By Jason Gillikin | January 8, 2012
The first week of January has already closed. Are you excited that we’re already roughly 2 percent finished with 2012? If you still haven’t gotten around to planning business goals for the remaining 98 percent of the year, consider revising your social strategy.
Yes, I know. “Social strategy.” It’s getting to the point where I vomit slightly in my mouth every time I stumble across a litany of blog posts with recycled tips about how to use Twitter or why you absolutely need a Facebook fan page or why Google+ is the next best thing since … well, Facebook. There are a lot of good writers out there, but it’s getting harder to find articles that add value for people who already know the lay of the land.
My major beef with most social-media writers, though, is that they think “social strategy” means optimizing one’s use of online properties. I disagree. I think a well-planned social strategy results in an increase of reliable face-to-face referral partners. Having a million Twitter followers means absolutely nothing if you don’t know who they are and can’t leverage them for real-world business partnerships without relying on a heavy dose of serendipity.
A top-notch social strategy will follow a few basic value propositions.
First, the only salient outcome measure of a well-executed social strategy is an increase in the number of people you know, like and trust and with whom you can build mutually beneficial business relationships that may or may not involve a client contract. Don’t get distracted by concerns about ad targeting, penetration, ROI or the rest of it. Unless you’re in a national cohort that primarily markets via online media, the only outcome worth counting is face time with new members of your personal network.
Second, the best way to build a face-to-face social network is to just show up. Go to mixers. Join the local chamber or BNI chapter. Find like-minded MeetUp or LinkedIn groups in your community. Attend. Bring business cards. Treat these events like a soft marketing event: Your goal is to build trust and familiarity, not to coerce a sale. Identify and connect with core influencers — people who are well connected and enjoy bringing people together. Be an influencer yourself.
Third, the best way to maintain a face-to-face social network is to keep the lines of communication open. For new contacts, practice the 3-3-3 method: Follow-up on a new contact after three days, three weeks and three months. If you don’t get an answer, then drop it. If you do connect, make sure you keep in touch. Send something once per quarter (news clipping, article) or arrange occasional coffee meetings to introduce people within your network who may value from getting connected.
Fourth, provide something of value for your network. For example, my friend Tony prepares an annual mailing listing all the various referral partners he personally endorses — the list contains roughly 100 local businesses, sorted by contact name and industry focus. He mails this out every winter, free of charge or obligation, as way of saying, “Hey, I know all these people and they’ll do good by you.”
Fifth, examine the real return-on-investment for an aggressive online presence. These days, it seems like everyone says you need a personal Facebook account, an FB business fan page, a Google+ account, a Google+ business page, a Twitter account, a LinkedIn account, a LinkedIn business profile, et cetera, ad nauseam. Certainly, some people do. Writers, consultants, professionals not bound to a particular locale — these folks benefit from the exposure of a carefully curated social media presence. But local tradespeople? I nearly snorted coffee out of my nose when I saw a local plumber’s front-window sign that invited readers to “like us on Facebook.” Um, no. I am not going to “like” a plumber, especially at random. Most won’t. A good rule of thumb: If your real-world income that derives from a social media presence pays you less than minimum wage for your actual time incurred, then cut back. You’re just wasting time and money, especially if you’re a local business. There are better ways to build brand recognition in a local community than social media profiles.
Sixth, consider the most effective mix of properties and strategies for growing an online presence. There’s lots of debate among the SM professionals about effectiveness techniques, but a few ideas smack of common sense. If you represent a local non-profit or target a younger demographic, building a Facebook fan page makes sense. A tech blogger should be ubiquitous. Large service-oriented firms ought to have a rapid-response Twitter team. But traditional products and services rendered into a municipal market — think trades, health services, etc. — may be better served by a simple blog accompanied by a local fan page. And if you do provide services, think about hiring someone to build an app for you, or to optimize your site for mobile browsers.
Seventh, commit to what you can do and no more. Want a sure-fire way to lose a potential client? Create a blog and then never update it. Or create a Twitter account and answer direct messages a week later. If you cannot reliably manage the infrastructure, then don’t built it in the first place. Or in your face-to-face marketing world: If you can’t spare the time to do all those one-on-one meetings with BNI members or show up consistently at a local LinkedIn group event, don’t go there in the first place. Failing to meet your commitments is worse than never committing at all.
A successful social strategy translates to dollars in your pocket, not in inflated Klout scores or vast hordes of Twitter followers who never read your tweets anyway. Focus on growing your business, one handshake at a time, and build the online infrastructure that works for you, not for your social media consultant.