Do you have a professional presence on social media sites? Do you believe that there are business benefits to utilizing social media?
Perhaps you aren’t convinced that social media can benefit your business. Or, maybe you are not sure exactly how it fits or how to leverage social media for business. Either way, in this post I’m going to lay the groundwork for where social media fits in the context of building your business, and how to leverage social media to reap the benefits.
First, understand that social networks are platforms for individuals to connect, communicate, and share. Social media is all about people and relationships. Building a client-centric business is also about people and relationships. Never before have you had access to networks that make it easy to find the right people to connect with as well as the ability to easily communicate and stay top of mind with them. This in and of itself is quite powerful.
However, just because you can build connections and network through social media doesn’t mean that this will translate into business for you. Social media in isolation probably won’t bring you new clients.
You need a plan behind your social media strategy, which actually should fit in to a comprehensive “digital” infrastructure.
To make social media work for your business, get your digital infrastructure in place.
If you want social media to become a business building tool for you, you need a way to lead the members of your target markets through a process that will build trust and allow for more concentrated communications. In other words, you need to move them into your “inner circle”. Before you can accomplish this, you have to have the infrastructure in place!
5 components of a digital infrastructure for leveraging social media as a business tool:
#1)Build a Professional Digital PLATFORM
A professional digital “platform” is more than a website. It is a multi-faceted approach that will modernize your online presence, enhance your online reputation, and provide many more opportunities for expanding your reach online than a static website. It allows you to branch out into the areas where your clients and potential clients are spending their time while being more visible, valuable, and accessible to them.
A professional digital “platform” includes content development and content marketing (blogging), social media participation, email marketing, calls-to-action or “offers” via landing pages, mobile visibility, and maybe even social ad campaigns.
For your platform to be effective, you will want it to be personalized and effectively position you as the go-to expert with your target markets. To build trust online, you have to be willing to show more of your human side and utilize content creation and publishing to demonstrate your expertise.
#2)Develop A Content Strategy
To position yourself and the advisors in your firm as trusted online experts, there must be a content strategy in place that deliberately and consistently educates the members of your target markets. You may hear the phrases “content strategy” and “content marketing” today, but these phrases have evolved from the activity of blogging.
Having a content strategy in place that gets you found and helps you stay top of mind as the valued expert in search, social, and in email inboxes is the necessary fuel for growing your influence. I’m not just referring to plugging in any old financial content and publishing it on a website or blog. You should strive to develop unique, in-depth, highly relevant pieces of content that address the specific questions, needs, and concerns of your market while highlighting your ideas, insights, and perspectives.
In addition to having the right content, your content should be distributed out to the right places, where your clients and prospective clients are spending their time online. This is where social media can help you grow your visibility. When you distribute your content out to your network, they can consume it, share it, or even take action on it after they’ve visited your site where the content is housed and owned by you. As long as your content is truly informative, educational, and helpful, it is absolutely acceptable to share it with your network.
It is critical to host your content on sites that you own such as a website or blog versus solely relying on social networks to serve as your content outlets. Remember, you don’t own your social media profiles, and social networks will come and go. Use them as networking and distribution channels, not as content hubs.
Content strategy is where most advisors cut corners, so there is a real opportunity to build digital equity, credibility, and influence here if put your voice into it and build your online authority. If you depend upon borrowing and distributing canned financial content, it’s likely that no one will notice or care.
#3)Grow Your Network
It’s great to have a modern digital platform and a stellar content strategy, but if you’re also not working to build your online network, you’re missing half the strategy.
The benefits of building a network through social media are exhaustive. You can expand your reach and visibility, stay top of mind with the people you connect with, get on the radar of top influencers, prospects, and journalists, promote your own thought leadership content and have your content shared by others, and most importantly, attract visitors back to your online hub where they can opt-in to your “inner circle” (more on this below).
Another lesser known benefit of building your online network is that you have a greater ability to appear in relevant searches both outside of social networks (Google, Bing) and within social networks. The make-up, size and quality of your network now affects how you will be found online. Also, when members of your network consume and share your content, that vote of confidence gets picked up by search engines and helps your online reputation.
If you’re going to go to the trouble of building a social media presence, focus on building a quality network of clients, prospective clients, professional alliances, partners, and advocates. It’s one of the best ways to benefit your business, both directly and indirectly.
#4)Implement an Online “Influence-Driven” Marketing Process
You’re online marketing process really pulls are the pieces together. Think of it as the underlying purpose and philosophy of why you’re doing what you’re doing.
You need to have a marketing process in place for consistently building online influence. Building influence isn’t about overtly marketing your services through blogging and social networking. Building influence is about leading, inspiring, and promoting others while also demonstrating your ability to be helpful, provide insights, solve problems, and give answers to the members of your network. These are the types of activities that will lead people to trust you and like you.
An influence mindset should permeate all of your online activities.
#5)Create an “Inner Circle” Program
Once you have the above components in place for your digital infrastructure, you will be well on your way to reaping the potential business benefits of social media. However, there is one additional component that can really make the difference in developing new client relationships.
An inner circle program consists of a series of thoughtfully crafted, progressive calls-to-action designed to encourage potentially qualified clients who visit your website, blog, or corresponding landing page to opt-in to your database. Once they opt-in, there should be a relationship cultivation process in place that moves the individual through each step of that process. It’s a subtle, trust-building approach that begins on your website and ends with the prospective client taking a desired action such as setting up a free consultation, getting a second opinion, requesting an analysis, attending a workshop, or even a face-to-face meeting.
Most advisors and firms don’t have anything that would resemble an inner circle program with their online presence. Without one, you may be missing opportunities to develop trust and create personal dialogue with individuals who may be truly interested in working with you. Or, you may be making it way too difficult for someone to easily get to know, like, and trust you without having any undue pressure or feeling of obligation.
Many of the individuals who “opt-in” to your inner circle are going to come from the relationships you build through social media. Additionally they will come from search engines based on the content you’ve published and the connections you’ve built.
Ultimately, social media can play a significant role in driving targeted traffic and leads into your practice when you have a solid digital infrastructure in place. Social media then becomes a much more relevant and valuable business activity.
Do you have a digital infrastructure set-up beyond a basic website for your practice? What pieces are you missing?