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We've asked a coterie of marketing experts to join Entrepreneur's Team Digital to provide answers to your common questions about building an online presence. Got a question? Ask it in our comment section below or on Twitter using #TeamDigital. Each week, we'll spotlight a different topic, and twice a month we'll host Google Hangouts (our next is June 26) where Team Digital will chat about best strategies for managing an online reputation, marketing through social media and using mobile techniques to attract customers.
In this week's column, Facebook fan Teresa Marie Cole Wilkins asks Team Digital: Do you have different recommendations for service industries when determining what type of social media to use? I'm an attorney.
I generally recommend Facebook and Twitter for any business. If your business is primarily B2B, or targets a specific niche segment within another professional services industry, then LinkedIn can be very valuable as well. Businesses that produce products that are visually appealing should consider Pinterest and YouTube. Google+ caters to an audience similar to LinkedIn, and also offers an SEO benefit, so it's a good idea to include it in your strategy as well. For a more detailed breakdown, see my article, "How to Determine Which Social Media Network Fits Your Business."
Look at where your competitors are having the most success. Having a pulse on where your competitors hang out via social media can help you figure out good starting points. That being said, you don't want to be analyzing your competitors 24/7 or else you'll just be following what they're doing. Check up on them every now and then but focus on delivering maximum value to your customers first.
Think about where your competitors aren't. My guess is that as an attorney you're going to find that LinkedIn makes a ton of sense, but guess what, so will every other attorney that's asked the same question as you. Here's my advice: Get a social CRM like Nimble and add your current customers -- that will allow you dashboard-type access to the social-media participation of your customers. Then, pinpoint 10 or 12 attorneys that you compete with or admire and study their social-media participation. From that research you may want to up your game in LinkedIn. But I suggest you also find a network that's on the fringe, one you think you might enjoy learning more about and dive in as the "freak" attorney that gets Pinterest or Instagram or some other network that your competition doesn't yet appreciate. It just might be your chance to own it and find prospects that don't hang out in LinkedIn.
It's very simple: You need to be where your customers and prospects are. How do you get there? You ASK THEM WHERE THEY HANG OUT. I've said this before: If you post to Twitter 5,000 times a day, and none of your clients, customers or prospects are on Twitter, then yours isn't a social-media problem, it's a customer-service problem. Example: I work with a non-profit in the animal rescue sector. Five years ago, when I first found them, they sent me a coffee table book as a "thank you" for my donation. I asked them why they weren't online, and they said they assumed that their older donors weren't online. But they'd never asked. So they did. In the next year, once they established an online presence, donations went up 37 percent. And by the way, they saved half a million dollars in printing, mailing and reproduction. All from asking. Be relevant.
...But get into social media, even if your customers aren't there. For many service industries, using social media just may not make sense due to confidentiality or complexity of the work, but that doesn't mean you should walk away from social media entirely. Channels like LinkedIn can still be used to network with other professionals in your industry or Twitter can still be used to voice thought leadership and to keep up with current thinking. Social media isn't just for connecting with customers!
Determine whether it makes sense at all to use social media for your business. It all starts with knowing your business objective. Determine what your goal is and then work backwards from there. How do you get there? Ask yourself who is your target consumer. From there, you can look at which social-media platforms, if any, align with your objective and audience. If there are platforms that do align, pick the most relevant ones and focus deeply on those.
Be selective. Many small-business owners think they need to rush headlong into the online game by joining every social-media network available.But that just ends up spreading you thin. The real power lies in determining the best one or two platforms to focus on, given your brand and audience. Being familiar with the tone and demographics of each site is the place to start. For example, according to research, users over 35 years of age represent 55% of Twitter users, 63% of Pinterest users, 65% of Facebook users, and 79% of LinkedIn users. Of course age is only one factor. You also need to do some research and consider gender, spending habits, lifestyle factors and others to know which social media would be the best bet for your business.
...Figuring out which network your prospects are on isn't the only issue, either. You have to choose the network where they are or might be receptive to your content or interaction. People don't hang out on Facebook looking for services to purchase or service providers to answer their questions. LinkedIn might make more sense anecdotally, but don't assume. Ask your current customers where they hang out online, where they get their information, what type of content or interaction do they respond to, etc. They'll tell you. Assuming you want more customers just like them, you've got a good start on where to start.
Start a step deeper and be a thought leader. Don't think in terms of "will I use Twitter or Facebook" to reach people. Chances are, you won't. Think about where you can contribute and what you can contribute to your audience. Where? Well, what are the blogs or publications people in your industry tend to read? You can start small and ladder up from one blog to a bigger one to a bigger one. Eventually, you're writing for Entrepreneur Magazine. Don't think of yourself as a thought leader? Get over it. Pick some aspect of your business where you know what you're talking about--an area of tension, confusion or conflict. Say what you think about it in an honest tone of voice. Boom, you're a thought leader.
No matter what kind of professional service you offer, make it part of your marketing process to find out where your prospects and clients are online, and what they think is of value there. Go further by compiling what you find out into a "report" (i.e. content) that you can then distribute. That way, others will know who's doing what in social media. It's still a big open question that everyone wants to know the answer to. Once you publish that report, you're a thought leader in the eyes of your target market!