Two questions my clients routinely ask are, “We’ve read a lot about Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media tools, but do they really help to market and sell professional services?” And “What should our firm be doing in this arena?” In this issue of The Friedman File, I’ve asked one of my long-time business associates (dating back to our ZweigWhite days 15 years ago) Sally Giedrys of Artisan Communications (www.artisancopy.com) to share her thoughts on social media strategy and critical success factors. Sally is a deft researcher, ghostwriter and communications consultant who has collaborated with me on numerous projects for architects, engineers and environmental consultants. In addition, she has crafted and implemented social media content for many service and experience-oriented businesses and contributes to industry blogs (both on behalf of Artisan Communications and many of our clients) — Rich Friedman.
Over the past few years, social media marketing tools have gotten a lot of hype. But in reality, these much ballyhooed tools are simply new technologies doing an old job — and doing it across a wider swath of the marketplace. Social media marketing is not about advertising. It’s not even about technology. It’s about being visible and building relationships. The environment and tools may seem new and daunting, but at its core, it’s actually very old-school. And it all comes down to a simple three-step formula: strategy + content + relationship.
AEC firms, who build strong businesses on relationships and sell highly technical expertise, are positioned perfectly to be effective in this environment. Through consistent use of tools such as blogging, Facebook and Twitter, firms can communicate and package their expertise, educate clients and potential clients and establish wider thought leadership within a chosen market sector. Tools such as Stumble Upon can provide a wider readership for published content. When shared in social environments, messages now have the potential to reach national and even international audiences.
Yet social tools aren’t only about marketing. Younger professionals and leaders have come up in a world where being visible online and networking electronically is increasingly important. As a result, LinkedIn, Facebook and blogs — as well as social media connections with leading professional organizations — now serve as effective talent acquisition tools. Today, through its search and group functions, LinkedIn helps firms access and build relationships with potential recruits. And as a completely free service, having a recruiting presence there is a no-brainer.
It doesn’t matter “who’s doing it”. Adding social media for social media’s sake is almost guaranteed to be a waste of time and money. As with all other areas of marketing and business development, it pays to have a plan. Rather than an immediate sales lead generator, social media works best as part of a well-thought-out effort to position your firm in the marketplace. In addition to reaching out to your target market or future employees, Twitter and blogging can be great ways to engage with your staff and members of the media, enhancing your PR efforts.
Should you blog? Should you be spending time on Facebook? It depends. The way you use these tools should clearly reflect your firm’s business goals and marketing strategy. Who are your clients? What tools are they using? Some markets (higher education, healthcare, corporate) are more active in the social arena. Others may not be. Who else do you hope to reach? Most important, what are you hoping to achieve and how will a social media effort enhance your current marketing?
Once you know where you want to be and why, what do you post? Developing content for social environments is about two things: sharing and engaging. Depending on your marketing strategy, you might share awards, company news, thoughts about developments within the profession, announcements of upcoming workshops or talks, articles published or news of new projects — anything that would be of interest to your market and reflect your firm’s specialties.
But think more about engagement. What about soliciting input or ideas for articles you’re writing, asking followers to weigh in on a hot topic in the industry or running a contest relevant to your target market? You might encourage participants at a workshop or talk to send follow-up questions via Twitter or Facebook, or post highlights from the talk on your blog so participants can share with colleagues.
If you have a market positioning program in place, social media tools let you share content with a wider audience. You can restructure content you’re creating for newsletters, press releases, articles and surveys by posting short versions on a blog or sending out interesting tidbits with links to the full article. On Twitter, using hashtags, a keyword preceded by the pound character (#), allows users interested in the topic to easily find your posts.
Even if you’re not currently active in social media environment, you can do one thing today to encourage others to spread your word. Adding “sharing links” (through tools such as Add This) to your web site pages and email newsletters or announcements lets readers share that content with others at a click. And while they’re sharing, you can strategize how social media tools will fit (or not fit) into your wider marketing and positioning efforts.