Generating Leads With Social Media

by Chris Kenton on January 8, 2009

christophe dune

As social media continues to mature, and as the economy continues to falter, interest is growing rapidly among businesses in how to leverage social media for lead generation. Lets look at some of the most basic aspects of understanding lead generation in the context of social media.

The Three C’s: Content, Conversation and Community
I’m sure you already know this by know, but it still bears repeating: social media signifies a shift in marketing that is no longer driven by your carefully crafted and broadcast message. It’s about content, conversation and community. It’s not about blasting messages relentlessly through a series of channels to gather your 1.5% response. It’s about listening to the conversation taking place in your market community and engaging. Your market is now a networked community of customers, and technology has amplified the conversation to the point where people see more value in learning about your product from others like themselves than from your marketing campaigns. That means instead of blasting the market with pick-up lines, you need to listen to, engage and catalyze your customer community. If you do it well, your market will spread your message for you.

Find Your Hot Spots
The best place to begin is by finding out where your customer community is already gathering to talk about your market, and who is influencing the conversation. You can begin the process online by using some of the many new tools focused on searching through social content. You can search for real time conversations on Twitter. You can search for keyword concepts related to your market on some of the many social bookmarking sites and indexes, likeDel.icio.us, StumbleUpon or AllTop. You can search for news items related to your market that were highly rated by Web users at Reddit, Digg or Sphere. And when you’re ready to start seriously tracking the flow of conversation and the impact of key influencers, you can leverage Google Alerts, or one of the growing number of social media monitoring tools like Radian6 and Techrigy, or the system we use, SocialRep.

Listen Before You Launch
The point of all these tools is to find and track the influential hotspots where market conversations are percolating. Once you know who’s driving the conversation and where, you can start to participate more effectively by listening first. What are people talking about? What issues are driving the discussion? If you have something meaningful to say, then jump in. But get engaged as an interested participant, not as a product shill. Imagine yourself being at a dinner party with friends. How would you feel about a salesman butting into your conversation to promote a product, or defend his brand against something you said, and then walking away to butt into the next group?

Design Your Campaign to Fit Your Community
Once your team is engaged with one or more of your market communities, lead-generation programs can be a lot more focused. You’ll have a much better sense of which community hot spots are attracting traffic and driving conversations. A lead-gen campaign for a bike company at Facebook, for example, might focus on leveraging a big personality like Lance Armstrong to attract friends and drive links. A campaign at Mountain Bike Review Forum, with 60,000 dedicated cyclists, would be more product-focused, maybe organizing a demo ride. The program you put together should be designed to fit the community, and you’ll only know how to do that well if you’re engaged.

With any lead-generation campaign that engages an existing community, it’s also important to connect with the facilitators of that community before you do any serious program. You should understand and respect any policies they might have about commercial campaigns on their networks. Some communities will have additional opportunities for sponsorship, or co-branded content, which might help you create a more effective campaign. If you’re just interested in testing the waters to see how a community—particularly a large community—might pull in a broader campaign, you can often buy banner ads or adword campaigns that focus on particular sites so you can test the interest in program concepts.

Offer Opportunities for More Conversation
Finally, there’s always the potential to use community development as a lead-generation program, rather than tapping into an existing community. Starbucks, for example, has launched a number of word-of-mouth campaigns, including their “Let’s Meet At Starbucks: Invite a Friend” campaign, while Dell has pushed a lot of product through dedicated product profiles on Twitter, used to announce hot deals. Initiatives like this make the campaign offer a socializing opportunity, and the possibilities are endless, for both retail and B2B companies.

Once you are oriented to your market community, campaign execution will look surprisingly familiar. It’s still important as ever to have a compelling offer, a clear message and to test everything you can to continually improve effectiveness. The difference today is that you need to be much more transparent, honest and accountable in the ways you engage your market. Prospects aren’t just individual “targets” to pick off like sitting ducks. They’re members of a community where word travels fast.