Professional services marketing: Build a business case for social success
Social media adoption has been rapid within organisations serving consumer markets. The same however can't be said for professional services, where social media generally speaking remains a struggle.
Many professional service firms are at a loss as to how best to harness the power of social to achieve their overall vision and goals, and often harbour a number of concerns stifling any progress:
- Perceived risk of reputational harm through social media interaction.
- Uncertainty as to which internal department(s) should 'own' social media.
- Confusion and lack of expertise around selecting the 'right' social media technology, and integrating this with existing systems such as CRM.
- Lack of clarity around proving the business value of social media.
- Belief that moving away from 'traditional' modes of business development and marketing to interact online may result in wasted time and effort (and money!).
Overcoming the concerns of social media
Professional service marketers can help their firms overcome these concerns. Consider the following steps to help you steer your firm in the right 'social' direction.
1. Take ownership
Internal ownership of social media is hotly debated within firms. Social media audiences may not care who or which department owns 'social', but - not least for the purpose of governance - social media is so fundamental to a professional service firm that true ownership must start with the management board, and filter downwards.
The problem with this is that many management boards still need informing as to the true potential of social media which is where marketers can make the difference.
- Marketing is the most natural owner of social media and the client experience
Marketing is a natural owner of social media in a professional services environment because it constitutes a tool for expanding brand awareness and delivering a client experience.
However, the true challenge for marketers is to avert ownership conflicts between internal departments by 'selling in' goals that are not team-driven, but are about the audience, the client and improving client experiences on a firm wide level.
Collaborating with and supporting the social efforts of individual professional practitioners is crucial when it comes to aligning departmental goals and overcoming friction as they come to make more use of the various platforms.
For marketers seeking to take the lead with social media, an important step will be to bring the rest of the firm into the fold.
Social media should be a shared, cross-functional responsibility - from the very beginning. Invite IT, HR and a couple of savvy (and willing!) professional practitioners from each of the professional service lines to work alongside you; a team of trailblazers raising the profile and impact of social media for others to emulate.
2. Build the business case
Professional service marketers must start building better business cases to bring management on side. Use your firm's pains as the fundamental starting position, and then show how social media can remedy those pains.
You need to select and understand the metrics required to measure the improvement, and gauge how much it will cost to provide the remedy.
But we all know social media measurement can be difficult to calculate: as an organic, trust-building activity best suited for influence and soft lead generation, drawing a direct cause-and-effect between social marketing and ROI is a challenge. Yet it can be done effectively. And if your online programme can be shown to be beneficial to your firm, it will be one that justifies a budget.
So how do you build the business case for social? A formal checklist will help you build a case tailored to your firm's needs, provide insight into your results, and help you analyse outcomes to refine your programmes:
1. Highlight the benefits
Social media is a proven marketing tool. Not only is it a viable platform for deploying your content via a content marketing programme, but social drives a firm's website traffic. In addition, social can help you and your firm:
- Monitor social conversations that happen online
- Monitor the competition and improve insight into your target markets
- Identify new product and service opportunities
- Develop a new dimension of client service
- Pursue online networking opportunities
Added to softer benefits like increased awareness, positive brand perception and extended reach, the benefits begin to add up in a significant way.
By doing some research and evaluation of how your particular firm will benefit, you’ll be on your way to building the business case you need to justify 'going social'.
2. Show you understand the risks
There are real risks with going social; privacy and security being high on the list. The spontaneous nature of social media can also backfire on firms. And many professional service firms will worry that the conversational tone of social communications will undermine their carefully managed reputation and 'corporate voice'.
These are all legitimate concerns that you should address head-on in your business case before a decision-maker may feel comfortable about pursuing and investing in social media.
3. Define goals and align them to firm's goals
Key to the business case are the goals. There are countless purposes of social that your firm could pursue, so you need to focus.
Start with the firm’s goals, and take it from there. How do your business goals align with your audience’s objectives? What types of conversations will you facilitate? What are you trying to achieve in those conversations? Given resources, what are the reasonable outcomes you can expect or strive toward? What is possible? Desirable? Achievable?
With a set of goals in place, you will be providing much-needed clarity across the firm for all social media activity.
As you talk through your business case, questions will naturally arise regarding your strategy. The social media strategy for the professional service firm must define those activities that relate to the core commercial activities of the firm’s brand.
The firm’s management board will want to hear more about:
- How the firm’s reputation will be actively managed through social media.
- How the firm’s brand will be transformed through social media.
- How marketing and departmental service lines will acquire new clients and retain existing ones.
- How social media will contribute to the client experience.
Professional service marketers need to show a highly focused strategy. The best way to achieve focus is by analysing and understanding your current client data, online and offline. By fully understanding your current clients, you can better determine where they congregate socially, and what the firm needs to do to grow the reputation of the firm, transform the brand online, retain existing clients and acquire new clients like them.
5. Don't be afraid of setting the measures
Professional service marketers should adopt strong social media performance measures as part of the business case. The management board will want to see how you will create measures of performance which will in turn show performance levels.
Remember good metrics for social media are:
- Capable of being understood by 'everyone'
- Easy to collate
- Capable of being acted upon
Professional service marketers have a range of metrics to call upon. Use a combination of:
- Activities - activity metrics show what is being done. Record your firm’s social activities. How frequently your firm is posting, how often content is scheduled, how much time is spent by professional practitioners in online relationship building.
- Reach - reach metrics determine the spread of your social media conversation and potential audience size. Reach measures can help you understand the context for your thought leading content. How far is your content disseminating and how big is the audience for your message?
- Engagement - engagement metrics are one of the most important aspects to measure. How far is your audience participating in the conversation about your brand? What are they doing to spread your Thought Leadership content and engage with the topic? Content can be both shared and replied to. Twitter retweets and Facebook shares and posts are helpful to see who is spreading your content, while comments, replies and likes are helpful to see who is replying to your content. Consider totting up those Facebook Likes, Twitter clicks and retweets and Google+1's as a starting point.
- Acquisition - this metric highlights the firm’s ability to turn engagement into action. Brand awareness is a great soft benefit but it should generate solid targeted traffic for your firm’s website, and help nurture individual relationships for the firm’s professional practitioners. Consider click through rates, social visits, visitor frequency rate and visit duration.
- Conversion - conversion metrics will vary from firm to firm. They should highlight leads generated and ultimately business won, but they could also indicate softer conversions such as newsletter sign ups.
This is where you measure operational efficiencies and cost avoidance resulting from social activities, as well as the more obvious marketing and business development impact of cost-per-lead and cost-per-acquisition.
It’s determining your firm’s market reach, its penetration, client retention, transactional increases and the client lifetime value.
By tying in the activity-based metrics to the bottom line, you can bridge the gap from a soft activity to hard business revenue.
3. Understand the social technology
Many firms are making some use of social media platforms such as Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter, incorporating them into existing marketing activities. But the various social platforms serve different purposes for different people and organisations, who interact and engage with them in different ways. And as social technologies, applications and tools continue to develop, firms can become even more confused about which of those technologies they should invest in and when.
To keep up with the ever-changing landscape in the social media technology landscape, consider:
- Completing a situational analysis of your current social status quo. Which social platforms are driving the most traffic and conversions?
- Selecting the social media platforms to prioritise. If your firm operates in B2B markets do you really need to dedicate resource to a corporate Facebook page?
- Reviewing each of the social platforms. What is the profile of the social audience? Do you need to vary the corporate tone and voice for each? Do you need to vary the content?
- Does your firm have a clear value proposition for each social platform? Can you differentiate it from other firms? Is it consistent with your brand online and offline?
- How will responses be managed? Do you have the resources and capabilities to respond to comments?
In Conclusion - social media for professional services firms
For professional service firms, social media offers the potential of being a business solution to transform the brand experience, improve awareness of the firm and position its individual practitioners as thought leaders.
Where firms are falling behind with social, it's for forward-thinking in-house marketers to take the reigns; creating the business case for progressing with social media at a firm wide level, and managing the ensuing application of social media across the firm.
By building a strong business case for change, you can enable your firm to focus on the client and enrich the client experience through the social technology landscape.