05/03/11
05/03/11

By Connie Benson, director of social media and community strategy at Alterian

Today’s consumer is ignoring traditional marketing channels. They are effectively finding ways to block them and this is having detrimental effects on businesses’ lead generation efforts, cold calling and direct marketing, and ultimately the connection they have with their target audience.

There is however one marketing channel that is continuing to open up new avenues for businesses - social media. The benefits that social media can bring are substantial. Monitoring it provides amazing insight into the web at large (which is where your potential customers are). It can augment your marketing and sales efforts in many ways not previously available. The ability to bring the conversations to you and review them provides powerful insight into consumers’ minds.

The web has created a channel that is opt-in and is based on the old fashioned premises of trust and relationships. People are interacting with each other and making or breaking brands by their recommendations or poor reviews. Brands have realised that they are now able to participate in the conversations, but the task of monitoring these conversations and knowing where to begin seems overwhelming.

A recent Alterian survey of marketers found that 40% of respondents felt that their staff were not prepared to take advantage of this new channel; which is evidence that there’s still a long way to go before social media is properly utilised. If businesses are to embrace social media and finally harness the power that it possesses, then there are seven rules that they should follow:

1.Identify people expressing a need for your product/service

When you consider buying a new TV, an appliance or even a car where do you go first? Most people talk with friends, relatives and gather opinions from those they trust. They also research people’s opinions online. And if they are in a group of friends they trust such as a forum or Facebook then they ask their online friends.

There is an inherent trust in these groups and so the recommendations greatly influence the purchase process. Social media monitoring allows you to effectively pinpoint these conversations. By searching for specific words and phrases you can identify conversations where people are expressing a need for your product or service. The value of a social media monitoring tool over a free tool like Google Alerts is that it will gather conversations from all of the various social networks. This allows you to find pockets of online communities where your potential customers are located and is a great way to find new markets.

Best practice is to listen for a while and ease into the conversation. You could perhaps offer information and educational resources. Remember, this is not the time to push your products but rather to build relationships and come to be a trusted resource. In time the community will send highly qualified leads in your direction. Social media monitoring also allows you to gather conversations about your brand and respond to those with questions about your products as well as your customers. This will increase customer satisfaction and loyalty. It also increases your brand visibility because they tell others about the great service they are receiving. Positive word of mouth is invaluable.

2.Create customer profiles

Social media monitoring is powerful in that it provides insight into the consumers’ minds. The advantage of using a professional tool is that it can analyse all the conversations and create word clouds that visually depict the most frequently used words. It will also create word clouds of words or phrases that authors have tagged their content with. These clouds provide valuable insight into the words and phrases that are of the highest importance to your consumer group (specific to your search terms). These are the words that should be used as SEO keywords. The sentiment and tone of the conversations can also help you drill into the wants and needs of conversations around your brand and that of the competitors. From the word clouds and the sentiment aspect you can create a customer profile that includes:

• The size and scope of your market

• Where they are having conversations both online and offline

• Psychographic aspects (culture, philosophy, internal/external factors)

• Demographics (location, influence, age and sex)

For this case it is important to search for industry terms. That will provide you with information about your customer segments that you may not know.

3.Reduce cold calling

The nature of the social web has created a new opportunity to reduce/eliminate cold calling. Imagine replacing cold calls with warm or hot leads (warm leads being ones where they have expressed an interest in your product or service, in contrast to their getting a call out of the blue); while hot leads are those customers that have expressed purchasing behaviours and may turn around very rapidly.

As a marketer it is important that when generating inbound leads you remember that everyone is in a different stage of the buying process and that your prospect may or may not have not heard of your brand. The internet has shifted the paradigm of how your prospects find information. They are no longer only relying on their offline networks. They are searching the web and asking questions in online social networks among peers, contacts and friends. As a result you need to create content for every level of the buying process. It should be educational and not spam-like. Then place it on your corporate site and distribute it on shareable sites such as YouTube, Slideshare, Flickr , etc. These efforts will grow your brand visibility.

The most important step is engaging with potential prospects and sharing the content just mentioned. Using a social media monitoring tool allows you to find where the conversations are occurring in social networks. You can listen to what the needs of your industry are. Once you have a strategy, you can then join the conversations and provide links to your content when appropriate. Best practice is to make sure that it is applicable to the topic at hand. If the community finds value in your content they will share it with others. They will click through to your site, explore your information and express an interest in more information. (Please make it easy for them to contact you.) These warms leads are qualified and essential targets.

4.Lower acquisition costs and shortening the length of the sales cycle

Shifting from cold calling to working with warm leads will greatly reduce the length of the sales cycle. Your prospects have found information in their discovery process, have made a conscious decision to learn more about your products and now want to learn more. The conversion is going to happen more quickly because there is an inherent trust that your brand offers a product meeting their requirements.

The creation of informative content also results in reduced spending on marketing and advertising. Prospects and customers will share the information and the resulting word of mouth is far better than any marketing or advertising that you can buy, because people trust their peers far more.

5.Increase revenue due to cross selling and up selling

Social media monitoring can also greatly assist you with your customer care. Excellent customer service plays a critical role in customer loyalty. It only takes one unhappy customer to create an online brand crisis. For that reason alone, it is imperative to be interacting online where your customers are at and monitoring their conversations. You need to ensure that you answer their complaints quickly. (Many will choose to express them on Twitter, in a blog post or in forums). Answering your customers quickly allows you to build brand confidence and reinforces that your company cares. It also provides opportunities to discuss their business needs and allows you to suggest other products that would meet their needs. Or maybe there is an opportunity to up-sell to a higher level? This high level of customer care will be noticed by your customers and will result in increased loyalty as well as positive word of mouth.

6.Reduce marketing costs and Google Adwords

All of the above activity is based on creating high quality content that a target audience finds valuable. The social networking sites make it easy to share your content with their peers (who are also potential buyers). This increased word of mouth will greatly reduce the need for marketing and advertising spend. It’s the most valuable advertising that you cannot buy. Publishing content which others find valuable builds SEO organically. It is also the most highly regarded by search engines. Many are finding that it provides more than enough value to discontinue or refine their spend on Google Adwords. It’s much easier to measure the effects of a social media engagement using social media monitoring than it is to identify the gain from Adwords.

7.Align sales efforts with marketing

Marketing and sales teams should be co-dependent. The value in using social media monitoring and having the marketing and sales team participating in social media networks is that their efforts will become intertwined. Marketing will provide the website and high quality collateral. They will also introduce the information to the target markets. Sales will interact with the customers, be knowledgeable about their needs and build deeper relationships. Together the two teams can interact in social networks to jointly build relationships with prospects and customers toward the same goal of increased sales.

Conclusion

The social web has created many opportunities to augment lead generation. Social networks are a new channel that needs to be tapped by b2b marketers. Monitoring online conversations is the key to efficiently identifying those expressing a need for your products and services. Social media monitoring is also instrumental for profiling your customer segments as well as identifying new markets. Creating educational content, placing it around the social web, monitoring the related conversations, and engaging can greatly contribute to increasing word of mouth which in turn will reduce cold calling; lower acquisition costs and shorten the length of the sales cycle. Participation in social networks will foster cross selling and up selling efforts. Social networks are revolutionizing the way people are connecting online.


To read more on Connie Benson’s Social Media ROI series visit: http://socialmedia.alterian.com/resources/roi