Business benefits of social media

If you’re the marketing or communications manager of a professional services firm, chances are you understand the business benefits of social media. The problem, usually, is winning senior management support unless you can show that the business benefits of social media activity are aligned with your organisation’s overall goals.

The problem is compounded by the fact that online and offline, it’s almost impossible to avoid advice from social media ‘experts’. And what’s frustrating about much of this advice is the disconnect with meaningful business goals, particularly for B2B businesses.

There’s not much point in your business posting four or six or ten times a day to attract ‘likes’ or ‘followers’ unless those followers ultimately result in business and revenue growth.

That said, many businesses successfully use social media. Small firms win customers from larger, long-established businesses and some businesses operate exclusively on social platforms like Facebook.

Cover image of The Boomers Ultimate Guide to Social Media Marketing linking to product details on Amazon
Clicking the image will take you to the book details on Amazon

What’s useful about Kaylynn Amadio’s new book, The Boomer’s Ultimate Guide to Social Media Marketing is that the author explains the business benefits of social media for different types of businesses. She takes a travel guide approach to teaching social media strategies for Business to Consumer (B2C), Business to Business (B2B) and mixed businesses and provides a practical framework  to develop an effective strategy. She even going so far as to suggest how much time to devote to each of the platforms you use and the appendices provide information on how to set u[ your social media profiles. Amadio focuses on six platforms — Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Google Plus and Youtube — and, best of all, she backs up her advice with meaningful examples that business executives can relate to.

Networking and referrals have always been important for B2B businesses. In the digital economy, business conversations begun in one place — such as at an industry event — now often continue on online platforms. To keep up, senior executives need strong communications skills and, increasingly, these include social media skills.

If there is something missing from The Boomer’s Ultimate Guide to Social Media Marketing, it’s advice on how to deal with difficult situations online such as negative comments or trolling. There’s perhaps also scope to have included some tips on online reputation monitoring techniques. That said, this is a helpful and practical guide and, if you’re struggling to persuade your colleagues of the business benefits of social media, you could do worse than give them a copy.

The Boomer’s Ultimate Guide to Social Media Marketing by Kalynn Amadio is published by Maven House Press. [Disclosure: An advance review copy (ARC) was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review]

How to write case studies | a template

How to write case studies
Image: © Jakub Jirsák | Dreamstime.com

When you are not sure how to write case studies, this simple question-based approach may help to get you started.

Today, most people conduct research online before ever contacting a potential service provider. Even if most of your new business comes through client referrals, you can be fairly sure that your new clients have checked you out online before contacting you.

Case studies provide helpful information for potential clients and demonstrate that your firm has the experience and skills to meet their needs. This is why more firms now include some case studies when creating content for their websites and blogs.

When writing up your case study, remember to keep your focus on the reader. Case studies are stories and like most good stories, they are more interesting when they show that difficult hurdles had to be overcome before success was achieved.

The questions to focus on are the same questions that journalists often answer in the first line or two of their reports — Who? Where Where? What? When? Why? How? Result?

WHO is the subject of your case study?

WHERE is the subject — location and/or sector?

WHAT was the client’s problem?

WHEN did the client decide to contact you?

WHY did the client decide to get help and why did they choose your firm?

HOW did you help the client?

Finally, what was the RESULT of your actions?

When thinking about how to write your case study, try to include some colour and drama. For example, perhaps you can describe how some unexpected adverse event forced the client to seek external help. Or perhaps you met unexpected resistance when you tried to implement your solution. Explaining difficulties and how you overcame them makes the story more interesting and is an opportunity to show off your experience and skills.

Remember to include a conclusion that summarises the problem, solution and result.

Finally, if your firm does not have the resources to create the case studies you need and would like some help, please get in touch to discuss your specific requirements.

If you found this article useful, you might also like these tips on how to check your firm’s online visibility.

Content Marketing Strategy | Creating B2B content

Content marketing strategy is a growing interest for B2B business development teams.

If you’re the marketing manager of a professional services firm, the chances are you’re spending more time than ever thinking about your content marketing strategy. A recent survey by the Marketing Insitute of Ireland and 256 media found that 56% of respondents intend to increase or significantly increase their spending on content in the next 12 months. In the professional services sector, firms generally create content to support:

  • Content Marketing StrategyLead generation and referrals
  • Brand awareness
  • Lead nurturing
  • Client acquisition
  • Customer service
  • Thought leadership

This article explores some content types and explains when to use them.

Lead generation

Generating leads is usually an important part of the content marketing strategy. Content that can be used to generate new leads includes website landing pages, articles, blog posts and press releases.

Maybe your firm has expertise in traditional accounting areas such as financial accounting, corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions or tax? Perhaps you have developed expertise in new areas such as data analytics, digital insight, cyber security and forensic accounting? Whatever your specialism, when it comes to generating leads, you’ll want to connect your firm’s expertise to the topics that are of most interest to your potential clients.

The idea is to produce content that resonates with your target audience by showing that you understand their problems and can offer effective solutions.

Google provides some useful tools that help you understand your market since searching for information online is usually the first step in a potential client’s journey. If you are not already using them, check out Google Analytics and Google Search Console, both of which provide useful insights into your website’s traffic.

Example

Let’s now look at an example: The owner-manager of a small business currently  looks after his own accounts. The work is time consuming and he suspects it is not a productive use of his time. He is vaguely interested in outsourcing this work but he’s never taken the time to focus on what that would involve. From time to time, he Googles ‘accounting services’ to see which accounting firms provide services for businesses in his sector and locality but because he has never found a firm that ticked his interest boxes, he’s never pursued the search.

From an accounting firm’s point of view, content that might catch this potential client’s attention includes articles or blog posts bylined by a local accounting firm or a firm that specialises in the owner-manager’s sector, that explain how outsourcing accounting can save his business time and money.

The right content — whether that is a website landing page, article or blog post — may help move this potential client further along in his journey towards purchasing accounting services.

If the content on your website is effective, it will persuade this potential client to put your firm at the top of his list of potential service providers. Remember to make it easy for potential clients to contact you by including easy-to-access contact information. It is also a good idea to include social sharing buttons as they can help generate further leads when your website visitors share your content.

Brand Awareness

The objective of lead generation is to help potential clients recognise a problem and to show how your firm solves that problem. Once the potential client is aware that he has a problem, he is more likely to move to the next stage which is when he begins to research potential service providers. In addition to the content types already mentioned, case studies and testimonials are often persuasive when potential clients are at the research stage. If you don’t already use these content types, they may be worth including in your content marketing strategy.

Let’s return to our example. The owner manager recognises that he needs help with accounting and is now researching potential service providers. He is interested in firms whose clients include businesses similar to his own. He thinks that these firms will understand his business and he won’t have to spend time explaining the obvious. Case studies and testimonials are content types that are useful at this stage. Testimonials from satisfied owner-managers who describe how your firm’s services saved them time and money will help to move this client closer to doing business with your firm.

Lead nurturing

In business, trust helps to build relationships. Content types that help your firm’s credibility and establish trust include articles that you contribute to news and industry publications, presentations delivered at industry events, slideshares, content and links that you share on social media and so on. These content types also build brand awareness which in turn supports further lead generation.

In our example, our owner-manager has a pharmacy business. While he’s researching potential accounting service providers, he comes across an article that you contributed to your industry magazine. The article dealt with cost reduction and shared some valuable tips. The owner-manager bookmarks the article for future reference. He sees the article as an endorsement of your expertise. Your firm is now likely to be his first call when he’s ready to make his move

Customer acquisition

There are three stages on your potential client’s journey— awareness, research and conversion. In our example, the owner-manager has passed through the first two stages: he is now aware that he has a problem and he has researched potential solution providers. He now has a shortlist of three or firms that he plans to speak to. Content that will interest him at this point on his journey includes the website profiles of relevant people in your firm and links to their LinkedIn profiles. This information will help with trust and reassure him that he is making a good choice. Obviously, it’s also important that you have easy-to-access contact information on your website, blog, newsletter, social media profiles to make it easy for the owner-manager when he’s ready to make that call!

Customer Service

Content doesn’t end when you’ve captured new business. Good content is also a useful tool for building customer loyalty.  Many businesses proactively monitor customers’ frequently asked questions and create content to answer those needs. Other content types used in customer service include email and newsletters,  client briefings and events. Personalisation tools can be used with many different content types and platforms to improve customer service in real time.

Thought Leadership

In the professional services sector, thought leadership content can help you win new business. When your firm is recognised for its expertise in a particular area, you are likely to win referral business from your peers. Activities that can help you become recognised as a thought leadership activities include providing expert commentary for the media in your area of expertise. Content types associated with thought leadership include research and surveys, reports, white papers, published articles and studies. Leadership implies influence and influence requires a broad audience so your firm’s distribution of its thought leadership outputs is an important aspect of this activity. For more insight into thought leadership, see What exactly is thought leadership and how do you become a thought leader?

Conclusion

In this article, I have touched on a variety of content types — web landing pages, articles, blog posts, case studies, testimonials, keynotes, reports, white papers, email, newsletters and social media.  It is likely that your firm already produces some of the content types outlined in this article. Thinking about that content from the perspective of your potential client can improve the return on your investment. If you need help in creating, updating or making your content work harder for you, please contact me to discuss your specific requirements.

What exactly is thought leadership and how do you become a leader?


Thought Leadership In business, many individuals and organisations aspire to be thought leaders. But what exactly is thought leadership and how do you become a thought leader?

Defining Thought Leadership

A 2012 article by Russ Alan Prince and Bruce Rogers, published in Forbes magazine, provides a two-part definition of thought leadership:

A thought leader is an individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise.

and, importantly,

A thought leader is an individual or firm that significantly profits from being recognized as such.

Prince and Rogers highlight the importance of being both recognised and rewarded for your thought leadership activities.

If increasing fee income on the back of their reputation is what motivates individuals and firms to engage in thought leadership activities, researching, writing, producing and distributing content across a variety of platforms is the outcome.

But to get a return on your investment in content, you need to think about quality. In particular, you must focus on what unique insights you can share that will make your clients value your work over your competitor’s. In other words, what differentiates you from your peers?

The Forbes article cites the example of a tax firm and shows how it must go beyond merely reproducing or summarising a new piece of tax legislation in order to be regarded as a thought leader.

That’s not to say that summarising a piece of legislation and alerting your clients to the key points is not a useful exercise. It is useful and many clients value it. But, to be a thought leader requires more: insight and visibility are essential. We’ll look at these in more detail in a moment, but first let’s explore a few further definitions of thought leadership.

Broader Definitions of Thought Leadership

In their “Thought Gallery”, here is how EY Financial Services Ireland’s thought leaders describe what they do:

Our thought leaders bring a powerful combination of experience,technical expertise, passion and personability to every project – which means our clients receive advice that comes from the heart and mind. They offer deep, reflective thinking on the issues and challenges that clients face right now, not mere opinions on the latest trends.

In another example, in the UK, BDO’s Thought Leadership Clinical Commissioning Case Studies refer to the use of social influence techniques:

BDO and Influence at Work were engaged by NHS Bedfordshire to use social influence techniques to reduce DNAs across two GP surgeries.

Passion, personality, influence and “not mere opinions on the latest trends” may or may not form part of your preferred definition of thought leadership but the chances are that the profit motive — that second part of the Prince and Rogers definition — is one that you will share with your peers.

Put simply, raising your profile helps attract business and can support charging higher fees.

So the question, if your firm’s not already producing thought leadership content,  should you start and/or how do you go about it?

Since you’ve read this far, I’ll assume you are interested in starting so from here on, I’ll focus on the ‘how’.

Let’s begin by returning, for a moment,  to those elements I mentioned earlier — insight and visibility.

Insight

Typically, professional firms — particularly firms with international affliliation — use the resources of their network to add global insights to local knowledge. This allows them to improve the quality and value of their presentations and written communications.

But the drive to generate thought leadership sometimes generates more quantity than quality as Prince points out in another Forbes article:

The complication with thought leadership initiatives is that they are increasingly becoming undifferentiated commodities. This is a function of poor conceptualization and poor implementation. For example, many accounting firms are producing multitudes of reports. The problem is that most of these are unimaginative rehashes and “me-too” documents.

And poor quality content can be detrimental to your firm.

So, how do the best thought leadership firms go about it?

In 2014, Source for Consulting named IBM the top provider of thought leadership materials.

IBM’s content leads all firms in both ‘Resilience of content to instill confidence in materials’ and ‘Prompting action from the reader’. 

In other words, IBM highlights both the quality and the influence of their materials. IBM won the same award again in March 2015 with Source for Consulting identifying their thought leadership’s

  • Resilience
  • Differentiation
  • Appeal
  • Ability to Prompt Action

Peter Korsten, partner and vice president, global leader thought leadership and eminence, IBM Global Business Services, explains their approach:

By conducting global research through in-depth — and often face-to-face — interviews we’re able to understand industry transformation and provide counsel to improve business performance.

Conducting research is an exercise that most professional services firms undertake and is the starting point for many thought leadership activities. Then, through their networks and international affiliations, many firms have access to global knowledge and resources which they can draw on add insights to their local research.

Visibility

Once you have your thought leadership content, the next step is visibility. Without the ability to communicate and distribute your content, the return on your research and insights may be lost. Practical communication activities that you can adopt include contributing articles to your industry publications, authoring reports and case studies, blogging, commenting on local and national radio and TV, speaking at conferences and participating in relevant organisations and forums — online and offline.

Just remember your distinctive knowledge and expertise are what make you a thought leader. Focus on quality and on the unique insights you alone can deliver to your audience.