Social Media – Where are your customers and prospects?

At our Social Media workshops one of the first questions we always get asked is how to find out which Social Media sites to use.

As you might expect we don’t advocate simply selecting say, Facebook, just for the sake of it.  Instead it pays to do your research and find out exactly which Social Media channels clients and prospects are already using, or which might be suitable for you to tell your story.

So how do you go about doing that research?  Gareth Edwards. Associate e-Marketing Consultant at the B2B Centre, has a few suggestions to get you going.

Ask

Strangely this approach always seems to get overlooked but simply asking customers and prospects what Social Media sites they already use is a quick and easy piece of research.  Some of our clients have been happy to do this on an ad hoc basis as part of networking meetings or via telephone help desks for instance.  Others have added a question into email newsletters or customer surveys.

One of the benefits of this approach is that you are likely to identify something new, not just Facebook or Twitter.  There are plenty of sector focused sites that might be more useful to you than the generic ones, TES Connect, for instance, is specific to the education sector.

Company Websites

Another quick win is to look at the websites of people that you deal with. Increasingly sites will include buttons and widgets that show what tools they are using and which allow you to follow, share, connect etc.

Contact Name Uploads

LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook all have facilities that allow you to upload contact emails so that they can check who you know are already online.

LinkedIn will do this automatically from online email accounts such as Gmail or Hotmail, otherwise you will need to export details from Outlook (or other desktop tools) in a .csv file and then import them into LinkedIn.  Outlook does provide a “wizard” to walk you through this process – click the “File” link on the menu bar and then the “Import and Export” option from the drop down menu.   What’s good about LinkedIn is that will not only allow you to connect with who are already members or invite people who aren’t, but also alert you if you contacts join LinkedIn in the future.

Twitter will also link to online email accounts (click the “Who to Follow” link in the top menu bar) and very helpfully, especially if you have followed the previous instructions, it will also check against your existing LinkedIn contacts.

Facebook has a “Tell your fans” option (select the “Edit Page” link in the top right corner and then “Resources” from the left hand menu) for your FB page that will upload contact files in a variety of formats (.csv from Outlook etc.). This gives you the option of sending a “Like” suggestion to people who are already signed up and an email to invite people who aren’t.

Google Search

Just doing a standard search on Google or other search engines for a company name or a target activity could be very rewarding.  However you may not be aware of the additional search functions on Google, which could be very helpful.

To start with try doing a search on a word or phrase that is relevant to your target market.  We’ll use “lightweight motorcycle batteries” as an example from a current client.

As the search results are displayed you’ll notice a list on the left hand of the screen beginning with the word “Everything” and ending with the word “More”.  Click on the “More” link and a number of other words will be displayed.

For the purposes of this article I want to focus on News, Blogs, Realtime and Discussion.

If you click on the News link then the list will comprise of results from what Google considers to be news sources.  The list may include sector specific sites that you should be working on get content listed or online PR sites (some of which are free) that you could add your own DIY press releases.

Similarly the Blogs link will list blogs about your search topic.  This list may include blogs which encourage comments and feedback or places that are looking for guest contributors.

The Realtime link will provide a list of “short form” updates relevant to your search term.  The results are predominantly from Twitter but Facebook updates and blogs sometimes appear too.  Using Google to find Tweets about your sector or by interested parties might seem strange but it I find it faster and easier to use than Twitter’s own search tool.

Finally the Discussion link will provide a list of forums, groups and Q&A sites relevant to your search. A number of B2B Clients have used forums to generate business, the trick is to genuinely participate in the discussion and not simply to post up ads and product links.

Google provides additional search facilities for these categories such time filters (e.g. Past week) or for Realtime, Top links and Top updates.

Google Alerts

Another Google tool that’s very helpful in the research process (and for monitoring social media activity) is the Google Alerts (www.google.co.uk/alerts – registration required) service.

Essentially Google will provide email updates of the latest search results (from the web, news, blogs, real time and discussions) for a given search term. This is very useful to found out who is talking about a particular product, for instance, or even about your company.

Facebook Advertising Targeting Tool

Whether or not to use Facebook ads to reach your target market is a separate discussion. However the advertising set-up tool offers a good way to research whether your target audience is using Facebook.

If you follow the link to the Resources page (as mentioned in the “Contact Upload” section) you’ll see a link to “Advertise on Facebook”.  Ignore the “Design your advert” section and click “Continue” to bring up the “Targeting” section.

I would draw your attention to the “Interests” field where you can type something specific like “rock music” and find that there are 278, 560 people over 18 who say they like rock music signed up to Facebook. Alternatively you can select “Switch to broad category targeting” and use Facebook’s own categories to discover, for instance, that there are 495,000 people designating themselves as “Small Business Owners”.

LinkedIn Search

Most Social Media sites have some form of search tool but LinkedIn’s stands out because it allows you to search for existing or potential contacts by, for instance, location or industry sector.  Well worth checking out.

These are just a few mechanisms for some Social Media research.  Of course what you need to add is some thought about what constitutes an ideal prospect or which of your clients you actually want to engage with via Social Media.

Gareth Edwards
Associate e-marketing specialist – The National B2B Centre
gareth.edwards@nb2bc.co.uk