Q: I run a mid-sized accounting firm and am trying to expand business. Everyone seems to be talking about social media, but I’m reluctant as I’ve heard both good and bad things. My main concern is that I don’t want to appear frivolous and unprofessional.
Julia: Social media is just one element of digital marketing. Digital or online marketing is an essential part of every company’s business plan. Without doubt, people are researching professional services companies online before deciding which one to use.
David: A good place to start is to find out whether people are talking about you. Type your company’s name into a search engine (such as Google or Bing) to see what, if anything, people are saying about your firm. Then type in a generic industry word for your company and your area (eg ‘accountancy, Orpington’) to see how you stack up against competitors.
If you do not appear on the first few pages of the search engine’s hits, you may want to invest in SEO (search engine optimisation) to improve your position in the listings. Another route is PPC (pay per click) advertising, which lets you place adverts on relevant websites to attract prospects to your site. Your website is your company’s online face, but to be seen it needs visitors. Your goal is to drive traffic.
Julia: With social media, remember that you are talking to real people, in real time. It lets you listen to and engage with your target audience. It’s about creating a relationship and building trust with both your prospective and actual client base.
The upside here is that you have a potential audience of millions just waiting to engage; the downside is that you need to think before you type. If you’re a celebrity, people may well be interested in your innermost thoughts, but if you’re not, then your content must be appropriate and interesting, attracting individuals to find out more.
Preparation can be time-consuming and returns may not be immediate, but if you get it right, social media can be a cost-effective (and hugely successful) marketing and lead-generation machine. Effective strategies can generate significant results in weeks.
David: As tempting as it may be to tell everyone how wonderful your company is, the most successful social media campaigns are subtle and interactive. Share information simply to be helpful. Linkedin, Twitter, Google and Facebook are all B2B tools. Spend time setting up your profile on each, focusing on getting the tone right and then have fun. Start by targeting your local audience and then broaden out. Engage, listen, assist and inform, while gently reminding your audience of the merits of your firm. When they next need help, your name may be the one that springs to mind.
Q: I can’t seem to get the hang of Twitter. What am I doing wrong?
David: Congratulations on being one step ahead of most of your competitors. Even though everyone’s talking about Twitter, not everyone is tweeting or, if they are, they’re not tweeting effectively. Yet it’s such an easy thing to do. It is currently an underused B2B tool, although it will not remain that way for long. Persist and get the hang of it now, so you’re one step ahead of your competitors.
Julia: Set goals. If you are using Twitter as part of a marketing initiative, make sure there is a strategy, however simple. Tactical attempts at social media – for example, just tweeting randomly – don’t add significant value to your audience and are usually too company-focused.
Your social strategy needs to put your clients at its heart, centring on their needs rather than yours. Begin by understanding how both your clients and relevant influencers use social media. Do you know who they are, what they like and what inspires them? Remember, people come first.
David: A personality in social media is a must. People buy from people, not companies. Work to engage with others on Twitter, and write as a person rather than as a business. Nobody is interested in jargon, terminology or brand-speak, no matter how exciting you may find it. If your tweets are relevant, concise, helpful and regular, others will look out for them and will ‘retweet’ (forward your tweets on to their audience), and recommend you.
Julia: Relevance is vital. Ensure you tie your content back to what’s going on in your local market and the wider industry. The Holy Grail of social media is to become a thought-leader in your industry. Lead from the front with your opinion, but remember: not all publicity is good publicity, so stay on the right side of controversial.
David: Social media is also the ideal tool to engage with existing clients. They are very well informed about the services your company offers and can also offer their personal insights, which may help prospects decide in your favour. Assuming that you have delivered on your promises, existing clients should also be disposed to buying more of your services, so there can also be an opportunity to up-sell and cross-sell.
David: Twitter, as with any form of social media, is only truly valuable in providing return on investment when it is both tracked and measured. While financial analysis may require commercial tools, at the very least set key performance indicators, so you can compare the viability and success of your social media campaign, not only as part of your marketing strategy but as part of your overall company strategy. If you don’t know your Klout score, you should.