B2B social media can be a great way of showcasing your professional knowledge and expertise on the subjects you wish to be associated with. The two main business social media sites are LinkedIn and Quora, but I’ll also cover discussion forums in this article.
Starting with LinkedIn, the first step is to find and join groups that look as though they have members who could be prospects or referral sources. Be selective, as there are some groups with thousands of members, and quite a few that aren’t very active. Once you’ve joined some groups, start exploring the discussion topics and reading the responses. You ideally want to focus on answering questions from prospective customers but, depending on your personal brand-building goals, you might also want to contribute to general discussions. Just by listening and contributing you’re also likely to find your subject matter knowledge expands too.
If you provide a really good answer, you often find that the other party makes contact with you directly via LinkedIn to say thank you, and perhaps ask for more information or connect. When this happens, you could have a genuine sales prospect in front of you. This has happened to me numerous times and in one case resulted in an opportunity to work with Deloitte. You can also use these interactions to expand your LinkedIn network as messages between group members are currently free (this may change).
If you contribute enough, you’ll find your LinkedIn profile is flagged as a ‘top contributor’ to the group in question, which helps build your expertise status. It’s really important to think carefully about your answers and to try and provide useful, well-argued replies, along with any web links that support your points. Also try to be succinct; there are countless examples of answers that stray off topic and waffle on and on. These just reflect badly on the poster, as do grammatical and spelling errors (type your draft response in a Word document and run it through a checker before pasting it into LinkedIn). Don’t launch into ‘heavy sell’ mode, just as you wouldn’t in any face-to-face encounter.
Quora is a dedicated Q&A website that’s a little over two years old. Once you’ve registered, you can dive straight into topics and ask or answer relevant questions. But first, I’d recommend browsing what others have posted in order to get a good feel for the site. The main difference to LinkedIn is that users can vote replies up or down; the best rise to the top! A second is that you can earn credits from these votes or if people decide to follow your question. A third is that it covers a much wider range of topics, many of them not related to business. I’ve answered 45 questions so far on Quora. Here are links to three examples:
Discussion forums are the oldest and potentially the best places to experiment from a business-building perspective. Once you’ve found relevant forums (try asking your customers, peer groups or trade associations what they are involved in), join up and start looking for opportunities.
You can set up Google Alerts to notify you when particular questions arise in your domain – questions that you definitely ought to answer. Depending on the frequency, you may also need to set up an email rule that directs these alerts to a dedicated sub-folder so your main email inbox doesn’t get flooded. Browse that sub-folder regularly but at least once a week because speed of response is usually important to the person asking questions.
Discussion forums can connect you directly to new customers and drive them to do business with you. Here’s just one example I know of. A former service technician for Italian cult coffee machine manufacturer Gaggia sells his spares and repairs service by offering free help and advice to people on this forum for coffee aficionados. If you find there are no forums covering your area of expertise, consider starting one; there are numerous service providers – including this free one. It’ll take some organisation and promoting, but it could soon grow into a great funnel for new sales leads.