Why Should I Use Social Media In My Business?

Appears in the June 2011 issue of Brokerworld Magazine.

by Nick Sorrentino & Lynn Kirby

Social media is a revolution in the way people communicate and do business. We do not use the word “revolution” lightly. Facebook, Twitter and their brethren constitute nothing less than a seismic shift in how nearly every business will engage with its customers, clients and strategic partners.

Since the mid-1990s, we have heard about how the free flow of information will change our lives. The last decade and a half has been a transformative and enlightening time period. Most of us had never used email before 1998, yet now it is hard to imagine life without it.

In the year 2000, Google barely existed. Now it is arguably one of the most powerful corporations in the world. Just a few years ago, iPods did not exist. Today, strolling through downtown, one can hardly count how many people pass by with ear buds wedged into their eustachian tubes. The technological world is changing at an extremely rapid pace, thanks in large part to the exponential growth of social media.

Social media is often referred to as the key component of “web 2.0.” Web 1.0 was relatively static. In the early years of the Internet, information flowed only one way—from the publisher to the public. Websites didn’t change from day to day and online communication was mostly limited to email.

Web 2.0 has evolved into a brand new tool for businesses to employ to their benefit. Now information flows not only from producer to consumer and back, but also diverts sideways to friends, colleagues and beyond.

For some, this new reality elicits fear. For others, however, the incredible opportunity of a social media presence is unavoidable. Either way, in order to do business effectively in the years ahead, a strong understanding of social media and marketing within your web network is a must.

Is Social Media Really That Big a Deal?
Yes! It really is that big a deal. An often-quoted statistic is that Facebook currently has well over 500 million users. If Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest in the world, after China and India. Roughly 1 in 12 people on earth have an account on Facebook.

Additionally, of those people who have a Facebook account, 50 percent log in daily. Most social media users spend more than four hours a month on Facebook and a little over two hours a month on Twitter. This is the basic user average and has increased steadily each month during the past two years. For some individuals, the number of hours on Facebook and Twitter is far higher.

On a similar note, social networking is not limited to the young. At this moment, the fastest growing segment on Facebook is women between the ages of 55 and 65. This demographic is ideally suited for financial professionals. Social media replaces the cold call. Someone who agrees to be friends with you is a warm lead.

Increasingly social media is where people are choosing to spend their time. For an agent, agency or brokerage general agency, social media can be a vibrant component of a successful marketing strategy.

How Can Your Business Benefit?
As a financial professional you are privy to information some of your clients wouldn’t share with their closest confidant. Social media is another way you can solidify your position with those clients as a trusted advisor. Most clients will not post financial questions on your Facebook page, but many of them will check your page regularly to see what you are doing.

For instance, let’s say you are selling a new financial product that you think is particularly innovative. Always keeping in mind suitability requirements and using approved verbiage within compliance guidelines, you can communicate the benefits of the product on your Facebook fan page. If your fan page is full of current clients and highly targeted potential clients, the result will very likely be that you will get at least a couple of calls or private messages from people interested in learning more.

Also, people needn’t go out of their way to see what you want to communicate. If they are your “fan,” your update will populate in your client’s or potential client’s news feed automatically.

Here are three effective guidelines that will help social media work for your business.

Your efforts must be targeted and 1. consistent. Getting your assistant to send out invitations to all of her friends on Facebook is a recipe for disaster. First, these people will not fit your ideal demographic, allowing your well-thought-out communications to fall on deaf ears. Second, as a result of your new-found “friends,” Facebook will constrain your social community to 23-year-olds who like Camaros, determining that these are the folks with whom you want to communicate. Facebook will do everything it can to reinforce this demographic as it recommends new friends to you.

If you are an insurance broker, you would much rather have Facebook recommending wealthy 60-year-old females to your profile. If you target your efforts appropriately, you can create a huge stream of connections and a highly qualified affluent base that will evolve into a solid social network. With only a couple of false moves, especially as you are developing your social media presence on the front end, the value of Facebook as a resource can diminish greatly.

Also, updating your social media profiles only once a week will not do much for your business. If clients and potential clients see tumbleweeds spinning across your profile, due to lack of activity, they will tune you out and move on to more interesting people. However, if people come to recognize that you and your business are a regular part of their online life on a day-to-day basis, they will be much more likely to ask questions, to respond to requests, and ultimately to do business. Like all marketing media, frequency is key.

Your efforts must be genuine with 2. established goals. One of the great differentiators for businesses in social media is the degree to which they hone an online personality. If communications are one dimensional and devoid of interesting content, people will be unlikely to engage with you.

Setting goals is vitally important in social media. How many new friends will you gather on Facebook over the next month? How many new followers on Twitter will you gather over the next month? How many tweets will you send out per day, week and month? How many updates to the fan page will you do per week? How many fans will you gather over the next month? How many interactions do you want to have? How many private messages will you send out to potential clients?

If you outline exactly what your goals are, you will—with time—begin to see results that translate into dollars for your firm. If you do not set and achieve your goals on an ongoing basis, the benefits of social media will be less than what you want.

Maintain Contact Information. 3. You must download information from your network regularly and be patient. Depending on the privacy settings set by each user, when you become friends with someone on Facebook and on other channels, you gain access to highly valuable information that must not be squandered. Currently it is fairly easy to gather information such as phone numbers, email addresses, birth dates, memberships in affinity groups, and physical addresses, among other valuable bits of demographic information that may be very important as you continue to build your business.

Take this information, protect it with your life, and put it into a file offline. Social media sites have a nasty tendency of changing accessibility rules on a whim.

Social media marketing like all marketing is an art, not a science.
Each company that chooses to engage in social media is different, and each campaign will be different. Some efforts will take off immediately, while others will take longer. However, if social media is employed, the return for businesses is almost always far greater than the investment.

A Key Component for Online Success

It is critical that you have a solid professional and searchable web presence. If your social media efforts are successful, then it is likely that your website will be the link between social media and client activity. Your website must reflect your face to the market—your size and scope—and it should present a good case for why someone would want to do business with you.

A website is just like a real office. You will need to keep it updated, stylish and fresh. Search engine optimization (SEO) is also a must, along with websites that work with mobile technology. Sound media should be integrated into your website. Your site and social media should compliment one another. Finally, just like other external communications, never forget that legal, compliance and regulatory guidelines apply to social media.

Social media constitutes the single greatest marketing opportunity of our lifetime. Never before have we been able to target clients with such precision. It is a new world—one filled with opportunity for those who choose to embrace it.

Author’s Bio
Nick Sorrentino
is the director of social media operations for the Life Support Team and Stimulus Advertising. He is a former financial advisor and political consultant.

Lynn Kirby
is team leader of the Life Support Team and the president of Stimulus Advertising, a full-service advertising and web development company located in Lynchburg, VA. Kirby was originally with First Colony Life Insurance Company, which later became GE Financial (now Genworth), where he served as marketing communications leader before starting his own advertising agency and the Life Support Team.

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