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How to Use LinkedIn to Generate Sales Conversations

How to Use LinkedIn to Generate Sales Conversations

 

The video above is a replay of a recent live webinar I hosted with guest Viveka von Rosen. Combined with the text below you should have a pretty good feel for how to use LinkedIn to generate sales conversations.

LinkedIn is the oldest social network. Everyone seems to be on it, but no one seems to know quite how to use it to generate sales conversations.

To help us take advantage of this massive opportunity, today I brought in Viveka von Rosen. She is the co-founder of Vengreso, a leading digital sales transformation company. She is also the author of two books on this very topic, LinkedIn Marketing: An Hour a Day and LinkedIn: 101 Ways to Rock Your Personal Brand.

She talks with us about how to use LinkedIn to generate real sales conversations by sharing meaningful, engaging content. While she speaks specifically to LinkedIn today, the principles behind her advice can be applied across all other social networks.

Why is LinkedIn Important?

Ninety-four percent of B2B buyers view multiple pieces of content from the vendor they ultimately select. This means that if you’re not sharing content on LinkedIn but your competition is, your prospects will likely pass you by. Additionally, 75 percent of B2B buyers conduct research in social channels for products and services.

Meanwhile, the percentage of salespeople actually meeting their quota has dropped over a five-year period—it’s down to 53 percent. However, those salespeople who are using social selling have a 50 percent higher chance of reaching quota.

Building Your Personal Profile

On LinkedIn, you can’t just rely on a company page; you need to have a personal page in order to really connect with others. It’s between personal profiles where the conversations that lead to sales really occur.

This means that you need to create a strong personal page that showcases your brand. If your personal page is unappealing, sloppy, or lacks the appropriate information, you could lose a prospect.

  • Does your profile build credibility? People want to do business with those they know, like, and trust.
  • Does your profile show how you solve problems? LinkedIn is not the same as a resume—people viewing your profile want to know how you can help them. Think about including real-world examples of how you’ve helped past clients address their pain points.
  • Does your profile create conversation? Your profile should have rich content that attracts viewers. Once they’re there, make sure there’s a way for them to reach you. It seems basic, but make sure your phone number or email are on your profile so that people can actually get in touch!

The Importance of Sharing Content

If you go into LinkedIn with tunnel vision towards sales, you’re missing the entire point. Think about LinkedIn as a networking event—would you go up to someone at a conference and immediately ask them to buy your product or service? Of course not! The same principles of offline networking apply on LinkedIn.

The best way to get to know people on LinkedIn is to educate your audience. This positions you immediately as helpful and useful, which in turn builds positive sentiment. Suddenly, you’ve transformed from pushy salesperson to an advocate and thought leader in your industry.

What Does Content for Sales Engagement Look Like?

When thinking about content, it’s important to consider both the content you create yourself and the content you share that comes from other sources. Each type of content has its own set of rules to create the greatest levels of engagement and generate real interest and real conversations.

Whatever type of content you’re sharing, you want to be sure you’re doing it consistently. You should be sharing content at least once a day. One way to help you reach this goal is to establish a sharing community. Contact friends and influencers in your network, asking them to make a pact to share each others’ content. This will give you a steady stream of curated content to share with your network and will help to ensure that the content you’ve created is getting a wider reach.

Status Updates

Status updates on LinkedIn are very similar to updates on other social networks. There are a number of best practices for creating status updates that will get greater reach. Following these tips can help your posts get ten times greater visibility.

  • Include hashtags. Hashtag communities is a newer feature on LinkedIn that allows business owners to follow the topics they find most relevant. If you create content with a particular hashtag attached, it will likely be shared with the individuals who are members of that hashtag community. This gives your content a wider audience beyond your personal connections. The trick here is to not over-hashtag. Aim for three or four hashtag community hashtags and one additional hashtag that is unique to your brand.
  • Make mentions. When you’re talking about someone specific in your post, mention them so that they’re notified. You can mention others who are not directly a part of the update, but who might find it useful. Again, moderation is key; keep mentions to a handful of people who are influential and will find the material relevant.
  • Use all the characters. You’re allowed up to 1,300 characters per post. Be sure to use them! More characters means more keywords, which in turn means greater visibility. Research has also shown that longer posts are more likely to be read.
  • Use emojis. Emojis can be a great way to add some visual interest to your post and set you apart from the sea of text-only updates. Keep your audience in mind, and select emojis that are appropriate for your business and clientele.
  • Add native video, images, and links. Doing so will limit you to 1,200 characters, but the added visual interest can also help you to stand out from the crowd.

Native Video

Native video is uploaded directly from your browser or your phone and imbedded in LinkedIn. It is not the same as sharing a link that sends users to an outside video site, which LinkedIn discourages as it drives traffic away from their platform. Sharing native videos gets you more views and attention on the site.

Because video content can take a bit longer to create, it’s not necessary to share video each and every day. But know that native video garners incredible results, so the more regularly you can create and post video content, the better.

From tips and tricks videos that can help your audience solve relevant problems, to interviews with thought leaders, to the relatively new “about us” videos that you can put on your company page, there are a lot of great ways to create native video.

LinkedIn Native Video Tips

LinkedIn Articles

LinkedIn Articles used to have far greater reach. In recent years, LinkedIn has shifted focus to other forms of content, and so posting articles does not have the same kind of power to create visibility as it once did.

However, if you’re already writing a blog post for another forum and want to put it into LinkedIn as an article, it can help to amplify your reach beyond your company’s website. The posts are searchable, can possibly be distributed on a pulse channel, and the content becomes a permanent extension of your personal brand.

Amplify Your Content With Ads

LinkedIn advertising can help you to raise awareness and get the word out about your brand to a new audience. LinkedIn now allows you to sponsor content on your company page, which can help to build followers and reach for your content.

LinkedIn Ads

There are a number of different types of ads available to companies on LinkedIn.

  • Sponsored content. When you share an article, video, or images on your company page and you want the content to get greater visibility, you use this type of ad.
  • Dynamic ads. This option allow you to personalize your messaging to prospects, with ads that appear on the side bars of users’ LinkedIn pages.
  • Text Ads. Similar to the dynamic ads, but smaller and not personalized. Split testing on text ads is very simple. These are best utilized for top of funnel content.
  • Sponsored InMail. This allows you to send targeted messages to those who are most likely to have an interest in your business.

Dynamic ads, text ads, and sponsored InMail are significantly more expensive, so for small business owners, sponsored content is generally the most viable option. There are several types of sponsored content you can create: you can drive traffic to your website or content, build lead generation forms to collect contact information, or increase video views.

LinkedIn Sponsored Content

From there, LinkedIn will prompt you to select the specific post or video you’d like to promote. Next, you can indicate to LinkedIn who your desired audience is and establish your budget for the campaign.

It’s better for you to be specific in identifying your target audience. Establishing five campaigns to 1,000 people each is more effective than creating one campaign for 5,000 people. Creating audience groups allows you to segment your audience, personalizing the description on the same content you shared with other audience groups. This personalization can attract greater attention from each subset of your audience.

The other LinkedIn ads trick is that if you want more views, you should select pay-per-click, and if you want more clicks, select pay-per-view. This is a way to get the most out of your marketing dollars.

LinkedIn Ads Best Practices

Mine Your Engaged Network

It’s not enough to just create and curate great content; once people begin reacting to what you’re sharing, you need to follow through! Keep an eye on who’s liking and sharing your sponsored content. Hover over their names to learn more about them: Do they seem like they might be a good prospect for you? If so, reach out with a request to connect, thanking them for engaging with your content and opening the door for further discussion.

 

How to Dominate LinkedIn Marketing

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Sean Jackson

Marketing Podcast with Sean Jackson

LinkedIn holds such awesome promise, particularly for B2B marketers. So why are so few people actually taking advantage of it?

My guest for this week’s episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is Sean Jackson, the CFO and Partner at Copyblogger media and host of The Missing Link, a podcast about all things LinkedIn. We talk about marketing on LinkedIn, why content marketers are missing the boat on the platform, and what marketers and business owners should do to take advantage of LinkedIn.

Sean spends a great deal of time interviewing folks who have cracked the code on successful LinkedIn marketing and the tips he shares in this interview are priceless.

Seriously – I don’t say this often, but this could be the most profitable twenty minutes of content you consume in a while.

Questions I ask Sean:

  • How do you do business on LinkedIn without being pushy or spammy?
  • How can you tap into the power of groups?
  • What should content marketers be focusing to get the most out of LinkedIn marketing?

What you’ll learn if you give a listen:

  • Why LinkedIn is unique and deserves your time and effort
  • How to use the Pulse network and why LinkedIn users go there to be entertained
  • How to use LinkedIn ads and get great ROI

This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast is brought to you by Sidekick by Hubspot. Duct Tape Marketing Podcast listeners can get a free month by visiting http://getsidekick.com/ducttape

3 Depth Is the Secret to Sales Success

Going deep inside an organization is how you discover the best way to deliver value.

network mining

photo credit: henry… via photopin cc

It’s an essential prospecting skill, it’s an essential survival skill and it’s how you get and stay ahead of every deal and every competitor.

How many accounts have been lost over the years because a salesperson had a great relationship with a buyer, only to see that buyer move on?

By mining social networks to get a bigger view of your “buyer’s world” you can start to build relationships around them and potentially uncover new opportunities. If you’ve built an advocate in your original relationship, you may find that this approach makes it easier for them to open doors for you rather than simply asking them to make a referral.

It may not make sense for you to build a relationship with your contact’s boss’s boss, but it may be a very smart play for you to connect your boss’s boss with that person.

Social networks, such as LinkedIn, are very good at revealing connections between individuals as well as highlighting the basis of the connection. This information can become very valuable as you begin to work on a targeted prospect or try to win more business inside an existing customer’s organization.

Another very important reason for going deeper into organizations is to understand how a deal really happens. Have you ever had one of those deals just grind to a halt and eventually fade away just when everything seemed to be going great – your client was all thumbs up and talking about getting the PO ready to go?

Chances are the deal was killed by stakeholders you were not aware of – and the bigger the organization, the more stakeholders involved.

If you’re selling a software solution to a purchasing department, there’s a really, really good chance that IT, Sales, Operations and maybe even Finance are going to have a say in the who, what, when and where of the deal.

Use social networks to construct company “stakeholder maps” and start connecting with and understanding those crazy guys in IT as part of your mining. This doesn’t mean you’re going to start pitching everyone in the organization, but there’s a good chance that you can actually help your “buyer” better understand the real buying process better when you take this kind research approach. (That sounds like adding value and insight doesn’t it?)

In fact, I believe sales organizations should start compensating sales folks for this skill and action alone – over and about closed deals.

And that in the end is the job of sales today – to go deep inside an organization to discover the best way to deliver value.

24 Why The New LinkedIn Publishing Option is Worth Your Time

LinkedIn recently starting rolling out a new content program that allows LinkedIn profile holders to add long form blog posts. The program piggybacks a bit on the Influencer program launched in 2013 that features long form content from folks like Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Maria Shriver and Mark Cuban.

LinkedIn has been on a bit of a content tear over the last few years snapping up tools like Slideshare and Pulse as well as creating programs like the Influencer program and building topic based communities inside of Pulse in an effort to battle networks like Facebook for more and more of your online time.

In announcing the latest publishing program LinkedIn had this to say:

“Starting today, LinkedIn is opening up our publishing platform to our members, giving them a powerful new way to build their professional brand. When a member publishes a post on LinkedIn, their original content becomes part of their professional profile, is shared with their trusted network and has the ability to reach the largest group of professionals ever assembled. Now members have the ability to follow other members that are not in their network and build their own group of followers. Members can continue to share their expertise by posting photos, images, videos and their original presentations on SlideShare”

The opening process is a rolling one and is said to only include about 25,000 profiles initially. If you are one of the chosen ones you should have received an email from LinkedIn alerting you, but you’ll also notice a little pencil icon in you status update box as in the image below.

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I’ve been testing the program and believe it has some real upside for many business owners and marketers.

Engagement is high

I’ve added four posts currently and all appear to be getting a nice amount of pageviews and engagement. The thing I noticed right off the bat and truly appreciate is the engagement is coming from people I don’t currently interact with so my content is gaining exposure into some new places.

LinkedIn automatically showcases the content as recommended reading for relevant profiles.

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Search results are immediate

All of the posts are showing up in Google searches for pretty specific content within hours of publishing. LinkedIn content has always been highly regarded by Google and this platform might offer content producers who don’t currently rank highly another vehicle.

And, while links you might embed in your posts are most likely the “no follow” type, with page views numbering in the thousands for most of my posts, I’ve got to believe those links are getting some clicks.

FirefoxScreenSnapz094

It’s about authority

Published content that collects social signals and shares does wonders for an author’s authority and for many the LinkedIn publishing platform might be one of the best places to get exposure, build engagement, pick up +1s and send Google an authority message.

I’ve decided to amplify the content outside of LinkedIn to see how much initial attention I can drive to it and I’ve also placed a link to my Google+ profile in the short bio at the end of each piece to help Google add this to my author profile.

I recommend that you take a look at this publishing avenue as another potentially potent place to distribute your message and spread your expertise.

29 My Content Amplification System

Today’s post is in answer to a direct request I’ve received a number of times.

Content AmplificationOf course writing good content is only part of the business challenge. You’ve also got to get it read. Some would say, and to a large part this is true, that simply writing something that people want to read is the first step in drawing links and shares, but you’ve also got to put your content out there in places where people do their reading these days.

The following is a sampling of my content amplification routine. I do this with each blog post in an effort to get that particular piece of content the greatest amount of exposure. Is this the perfect, all inclusive list, probably not, but it’s a routine that I can do in about five minutes and still give my content a chance to be seen by lots of potential clients, journalists and strategic partners.

After I hit publish I:

  • Tweet the headline and link with some context to draw the most interest using StumbleUpon link shortener su.pr – this syndicates the content to StumbleUpon and Twitter and starts the traffic exposure in both places.
  • Publish the post to my Facebook Page
  • Publish the post to my Google+ Stream – public, circles and extended circles
  • Publish the post to my LinkedIn profile – also share with several large groups
  • Bookmark the post in appropriate tags to Delicious
  • If a post has drawn a large number of retweets I may post to Twitter a second time during the day – I generally make this decision and schedule the Tweet for a specific time using TweetDeck’s scheduling function

A couple things worth noting:

  • I don’t use a service or tool to cross post this to all avenues as I think they all have their own personality and following and I take a minute to point out something different about the post in each network.
  • I participate in many other ways, unrelated to my own content promotion in each of these networks
  • I check back several times a day, depending on my schedule to participate in any conversations happening around the content, including comments on the original blog post
  • I have +1, LinkedIn, and Facebook buttons above every blog post
  • I have links to share the content with popular bookmarking sites on the blog posts (sociable plugin) and in the RSS feed (Feedburner feed flare option)
  • I often highlight a particularly well read blog post or two from the week in my weekly email newsletter

So, what would you add to this list?

24 The Future of Social Networks Is Vertical

VerticalEven as social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook grow, in order to remain relevant they will need to evolve. In my opinion that evolution will contain the formation of vertical marketplaces. Social networks for artists, attorneys and consultants already exist, but none of them have attracted the kind of adoption that Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter enjoy.

Think about it, how many real estate agents, designers and accountants are on Facebook already? The tough thing about building a social network is to get the kind of adoption and participation you need to make the network a viable place to hang out. The major networks already have that and can tap it by creating networks within the network. The time might be right for outside players to insert vertical pushes if the networks don’t partner with associations and other data providers poised to offer an impact in a vertical market. (Seems to me that most industry associations and interest groups should be considering this kind of approach.)

Next week LinkedIn is announcing a partnership with a real estate industry player that will push to create a real estate portal on LinkedIn that can provide agents and consumers with commercial and residential listings within LinkedIn. A healthy recruiter community already exists on LinkedIn so a jobs database would be pretty easy to create. This approach would reach beyond the typical “groups” implementation to something much richer in terms of content and specific opportunities for engagement. Twitter lists combined with a Google search for job title or industry in a bio is one way to craft a list of any profession on Twitter. That process alone might be a good place to start. Look for more on this from the networks as they continue to evolve for business use.

Image credit: quinn.anya

19 LinkedIn Adds More Twitter Integration

One of the things that seems to be happening with many of the new online tools is integration. As users start to settle into how they plan to use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, each of the tools seems intent on providing access to the other to allow you to do most of your work from one platform. Keeping up with multiple platforms is tough, but gathering as much data about the folks you do engage is very helpful.

For those who choose to use LinkedIn as their primary networking site there is good news. This week LinkedIn pushed even more Twitter integration into the Tweets app making it possible to add Twitter streams for all of your connections on LinkedIn. In fact, this moves the LinkedIn application towards being a full fledged Twitter client as you can also create groups and reply and retweet right from LinkedIn.


Click to enlarge

If you have not done so, first you must install the Tweets application. Once you do that the Overview tab on your home page will allow you to see everyone you currently follow on Twitter, view their Twitter feed, and Tweet from your own account. You can also find other Twitter users to follow, based on your LinkedIn connections. This deeper Twitter integration should make using LinkedIn a richer experience for current users and create a great deal more sharing on the site.

Here’s another LinkedIn tip I borrowed from Chris Brogan.

Keep up on the status updates and network news from your LinkedIn connections by subscribing via RSS (see that little orange icon) and checking in on your RSS reader. I don’t know about you but I find this way more convenient than going the LinkedIn site and trying to read what’s been going on.

62 5 Ways to Use Social Media for Things You Are Already Doing

One of the biggest road blocks facing small businesses when addressing social media is the question of return on investment. With so little time devote to what’s crying out to be done, adding something else or something new like social media can feel like a real burden. Sometimes the only way to rationalize and prioritize something new is to understand the benefits in relation to everything else your doing and take a new view based on that understanding.

puzzleSo much of what’s written on social media amounts to lists of things you should do, get on twitter, blog, create a Facebook fan page, and not enough on why you might consider doing it. While all those tactics may indeed be wise, I would like suggest a number of ways to use those actions to do a better or more efficient job doing things you’re already (or should be) doing.

Start to think in terms of doing more with less effort, not simply doing more. If I can let small business owners get a glimpse of social media through this lens, they might just decide to go a little deeper. Here are five ways to look at it.

1) Follow up with prospects

I love using social media tools as a way to follow-up with prospects you might meet out there in the real world. So you go to a Chamber event and meet someone that has asked you to follow-up. Traditionally, you might send an email a week later or call them up and leave a voice mail. What if instead you found them on LinkedIn, asked to be connected and then shared an information rich article that contained tips about the very thing you chatted about at the Chamber mixer. Then you offered to show them how to create a custom RSS feed to get tons of information about their industry and their competitors. Do you think that next meeting might get started a little quicker towards your objectives? I sure do.

2) Stay top of mind with customers

Once someone becomes a customer it’s easy to ignore them, assuming they will call next time they need something or, worse yet, assuming they understand the full depth and breadth of your offerings and will chime in when they have other needs. Staying in front of your customers and continuing to educate and upsell them is a key ingredient to building marketing momentum and few businesses do it well.

This is an area where a host of social media tools can excel. A blog is a great place to put out a steady stream of useful information and success stories. Encouraging your customers to subscribe and comment can lead to further engagement. Recording video stories from customers and uploading them to YouTube to embed on your site can create great marketing content and remind your customer why they do business with you. Facebook Fan pages can be used as a way to implement a client community and offer education and networking opportunities online.

3) Keep up on your industry

Keeping up with what’s happening in any industry is a task that is essential these days. With unparalleled access to information many clients can learn as much or more about the products and solutions offered by a company as those charged with suggesting those products and solutions. You better keep up or you risk becoming irrelevant. Of course I could extend this to keeping up with what your customers, competitors, and key industry journalists are doing as well.

Here again, new monitoring services and tools steeped in social media and real time reporting make this an easier task. Subscribing to blogs written by industry leaders, competitors and journalists and viewing new content by way of a tool such as Google Reader allows you to scan the day’s content in one place. Setting up Google Alerts and custom Twitter Searches (see more about how to do this) or checking out paid monitoring services such as Radian6 or Trackur allows you to receive daily email reports on the important mentions of industry terms and people so you are up to the minute in the know. (Of course, once you do this you can teach your customers how to do it and make yourself even more valuable to them – no matter what you sell.)

4) Provide a better customer experience

It’s probably impossible to provide too much customer service, too much of a great experience, but you can go nuts trying.

Using the new breed of online tools you can plug some of the gaps you might have in providing customer service and, combined with your offline touches, create an experience that no competitor can match.

While some might not lump this tool into social media, I certainly think any tool that allows you to collaborate with and serve your customers qualifies. Using an online project management tool such as Central Desktop allows you to create an entire customer education, orientation, and handbook kind of training experience one time and then roll it out to each new customer in a high tech client portal kind of way. This approach can easily set you apart from anyone else in your industry and provide the kind of experience that gets customers talking.

5) Network with potential partners

Building a strong network of strategic marketing partners is probably the best defense against any kind of economic downturn. One of the surest ways to attract potential partners is to build relationships through networking. Of course you know that, but you might not be viewing this kind of networking as a social media function.

If you identify a potential strategic partner, find out if they have a blog and start reading and commenting. Few things will get you noticed faster than smart, genuine blog comments. Once you establish this relationship it might make sense to offer a guest blog post. If your use a CRM tool (and you should) you’ve probably noticed that most are moving to add social media information to contact records, add your potential partners social media information and you will learn what’s important to them pretty quickly.

If you know how to set up a blog already, offer to create a blog of network partners so each of you can write about your area of expertise and create some great local SEO for the group.

So, you see, you don’t have to bite into the entire social media pie all at once. Find a tool, a technique, a tactic that makes your life easier today and provides more value for partners, prospects and customers and you’ll be on the path to getting some real ROI on your social media investment.

What social media tactics have you discovered that allow you to do more of something you’re already doing?

27 Small Businesses Will Simply Become More Naturally Social

small business georgetown coThis past year brands large and small rushed head on into social media marketing. They had to learn about all things Twitter, hire social media consultants and create special social media metrics and budgets. Now that hype surrounding the next new thing has settled a bit, businesses are coming around to the understanding that social media isn’t a department or separate marketing tactic. In fact, It’s not so much a tool as it is a behavior. And as such it can and should permeate the whole of the business.

Trapping social media engagement in the marketing department and demanding a tradition ROI measurement structure is a mistake. Social media activity and behavior can help facilitate communication and connection with your entire collaboration universe: prospects, customers, suppliers, partners, and employees and as such should be freed from the limited thinking. I’m not saying you shouldn’t demand a return on anything you do, but I am suggesting that you explode the notion of social media as one segment of one department.

My guess is the most successful small business will simply become more naturally social.

Here are few ways social media behavior is applied throughout.

HiringLinkedIn is the one the leading tools used by organizations these days to find job candidates. Scanning social media participation of prospective hires is a great way to access their social skills and (one of my new favorite terms thanks to Tara Hunt @missrogue) wuffie factor – a bit of a social media graph that can demonstrate what one values.

Training – Using social bookmarking tools like delicious or Instapaper you can easily create reading lists of information your entire team, customers in various industry segments or strategic partners should read to learn and grow.

Awareness – Social media has become a tremendous lead generation tool when used as a way to create awareness about valuable, education based content. Facebook Ads, for example are a great tool to employ to point out your upcoming webinars.

Public Relations – One of the best ways to achieve media coverage these days is to build relationships with journalists using social media tools. Most every journalist has a blog, leave comments and participate in their conversation. Create a Twitter List of key journalists for your industry. Create Google Alerts for those same journalists and start building relationships – that’s how you get covered

Referrals – Giving and receiving referrals was, is and remains the first and ultimate social behavior. Making a referral publicly, in a forum like Biznik, is a great way to demonstrate your belief in the power of giving. Reading and leaving ratings and reviews on sites like Yelp! is another great way to start the referral machine.

Strategic Partners – Finding strategic partners to work on projects or simply share the work of marketing to a target group is a great strategy empowered through social media tools. You can easily find businesses to connect with through networks like OpenForum or LinkedIn and then use a tool like MeetUp to co-host an event. (Disclosure: I am a contributor to OpenForum.)

Internal News – Using a tool like Yammer, Posterous, or even well formed hashtags on Twitter is a great way to communicate with a team and highlight content that should be seen by that team. Setting up RSS feeds and alerts for brand, industry and competitive mentions is another simple way to make sure everyone knows what’s going on and being said.

Lead Conversion – Adding a customer or prospect’s social activity to a CRM record through tools such as ACT! 2010 or Batchbook is a great way to discover the wants, needs, interests and challenges they face. Carefully reviewing that information can lead to ways to deepen relationships and even uncover unmet needs. It’s funny how often we sell something our existing customers are asking for but didn’t we had!

Customer Service – Countless organizations have turned to Twitter as way a to communicate with customers in need of some help. I think the serving of customers in public offers a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate how well you take care of business.

Research – I get great information every time I ask a question on LinkedIn or put up a quick Involver application poll on Facebook. The speed of this kind of research and the conversations that can erupt offer incredible opportunities to learn and connect.

Inspiration – This one can be hard for some get their head around, but I can’t tell you how ofter I’ve turned to my RSS reader to find inspiration for an idea, content, and even just as a way to regain my focus. In fact here’s my list of 10 places (mostly social) I turn to for content inspiration.

SEO – In case you haven’t heard, social media and SEO are pretty much hitched. Simply building profiles in communities such as TED or BusinessWeek Exchange can help you claim search real estate and provide those valuable links back to your primary web site.

Testing – I’ve seen authors test book titles, businesses test pricing and logo designs, and professionals test various service offerings in Facebook and Twitter. The immediate and often quite informed feedback of a carefully built social network is an extremely useful tool.

Sourcing – Has anyone used XYZ software? I need a good WordPress designer. These kinds of requests go out all day long in social networks and have become one of the primary ways I make buying decision and hire professionals for projects.

Help Desk – Social network communities can provide incredible amounts of help for the most specific kinds of challenges. Let’s say you can’t make a computer network connect. One tweet can provide the answer. Let’s say you need some Photoshop tips, a quick trip to the Behance Network will likely turn up dozens of design software resources.

Brainstorming – When I’m wrestling with an idea for an article, book or strategy I’ll often put some form of the idea out for discussion on Twitter and engage some really smart people who follow me in discussions that can lead to some pretty interesting validation or other conclusions. It’s a fascinating process. Of course you can also create public Mindmeister mind maps and draw in even more brainstorming collaboration with employees, customers and partners.

What ways have you found to apply social behavior to your organization?

Image credit: vbsouthern

55 7 Simple Truths of Social Media Marketing

social mediaThe first truth I need to reveal is that the idea for this post is a bit of a response to a post by Sonia Simone of copyblogger titled – The 7 Harsh Realities of Social Media Marketing. Sonia and I sparred a bit over the fact that “harsh realities” and making all this sound hard is something that keeps some small biz folks from diving in the way they should. Yes, it’s work, but what about marketing isn’t?

First, understand that I think Sonia is brilliant and copyblogger gets a daily visit from me, but – using social media to grow your business just isn’t that harsh and it doesn’t need to be that hard. Okay, it’s new and there are some new names to learn, cultures to understand and lingo to get comfortable with, but the fundamentals of marketing are the same, only the platforms have changed.

Here’s my 7 Simple Truths of Social Media Marketing

1) Listening is the best way to develop strategy

Everyone knows they should develop a social media strategy before diving into to every network they can. The problem is, few can tell you how to do this because any real marketing strategy is highly personal and involves your customers, market, competitors, suppliers, products and services. The best way to approach discovering a strategy for your social media participation, and perhaps all of your communications, is to listen really, really well. Social media is one of the greatest listening tools on the planet. Your customers are telling you about their fears and hopes, they’re telling about what they like about your products and dislike about the competition, they’re telling you what they wish someone would make – and now you can hear it. If you do nothing but set-up listening stations, using free tools like Google Alerts and Twitter Search, you can get an enormous return on your time invested.

Once you spend time listening to your market, understanding how people use blogs and just what seems to work and not work on LinkedIn you may be more prepared to develop a marketing strategy, once that based on achieving marketing objectives, than ever. Don’t skip this step for tactics!

2) Nobody really wants to read another blog

I’m fond of telling anyone that will listen that every small business should have a blog. I don’t say that because I think your customers are itching to grab a cup of green tea and fire up what you wrote in your blog today. In fact, if you polled most of your customers and inquired as to whether you should write a blog, most would tell you no. But, those same customers go to search engines like Google and Bing every second of every day looking for answers to questions, suppliers in their town, and ways to solve pressing problems. And when they do, guess what most of them find, that’s right, blog content!

I’m not saying you shouldn’t write incredible stuff, with a long term goal of attracting lots of readers – when these readers start linking back to that content your search results will soar – what I am saying is, write what people search in your market and your town, educate with your posts and you blog will pay off faster than any other online play.

And it that weren’t enough blog software, like WordPress, is so user simple and feature rich that it’s the best way to run your entire web presence.

3) It’s kind of a real estate game

While I started this post off talking about the virtues of a solid strategy, there is a bit of a real estate grab that comes on the front end of getting value from social media. There are many profiles that you can claim and optimize, even if you don’t quite yet know what your development strategy is, and you should claim them. Creating spokes of branded and optimized content in sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, Slideshare and YouTube has become standard SEO practice, but don’t forget about taking the time to build very rich profiles on sites like Biznik, BusinessWeek’s Exchange, OPENForum, and BizSugar. (Disclosure: I write for OpenForum)

Your profiles in these outposts will serve as content real estate that you control and can help fill in the gaps when someone Google’s You.

4) Sell awareness and the money will follow

A lot of people will tell you, and perhaps you’ve experienced it first hand, that you can’t sell using social media sites. Let me ask you this, have you ever really have much luck selling anything to anyone just because they happened to be standing in front of you. The only difference is social media makes it easier to stand in front of someone. You can’t really sell anything to anyone until you’ve built trust. The most effective way to build trust in any setting is to show someone how to get what they want and allow them to come to the conclusion that you have something they might want to buy.

Social media, just like the most effective advertising, is a great place to build awareness about your content: blog, white paper, seminar, workbook. If you do that, and your content builds trust, social media is a great place to make money – think of it as another version of 2-step advertising.

5) Networking hasn’t really changed

I really believe that effective networking on social media sites like Biznik, Facebook, or LinkedIn greatly resembles that of effective networking at in person Chamber or Association events. The key difference being one of a style of engagement and perhaps a different set of follow-up steps.

Before you do, act, or respond in any manner on a social media site, ask yourself if it would be an effective response to a prospect you’ve just met at an business event? You know, you wouldn’t go shirtless, with beer in hand to an association meet and greet, why would you post the same on your Facebook profile? This varies to some degree, but not that much.

6) It makes your offline play stronger

One of the things I don’t hear enough people talking about is how much social media can impact your offline efforts. Most business is still done across a desk, but starting relationships on LinkedIn and then building them much deeper over lunch is the killerest combination.

Social media also allows you to more easily and more consistently stay on top of what’s going on in your customer’s world. A growing number of CRM tools, such as ACT2010! and BatchBook make social media activity a part of a contact’s record.

7) A system is the solution

A well run business is a collection of systems. Marketing is a system and one of the best ways to keep social media participation from becoming your full time job is to create systems and process for how you participate.

I know you see people that spend their entire day on Twitter, but you must understand that they fall into two camps a) people who make a living teaching people how to use Twitter, b) people getting ready to go out of business.

It may seem a bit robotic to talk about social media and engagement as a process, but scheduling routines for your blog posting, commenting, tweeting, fanning and friending is a must, just as scheduling the appropriate time for selling, training employees and meeting strategic partners. Here’s a look at what an example social media routine might look like

Image credit: viralbus

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