you know who is doing a good job in your industry and start copying them. See which networks they use, how they use them, when they post, and how they reply to other people. Use that as a model. Then, as you get more comfortable, spread out and start doing your own thing.

Before you start getting too involved on whichever social network you choose, make sure you have a good online presence and a network of people who know you. The best place to start that, according to Bix, is LinkedIn, a social media site dedicated to professional connections.

Join LinkedIn and create a professional profile that lists your skills and where you have worked. Then build your network by linking to other professionals you know. “The people who know and love you are your best referral prospects,” Bix says.

Every time you complete a project, update your LinkedIn status. “If you’re not updating your LinkedIn status regularly, you’re leaving money on the table,” Bix says. “Be specific and state the value of what you did.” For example, post something along the lines of: “I just helped a company reduce its costs by …”

She also recommends joining groups on LinkedIn where you can participate in discussions and answer questions that others post. That helps to show you as a thought leader in your field and expose you to potential clients.

The next thing you should do is decide whether to blog. There are many reasons why you should. “For one thing,” Bix says, “it really boosts your search engine rankings. For another, writing about your industry and field makes you an instant expert whether you are or not.

“Keep the blog narrowly focused,” Bix says, “and provide wise insights that will make your readers feel like you know your customers’ needs.”

How do you get people to read your blog? It’s not a case of “If you build it, they will come.” You need to promote it. E-mail your friends and colleagues about it. Submit each entry to Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit and similar social bookmarking sites. Add a link to your blog on your LinkedIn profile, and include the link in your e-mail footer. Tweet about it (we’ll get to that later). Meanwhile, create viable content that keeps readers coming back for more.

Even if you don’t start your own blog, take some time to comment on others’ blogs. Adding your input to what the authors post demonstrates your expertise.

You can create a free blog in minutes at Blogger, WordPress, and other services.

To establish your presence on Twitter, use the search field on the Twitter home page to find people talking about your industry. For example, search for “microprocessors” or “IEEE.” Once you find those people, follow them. If you read any updates that are relevant to what you do, repost them to your own followers, a process known as re-tweeting. Remember to add some words of your own.

Act like a curator, Bix suggests. Put some incisive commentary in front of the re-tweet. “You’re adding value for your target audience and also continuing to show yourself as a leader. It also shows that you have an interest in what others are saying. For example, if people take the time to update their status, it’s important to them, so comment on it,” she says.

Facebook is a double-edged sword, Bix says, because “you can’t control how others link to you. But it is where your closest relationships are. It wouldn’t hurt for your sister to know what you do.”

On the other hand, your professional connections might not be using Facebook, and your friends might not want to know about your profession. Make the call based on your industry and where you’re going to be seen the most, Bix advises.

It’s important to know what people are talking about in your field, so Bix suggests setting up Google Alerts. The free service sends you links to news stories or blog posts based on the search terms you enter.

Another way to promote yourself is to review a popular book on Amazon. “Say something controversial,” Bix advises. “The book will sell, and people will read and comment on your reviews.”

For more advice, visit Bix’s blog, The Top Line.

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