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Social media: A critical BD tool or a busted flush?

No 5 in a series titled ‘Herding Cats’, in support of senior partners everywhere.

Let me throw this one at you. “Professional service revenue growth created through social media is a myth and an industry has been born out of perpetuating this myth. As a result, firms continue to dedicate time, energy and data on the vague promise of some future ‘exposure’ or ‘engagement”…

Whether or not you agree with this premise, it is surely true that the firms that regularly generate significant volumes of traffic via social media are the big brands – and those brands weren’t built through social media platforms! The vast majority of firms get very little exposure.

Dutifully (and sometimes cajoled by marketing staff), partners and staff tweet, post and blog to an audience consisting mainly of a few of their mates, the staff that work with them and one or two family members.

What harm does it do? Well consider this:

  • Expensive staff tweeting to the ether? Selfies that circulate amongst the team? Images of people sitting around beige laminate desks, in beige subterranean conference rooms, talking about highly beige seminar topics? It might be “soshalmeja” but it’s not a great look.
  • Staff focused on perfecting the message, the image, counting ‘likes’ from their colleagues. Time is still money. Many firms go into the social networking environment with no end-game in mind or concept of an ROI. The result? Money lost.

Fortunately we no longer live in an era where follower-counts are everything. We’ve wised up. We understand that ‘engagement’ can be little more than a buzzword, let alone a measurable statistic.

In a scenario where you and your competition are actively engaged with these channels and have a significant profile, your absence might be noted by certain elements of the market.  And the truth is we’ve bought into these platforms as low-cost communications channels. However, the use of social media by small to medium sized firms is by no means universal.

I am in contact with many successful medium sized professional service firms across a range of countries, and I would say fewer than 50% of them have an active digital strategy beyond presenting their own website. Whether a lack of social media activity could have a substantive effect on new business generation is not really so clear – at least not for them. 

So what’s the fuss really about?

Well here’s the thing. For professional service firms a social media strategy should just be seen as one component of a complex digital approach designed to support a comprehensive in-bound marketing strategy. The hero of a digital lead generation strategy is the firm’s colourful, engaging, animated, video-rich, resource-rich, highly useful, entertaining, ‘must return to’, full of free stuff, beating heart of a… WEBSITE!

To use an analogy, if a firm’s website is an ocean trawler, then social media is just one of the nets that it deploys to catch fish.  And, of course you can leverage your partners and staff as a ‘free’ resource to help you deploy those nets.

Social media sits alongside, and indeed overlaps, with the firm’s SEO strategy. It should be campaign driven, focused and single minded. Its purpose is to suck browsers into your firm’s position, proposition or content that deals with a ‘now’ issue. Once clicked through, it’s your website’s job to WOW browsers, entice them, and take them to the next level of engagement.

There are sophisticated methodologies to shuffle potential clients that swing by from a social media post down the in-bound enquiry funnel.  Gated and ungated content can tease clients along while getting them to divulge critical information about their interest in the topic and, potentially, you.

So, when it comes to social media, don’t post, tweet or blog because your marketing manager says it’s good for you, in a sort of ‘bread on water’ way. Instead make sure you know why you’re doing it, what the expected outcomes will be, and how the activity is integrated into your no doubt gloriously engaging website!

No 1 in a series titled ‘Herding Cats’ – Round partner pegs in round partner holes

No 2 in the series ‘Herding Cats’  – Using a powerful diagnostic tool can re-energise your business development strategy

No 3 in the series ‘Herding Cats’  – Four habits of fast growth

No 4 in the series ‘Herding Cats’ – How to stop hiring business development Directors that are actually expensive party organisers

No 5 in the series ‘Herding Cats’ – Social media: A critical BD tool or a busted flush?

Chris White

Professional Services Specialist

35 years-experience of advising and working at senior levels within professional service environments. From Global BD Director with Turner & Townsend to Communications Director for Grant Thornton, from international BD roles within PwC Consulting, as well as a range of interim and consultancy roles. Please contact me for a no obligation perspective on alternative ways to herd your cats.


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