In our last post, we talked a bit about leveraging social media to drive demand and lead generation. Today, let’s start talking about the basic mechanisms behind that. It’s a pretty big topic and we want to try and get down to actionable how-to stuff for you, so we’ll have to do this in three or four parts. Today is Part 1.

1. Start with a great product.

Sure, this seems so simple that it goes without saying, but… well, it is overlooked more often than you think. Corners get cut, things get rushed, budgets fall short, companies miss their window of opportunity and the result is too little, too late, and the burden falls on marketing, PR, sales and the social media team to make it all work anyway. It happens every day and no company is immune, so we don’t want to pretend that it doesn’t happen.

Here’s the cold hard truth: if your product isn’t really valuable to your market, it’s just going to sit there on that shelf. It doesn’t matter much how much “social media” you put behind it. All that money you are spending in marketing and advertising to “build awareness” for your brand and product is being wasted on trying to put lipstick on a pig. What are the odds that you’ll actually be able to pull it off? How much money are you willing to throw at a problem that no amount of marketing or social media can fix?

More to the point, what happens when your newly acquired customers finally move from awareness to desire to purchase and… your product isn’t as great as they expected it to be? Do you think that more Facebook activity will help? (It won’t.) More digital monitoring? (Nope.) The best marketing and social media program in the world won’t save you if your product isn’t a winner. So before you put too much work into your social media program’s lead and demand generation strategy, make sure that you have something worthwhile to drive people to. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your time and ultimately working to turn people off.

What makes a product a winner? It depends. It could be design. It could be price. It could be reliability. It could be the aura of quality that your brand provides, even if the product itself is only slightly better than your competition. It could have more to do with great customer service and shopping experiences than the product itself. It could solve a problem more effectively than anything else out there. It might just look nice, weigh less, work better, boot up faster, have better ergonomics… We could literally go on and on and on about what might give a product a definitive market advantage. The point is that it needs to have at least one, and the more of them, the better. Before you launch into a social media campaign, figure out what you want to talk about.

2. Make sure you aren’t focusing on the wrong outcomes.

We learned yesterday that 83% of B2B organizations using social media use it primarily to raise awareness, but that less than 35% use social media for demand generation. That’s shocking, so let’s change that right now.

You should know by now that beating a “like us” and “follow us” drum isn’t getting anyone very far. If you like giving away iPads and 20% off coupons, great. Do it. But be aware that a like drive on Facebook or a “follow us” campaign on Twitter don’t exactly focus on generating leads or demand. They focus on generating likes and followers. So before you spend a lot of time on convincing volumes of people to “like” your Facebook page even though many may never become your customers, spend some time thinking about the outcomes that these likes and follows are meant to drive. Remember that you aren’t on Facebook to attract likes. The value of a like to your business is precisely zero. A million likes on Facebook don’t alone drive the slightest bit of demand, so don’t kid yourself for one second about that.

If, however, you focus on attracting customers to Facebook so you can interact with them in a way that is valuable to them, then you will be able to convert some of those likes into actual dollars. Your business needs you to drive leads and demand, not likes and followers. It isn’t to say that your business shouldn’t try to grow its communities on social channels (it absolutely should), but remember to stay focused on the key business outcomes that your social activity will be driving.

3. Make the customer journey an integral part of your social demand generation program.

Understand where your fans, followers and subscribers are in their customer journey. The easiest way to do that is to divide them into three basic categories: a) not a customer yet, b) new customer (not loyal yet), and c) loyal customer. The types of behaviors you want to drive from members of each of these three groups are different, which means that the focus of your content, conversations and interactions will be different depending on which of these groups you happen to be targeting at any given time. (And yes, you will always be targeting all three simultaneously.)

Put simply, the core of your activities in social media (and elsewhere) will be split into three areas: a) customer acquisition, b) customer development and c) customer retention. Do you see how just by doing this, you change the focus of your social media efforts from likes and shares and clicks to actual business-focused outcomes?

Do a quick test: right now, are you able to select ten random likes (fans) on Facebook or ten random followers on Twitter and tell me where they belong on that a/b/c scale? Which ones are prospects?  Which ones are new customers? Which ones are long-term, loyal customers? If you have no way of determining that right now (no way to connect your CRM database to your social accounts or no account teams who can connect the dots for you), you need to fix that as quickly as possible. If you don’t, you won’t be able to legitimately generate demand and leads from your interactions across social channels.

One last tip: Don’t focus all of you efforts on like/follower and customer acquisition. Focus at least as much on customer development and customer retention. THAT is where social media channels truly shine anyway (mass media and traditional marketing often do a better job of creating quick mass awareness than social channels), and driving business from existing customers is a lot more cost-effective than driving business from new customers. How much more effective? Here is your answer (courtesy of Bain & Co):

On average, it is about 6x cheaper to drive a sale from existing customers than it costs to drive new business through customer acquisition. The question you have to answer now is “where are my money and attention better spent: on acquisition, or on development and retention?”

Think beyond the acquisition piece. It’s only one third of what you should be focusing on. Build value. Build relationships. Build loyalty. Build word-of-mouth channels. Work smarter in the social space.

We will revisit the topic of acquisition, development and loyalty again (and in more detail) in Part 2.

4. Make sure that you aren’t trying to drive the wrong conversations.

“Check out our latest blog post” is going to pull some traffic. And if you tweet about it every 78 minutes from 8:30am until 2:30pm, you will probably double the traffic you would have gotten had you not tweeted about it. Multiply that by 3-5 posts per week for over 50 weeks every year, and your blog’s “content strategy” (even if it efficiently rolls through the social media expert, journalist, PR maven, oversharer, affiliate community member, agency guy, blogger, SxSW speaker wheel of interest) is going to get old fast. What can you possibly write about almost every business day that will actually be of interest to your community? Your products don’t have that many features. Your office’s cupcake parties aren’t that interesting. There might not be a blizzard outside your HQ for another three months. So… how are you hitting all the right notes?

Here’s a tip: Listen. Listen to your community. Listen to online conversations. Browse comments in blog posts that relate to some problem your products help solve. The more you listen and read relevant content that isn’t your own, and the better you become at it, the easier it will be to figure out what you should be talking about, asking about, publishing and chatting about. Here is a short list of some of the things you should be listening for:

  • Complaints about your products and/or company.
  • Complaints about your competitors’ products and/or companies.
  • Wishes. (“I wish that my [insert product category here] would do [insert new value-add feature here].)
  • “How do I” questions relating to keywords relevant to your world. (If you are an airline, “what’s the best way to book a flight from my iPhone?” is the kind of question you want to look for. It prompts conversations that can help you introduce a prospective customer to your awesome smart-phone app.) Hint: help people solve problems. If you can’t solve them yet, work towards a way that you will be able to in 3 months. Or 6 months. Or a year. Listening to their problems and questions will help you build new centers of value that will in turn help make you more attractive to new and existing customers.
  • Comparison questions. (“iPhone or Droid?” tells you that someone is looking to buy something. If you’re a Samsung reseller and you look for those kinds of product mentions across a variety of social channels, you can reach out and perhaps influence a decision.)

Also look for discussion groups, user community groups, relevant hashtags, etc. It might take a little trial and error, but you will figure it out quickly enough. And if we can help with that piece of the puzzle, even better.

We might have to revisit this specific topic in more detail at a greater date, but you get the idea: Set up a listening practice whose purpose (at least partial purpose) is to look for demand and lead opportunities. If a question or topic comes up often enough, write a blog post or two about it. Produce a few videos and post them to YouTube. Create an infographic or a presentations that you can post to Pinterest or Slideshare. That way, every time it comes up from that point on, you can just link to it. Aside from the time-management piece and the SEO benefit of doing this, you will be sure that your content addresses actual questions and issues that consumers are dealing with in the real world. That’s valuable, and if you do it right, your social channels can become valuable all day long, every day of the week. So from now on, don’t just push marketing content on social channels. It isn’t enough.

Stay tuned for Part 2. We’ll get a little more tactical.

In the meantime, come by and say hello on Facebook, check out our no-spam zone on Twitter, and of course, check out our Tickr monitoring dashboard. (There’s a free version, a pro version and an enterprise version, so we have you covered.)

 Cheers,

The Tickr team.