My social media feeds are full of people looking for things. This morning, a friend of mine who is a parent of young toddlers posted a desperate plea on Facebook for a recommendation for a maid service. Another was travelling to China on business and was seeking a reliable VPN service to bypass the Great Firewall while there. A third Tweeted that he’s looking for a freelance translator for a project. And this was all before 9a.m.
Social media is a veritable gold mine of leads. And more businesses than ever are recognizing its value. A recent study by MECLABS found that 72% of companies are using social media to generate leads. They’re increasing their social media budgets; they’re on Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn; they’re socially plugged in. And it’s paying dividends.
A paradigm shift
Traditional methods of lead generation involve going out into the world to find and chase down leads. Social media is all about helping those leads find you. This is a big paradigm shift for many companies accustomed to an outbound sales mentality, and sometimes that culture shift is the biggest challenge. Every sales organization in history understands that inbound leads cost less than outbound leads, but not everyone is adept at finding them. Digital marketing has usually been designed to drive people to a website — via SEO, paid search, banner advertising or content syndication. Successful lead generation via social media may bypass your website altogether, and that’s perfectly fine, so long as it’s driving people to take action — to call, email, visit or otherwise contact your business. In other words, social lead generation requires less focus on bringing people to you, and more focus on going out to them.
Where the leads are
So where are these leads, exactly? It varies from business to business, which is why it’s not enough to throw up a Facebook page and a Twitter feed. It starts by understanding where the audience is and where they’re most open to being reached. Emerging channels are in some cases generating more leads than larger, more established channels. For instance, a study earlier this year by Shareaholic found that plucky little Pinterest has moved beyond recipes and photos of cats to generate more leads than Google+, YouTube and LinkedIn combined. Oft-ignored social channels like StumbleUpon, or Reddit — which Forbes announced last week could be worth $240 million — can be untapped gold mines.
Conversely, Facebook is sometimes one of the most challenging channels to use for lead generation. Even though it boasts the biggest audience and the highest share of attention, most of those posts by people looking for things are private, and thus invisible to brands. Compare that to forums, Q&A sites, blogs or even Twitter, where the vast majority of posts are public and therefore ripe for the picking by the savvy marketer who knows how to be in the right place at the right time. Brands can use social monitoring tools to find these questions as they arise and jump onto the forums, blogs and social channels to answer them. Many are doing this extremely effectively.
Your customers are your ambassadors
Ultimately, though, people who throw these questions out to their friends are looking for recommendations from people they know and trust. That’s the “social” part of social media. Those friends of mine who asked for recommendations are probably more willing to listen to my advice — or the advice of their other friends — than they would be to have a brand representative interrupt what they consider to be a private conversation. A lot of brands have been wary of social lead generation for precisely this reason; they feel that people aren’t receptive to being marketed to while they’re chatting with their friends. And they’re right. People don’t want to be marketed to; they want solutions to their problems.
And that’s why happy customers are your expanded sales force when it comes to social lead generation. Word of Mouth has always been an effective sales tactic, but social media amplifies the voice of each past customer. Ratings and reviews are becoming more important than ever, and many businesses are successfully using social affiliate strategies, too. A word of caution: Paying for or otherwise monetarily incentivizing these leads can backfire. Social media is all about credibility and honesty, so a spontaneous recommendation from a truly satisfied customer will carry substantially more weight than a lead earned by bribery.
Sari Stein, Digital Strategic Planner