When I was 11 years old, I remember moving into a new neighborhood with my family during the summer. I didn’t have any friends, I didn’t know where the other kids would meet and play and it was kind of a daunting experience (although, an 11 year old would never say the word “daunting” – maybe, replace with “scary”).
Back then it was the age of “just make sure you come home before the street lights come on” and sex offenders didn’t seem to be hanging on every corner of Main St, USA. So, as almost anyone else would do, I grabbed my gun-metal Huffy with the cool stickers and just rode around until I found where some kids were playing.
I remember walking over to the kids and how I hoped they would let me play wiffle ball. At first, they told me that they had enough players and that “they didn’t need anyone else.” Instinctively (even then) I knew they thought of me as an outsider, someone they didn’t trust. So, I sat there, watched them play and shagged foul balls for them when they shanked them down the make-shift third base line.
Eventually, one of the kids had to leave and so they asked me if I wanted to play. Hazaah!
There is a lesson here to be learned for social media and selling. Yes, I said selling. A term that makes people cringe when they see it put in the context of social media.
Before I go any further, I should be clear that traditional selling has no place in social media. The companies that succeed through using the medium are those that provide meaningful interactions, valuable content, and genuine contributions to the social community. With that being said, I believe you are effectively selling yourself and your company every time you engage with others in a genuine conversation online (again, not spamming – we all have no time or patience for that) and/or providing real value to someone else or the community. For example, when you refer someone to a competitor, or a vendor that is completely unrelated to your business, you have effectively sold yourself as credible to the information recipient (Chris Brogan would refer to this as a “Trust Agent” move).
So one might ask, “How does this apply to me growing my business?”
Fair enough question. Let’s first think about what we know.
- Traditional selling doesn’t work online. To be effective you need to be an expert, a resource and genuine.
- Not everyone online is a potential customer of yours, so you don’t want to spend all of your time talking to everyone.
- Technology has afforded us the ability to track the activities of those that may be prospects or existing customers.
With only so much time in the day, you need to spend your time effectively. One way to do this is by focusing some of your social media efforts on shadowing your prospective customers. By “shadowing” I mean being involved in all of the conversations your prospects are having online, when they are having them, while being an expert who is genuinely part of the conversation (think back to me shagging balls for the neighborhood kids).
So how would you start shadowing? First, you need people to shadow. There are many ways to develop a list of these people. This list could include existing prospects that you are pitching, people with the right positions at the companies you would like to work with, anything really. Next, you are going to set up a monitoring system for these people across the different social networks. This could be as simple as setting up real-time Google alerts to track their comments on Blogs, monitoring their Twitter handles on whatever Twitter client you are using, and subscribing to any content they might publish.
Since many business people are using LinkedIn today, I would strongly advise using this platform to shadow as well. To do so, I would start by connecting with the person directly and monitoring their status updates daily (I prefer using Google Reader for this). If you do not have a direct connection with this person, you still can follow this person’s discussions across groups. (FYI, LinkedIn rolled out this new feature in November, and has made shadowing non-direct connections a lot easier. More information about this process, visit this link: http://blog.linkedin.com/2009/11/06/ian-mccarthy-look-whos-following-you-across-groups-on-linkedin/
Finally, you just have to monitor and join the conversation consistently in a meaningful way. Again, be an expert, be genuine and be a resource.
If you practice shadowing, good things will happen.