I wanted to share part of an e-mail exchange with a client earlier today. I have been evangelizing to this client for some time about how social media can help his business. His company serves the financial services market with some rather specialized research, and the logic of social media is often more elusive for B2B companies with a highly focused product. However, we had a major success this week with a news announcement profiling a new market research report that tied dropping deposit rates to rising unemployment rates. The release generated a lot of interest, including social media interest, and an e-mail from one follower to an influential executive at a credit union sealed a deal one quarter earlier than expected.
Wow! You mean this social media stuff actually can help you make money? Of course it can!
So we expanded our strategic discussion. Yes, press releases and news should be discussed in social media outlets. Of course you should be talking to your peers on specialty forums. And then the question came in, “So I see you are connected to Jane Doe on BankInnovation.net. What is that contact going to do for me?”
My response was, “Who knows?”
The thing about social networking that marketeers consistently fail to grasp is that social media is not about outbound messages, it’s about engaging in conversation. I explained to my client, “Think of social networking like a good cocktail party. You meet a number of interesting people along the way, and there are lots of interesting topics to discuss, but that doesn’t mean that every person you speak to is a prospect for your business or can help you close a sale.”
You have to apply the concept of six degrees of separation where the human web and the world wide web converge. You are talking to people who know other people you don’t know. If you can convince your contacts to say something interesting about you to one of their contacts, then you may acquire a new contact that has real value to you. It’s like having someone you know casually forward an influential press release to a senior executive who decides to buy your service. You never know where your next evangelist may come from.
So when you are building your network of contacts, do you need to dissect ever connection for his or her potential value? Of course not. Consider my approach to Twitter followers. I get an e-mail notification that Marty Marketer is following me on Twitter. Cool! I bask in the love for a moment, then link to the profile to check him out. If he has posted a bio that is even marginally relevant to what I am interested in, I will follow him back out of Twitter courtesy. If there is no bio, the bio is completely offbase, or absolutely no one is following them, then I usually don’t bother to connect – we all have to have some standards. The point is that you are trying to build a sphere of influence relevant to your market, so you should weed out the MLM schemes and the porn vendors (unless that’s your bag). So I have some oddballs among my Twitter followers, like the custom T-shirt shop and the motor head who’s into muscle cars, but you never know who they know, or who they influence.
So when you get that Twitter follow request or that LinkedIn request, should you connect? Use your own judgment but unless there are obvious reasons not to, remember you never know who your contacts might know. Naturally, you can’t develop a personal relationship with hundreds of people, but if they are interested in what you have to say, you never know whom they might tell.
So what value do those contacts have to you? Who knows? Connect and find out.