As managing partners of professional services firms, social media is typically not at the top of our priority list. Growing the firm, finding top talent, deepening client relationships, yes… but social media? Not so much.
But as it turns out, social media actually plays an important role in many of the issues that occupy our attention. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a social media cheer leader or even a die-hard user. In fact, I started out with a healthy dose of skepticism.
So what changed my mind? Research and results. Research into the actual impact of social media on firm growth, profitability and recruiting as well as the real-world results we have experienced in our firm and with our clients.
My purpose here is to share some of my lessons learned. Here’s what you need to know about social media and your firm:
1. Your clients and competitors are already there.
If you are like many Managing Partners your peers and top decision makers at your clients’ firms are not social media enthusiasts. From this you conclude that social media is not a factor to consider.
The reality is far different. Even if a C-suite executive is a social media illiterate, they are still influenced by it. Those around them use it for everything from researching issues to checking out possible vendors.
In fact 6 of 10 buyers use social media to check out a firm before they do business with them. A higher proportion of buyers use social media than contact the references you provide!
2. Social media = networking.
The ever-changing world of social media can be uber confusing. But don’t get lost in the details.
Social media is networking. There are different social media channels just as there are different networking events. Some are very productive, others a waste of time.
If you look at it that way it’s easy to see that you need to be mindful of where your clients are congregating and what type of interaction is appropriate.
3. All social media is not created equal.
Which social media platform is best? We use the term ‘social media’ as though it were a single thing. In reality social media is many things.
It is a wide range of public platforms (think LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook) that use vastly different formats (limited text characters to full motion video) for very difficult purposes. There are also private networks run by trade associations, professional organizations and the like.
Certain social media networks are designed for certain purposes. So there is no such thing as a good or bad social network. Think of them as relevant or not relevant to your goals. What is well suited to one firm may be wholly inadequate for another firm.
I’ve found that the old maxim of ‘be wherever your clients are’ wears well in the social media universe. Forget the buzz, follow the clients.
4. Free is not really free.
While most social media platforms attract users by offering free accounts, social media is not really free. What are some of the costs?
- Software to support implementation or tracking
- Designing and deploying custom pages
- Developing and updating profiles
- Developing a strategy
- Training your staff
- Developing social media policies
- Monitoring and managing the program
Just like any other online marketing program, social media requires a significant investment of resources to make it successful. And as with any significant investment it is reasonable to expect a return.
As with traditional networking, some outcomes are relatively easy to measure. You can track new leads or new job applicants relatively easily. But tracking the impact of trade show attendance or social media activity on your firm’s brand is much more difficult.
There are two key considerations on investment and return. First, don’t under invest. Commit enough resources to make it successful. Failing to do so will ensure poor results.
Second, hold social media to the same standards you use for your other online marketing and networking events… no more, no less. If you require a return on investment for golf outings, require it for social media as well.
5. It’s not a fad.
There is a strain of thinking that believes social media is just a passing fad that can be safely ignored. It will soon fall out of fashion and fade away. This is particularly prevalent among the fuddy-duddy class.
It’s probably not going to happen. The inherent user convenience makes it unlikely. Today’s businessperson has come to rely on social media to check out people they meet, vet job candidates and network with colleagues and clients.
Will it change and evolve? Without a doubt. Just like other business tools have. But it is no longer a development we can safely ignore. For more insights on online marketing, download our free book Online Marketing for Professional Services.