3 essential social media activities for businesses: Engage + build credibility + add value

It seems like every time I open my email inbox, I find an invite to yet ANOTHER social network. Most of the time they get deleted.

Don’t get me wrong. I like social networks. But I primarily use 4 social networks – Facebook, Twitter, Quora, and LinkedIn and ignore the rest. (Check out my blog post 13 sites I can’t live without).

I don’t sign up to more social networks because the purpose of social networking is not ubiquity; it’s depth. You don’t have to be on every social network. Rather, you should be an active participant in a few social networks. Signing up (and never using) social networks is a mile-wide/inch-deep problem. You can connect to everyone everywhere but you’re only connected to them; you’re not actually connecting with them.

The purpose of social networks is to effectively connect with them by connecting/following/friending and then diving deep into that connection… that’s the purpose of social media even if you run a business.

In order to effectively connect with people in social media, there are three essential activities you need to do:

3 ESSENTIAL ACTIVITIES: ENGAGE, BUILD CREDIBILITY, ADD VALUE

The three essential social media activities are to engage people, build credibility, and add value. You need to perform these activities in this order. As well, these are cyclical activities in that you need to keep doing them over and over:

  1. Engage: Get to know the people in your network. Take time to learn about them. Listen to what they have to say. Take an interest in the things that they are interested in.
  2. Build credibility: Without bragging, demonstrate that you know what you are talking about. Connect with industry experts. Quote them. Comment on them. Discuss your industry. Talk about your accomplishments (sparingly and humbly, of course).
  3. Add value: Make it worthwhile to listen to you. Provide tips and advice. Be selflessly helpful. Be generous. Share.
  4. (Repeat).

By doing these three things over and over, you’ll connect with your audience and become a valuable part of their social network. They’ll come to recognize you as someone who is worth listening to. And when that happens, you’ll have influence and authority and all of the great stuff that comes with being a go-to person.

HOW TO ENGAGE, BUILD CREDIBILITY, AND ADD VALUE

Okay, I’ll be honest: I don’t do these things really well all the time. Sometimes I rock out all three activities, sometimes I’m mediocre at a couple of these activities, and sometimes I suck at them. I’d like to show you a tool I use to help keep me on track so I can focus on connecting with people effectively.

First, you should have some idea about what you want to accomplish with your social networks. Check out my blog post entitled Your social presence map: How to define what to share and what not to share on the social web. Create a social presence map to analyze which social networks you use and how you use them.

Then, create a chart that looks like this with the three essential social media activities listed across the top:




And down the left side, write down the names of the social networks you want to use for business. I’ve listed the social networks/social media sites I use for business (and I included my blog because blogs are considered part of social media even though it may not technically be a social network).




Now, just work column-by-column through the chart to figure out what you need to do in each social network to perform that essential activity.

You’ll see below that I’ve listed “Questions”, “Replies”, and “Retweets” as an engagement activity for when I use Twitter. By this I mean that I want to ask questions, reply to people, and retweet tweets that I think are valuable. Do this for each social network site.




Next, fill out the next column by listing credibility-building activities you can do in each social network. For example, in LinkedIn, I can build credibility by sharing links, answering questions, participating in groups, and connecting with experts.




Then, fill out the last column of ways to add value to the people in that social network. For example, on my blog I’ve made a note to make sure that each blog post ends with a to-do and that I create downloadable content that people might find useful.




Fill out each cell. Some will be easy to fill out and some will be more difficult to fill out, but try to fill them out. See what other people are doing to perform that activity in their social network and look for ways to adopt the same ideas for yourself. Push yourself to go beyond the obvious to discover innovative ways to perform each activity. And don’t forget that you can often link social media together so that an activity in one network can also be an activity in another network!

ONCE YOU’RE DONE, PUT THESE IN YOUR SCHEDULE

I love to use social media. But I have my faults: When I get really busy, I neglect my networks. Plus I sometimes forget to listen to people or to be intentional. I wish that all of the things listed in the chart above were second nature. But they’re not.

Yet.

Until they are, I try to put these tasks (or at least SOME of these tasks) into my schedule so I remember to do them. For example, I make it a point to read a minimum number of Quora questions every day. And I try to make sure that I’m retweeting content. I don’t want to be strict about it (“I must retweet 5 tweets per day”) because it’s not a formula for success. However, I recognize that I don’t always do the things at all I should be doing them. So by adding these tasks to my schedule, I can be more intentional intentional about connecting with my network. And I’ve found that there comes a point when it does become second nature and you can remove it from your schedule without removing it as a habit.

Testimonial

“Aaron is the definition of a professional! He is not only a professional of the highest standards, he is a true gift of a person to work with. Thank you Aaron, you have helped me make my book a success! “

-Partnerships LLC

13 sites I can’t live without

Since I rarely get to meet my blog readers or clients in person, I try to occasionally post a few things about myself from time to time so you can learn more about me. (For example, check out my blog posts Aaron Hoos: Writer and Aaron Hoos: More than you need to know about me plus 8 random facts).

In this blog post, I want to tell you about the 13 sites I can’t live without. These are the first sites I open for the day (actually, since I’m using Firefox 5, they just open automatically as “App Tabs”) and I reference them regularly throughout the day.

SOCIAL TABS

The first four tabs are my social tabs:

  • On the left is Facebook. Who DOESN’T have Facebook open all day, every day? haha. Since I work at home (mostly), my social interaction can be somewhat limited, so this keeps me connected to friends and family.

  • Next is Twitter. I used to use TweetDeck but since I’m in my browser all day long, I found it easier to just use Twitter itself. For a while I was using UberSocial on my mobile but I confess that I wasn’t engaging with my Twitter followers as much as I would have liked. I find that I’m way more connected when I’m using my browser-based Twitter account. (By the way, are we connected on Twitter? Follow me at @AaronHoos and maybe tweet a “hello”).

  • Next is Quora. I’ve only started using Quora within the last couple of months and I haven’t answered any questions on it… but I am addicted to reading questions and answers and have used Quora for a considerable amount of research. Check out Quora.

  • My last social tab is LinkedIn. I consider LinkedIn to be the business version of Facebook in terms of my interaction. I wasn’t really engaged on LinkedIn for a while, because it felt like they were being outpaced by other social networking sites, but they’re getting caught up and I’m becoming more engaged there. Here are 6 ways I’m creating opportunities from LinkedIn. I would love it if you would connect with me on LinkedIn.

BUSINESS MANAGEMENT TABS

The next 6 app tabs are about managing my business:

  • The next tab is Upvise. I love this app. It’s both my project management and my CRM system in one totally awesome little package. It’s easy to use and it syncs with my Blackberry so I have everything no matter where I am. Yes, there are more robust project management and CRM systems out there but this has everything I need. You should check out Upvise! (Not an affiliate link).

  • The next tab is MindMeister. I’m a strong proponent of mindmapping and this is the site I use. (I used to use a well-known desktop-based mindmapping software but I prefer this one. I subscribe to their premium software and use it frequently to capture my ideas and to capture client content as well. In fact, if I’ve ever written an ebook for you, it probably started its life in this place. Oh, and I’ve built a couple of public mindmaps there. Check out my Business Meta-Map and my Build Your Sales Funnel map. If you’re into mindmapping, check out MindMeister. (Affiliate link).

  • The next tab is Delicious. Pretty standard. It’s where I store my bookmarks (duh!).

  • The next tab is my Google Account. From here, I jump to Google Docs, Google Analytics, Google Trends, Google’s Keyword Tool, and Youtube pretty frequently.

  • Then there’s Guru.com. This is where quite a bit of my business comes from. I use Guru as part of my CRM system and it’s one of the tools I use to communicate with clients, manage projects, and accept payment for work. If you want to hire me, I’d advise going to my Guru account and requesting a quote.

  • The last tab in this group of app tabs is the WordPress Admin page for AaronHoos.com. I’m always here poking around on my blog making tweaks and adjustments and writing posts.

COMMUNICATION TABS

There are two app tabs I use for communication: My primary email address (aaron@aaronhoos.com — hey, why not send me an email and say hello!) and a secondary email address that I use for blog and ezine subscriptions, archives, and personal IMs.

AND GOOGLE, OF COURSE

And the 13th site I can’t live without is Google, which I use to search basically everything all the time.

SITES I LIKE BUT DIDN’T MAKE THE CUT

The above sites make sense to keep open all the time and there’s a manageable number of them. But there are lots of other sites I use slightly less frequently that I just don’t keep open all the time. These include:

  • FireFTP for file management.
  • Pingdom for tracking how my site functions. I subscribe to their uptime and performance monitoring.
  • Evernote is a site I don’t use enough. It sort of fell out of favor with me when its Blackberry interface didn’t work for me. But I do like it and use it and maybe I really should put it into my App Tabs.
  • Foursquare is a site I access pretty regularly but I only access it on my Blackberry so it’s technically a site I can’t live without but it’s not something I run in my browser.
  • GrooveShark is quickly becoming a site I spend some time on… probably more time than I should. And for that reason, I purposely avoid iTunes because I’d bankrupt myself buying music.

How to grow your business by replicating your sales funnel

In a previous blog post entitled There are only 3 ways to grow your business, I listed the 3 types of business-growth strategies that entrepreneurs can consider, and within each of those strategies I listed specific methods to follow through on that business growth strategy.

The first business growth strategy is to replicate your sales funnel. I wrote: “This can be achieved by (1) hiring employees and managing them, (2) franchising your business, or (3) creating an affiliate program. Financial and real estate businesses may find that the first choice (hiring people to help support your practice) is the easiest and clearest option. The other two choices aren’t unheard of in financial and real estate businesses but can be a little more complicated in these highly regulated industries.

When you build a business, you create a sales funnel. At first, it’s just you doing all the marketing and sales. Over time, though, you can get other people to do some (or all) of that work for you. It just comes down to who you want to get to do the work, what you’ll get them to do, and how the “structure” of your relationship functions.

WHO DOES THE WORK

You can hire employees to do the work for you, you can sell your business model to others, or you can pay a small portion of all sales to the affiliates who referred customers to you.

WHAT YOU’LL GET THEM TO DO

You can piece out all or parts of your sales funnel, depending on the relationship. An employee might be hired because they specialize in a specific aspect of the sales funnel – administration, marketing, sales, whatever. In a franchise model, you pretty much sell your entire sales funnel concept to someone else. And in an affiliate model, they (generally) do the marketing and you (generally) do the sales. (Of course, there are some unique exceptions to these models but I’m speaking in broad terms here).

HOW THE STRUCTURE OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP FUNCTIONS

Each of these methods are structured differently:

  • With the employee method, you’re probably going to work closely with them, perhaps holding their hand earlier in the process and (preferably) giving them more responsibility while minimizing your oversight. You pay them an ongoing, pre-specified amount of money and you can expect to get a certain amount of effort or hours in return.
  • With a franchise method, you hand over your sales funnel and best practices and receive payment. In some cases, you might also receive ongoing royalties in exchange for providing ongoing support (including marketing and administration support). Depending on the franchise agreement, there is a fair amount of autonomy and unless the franchisee really screws up and bashes your brand, they can do whatever they want.
  • With an affiliate method, you can set the parameters of how much you want to pay and what you will allow the affiliate to do. Some affiliates will just drive traffic with a link; others will post their own advertisement or sales page that drives traffic directly to your checkout. You decide what you want to do and what you’ll allow (or disallow).

THE BENEFITS AND DRAWBACKS OF EACH METHOD

Each method comes with its own positive and negative aspects.

  • Employee method: This is a good method because it allows you to retain control of the entire process. However, it’s very hands-on (especially in the beginning) and you do incur some additional responsibilities like payroll expenses and management headaches, although you can mitigate some of those concerns through outsourcing.
  • Franchise method: This is a good method because it usually means an up-front cash-infusion and you can decide how much continuing focus you need to give to franchisees. However, there is quite a bit of autonomy here so (depending on what you sell) a franchisee can do considerable damage to your brand and reputation.
  • Affiliate method: This is a good method because it requires the least amount of up-front work from you and (with the right affiliate) can bring in a considerable amount of revenue. However, you need to spell out very early what your affiliate is and is not allowed to do in order to maintain control over the sale and not disappoint customers. As well, there is a lot of competition for the most effective affiliates so you may end up eating into your profit quite considerably (but some is better than none!).

HOW TO GROW YOUR FINANCIAL OR REAL ESTATE BUSINESS WITH THIS MODEL

A lot of financial and real estate professionals use the employee method and the affiliate method to grow their practices:

  • Employee method: Financial advisors and real estate agents will hire an administrative assistant to help them manage the administration of their sales funnel. Later, they may hire a marketing assistant (or outsource their marketing to someone like me). They might also get junior associates to work with them to do some of the legwork, such as research, due diligence, initial customer set-ups, and more.
  • Affiliate method: I see this a lot in the real estate industry and I see it used sparingly in the financial industry. Real estate agents will offer some kind of incentive to someone when they refer a customer to them. And, real estate investors use “bird dogs” to find potential investments – and a bird dog is usually an affiliate-style relationship where the bird dog is paid per investment referral. It’s used occasionally in the financial industry among financial advisors (at least in the circle I run in).

The franchise method is also used sometimes, especially at a business level where a brokerage house “franchises” its sales funnel and brand name to individual agents.

STEP-BY-STEP TO GET STARTED

The first thing you need to do is solidify your sales funnel. Regardless of which of the three ways of growing your business with this sales-funnel-replication strategy, you need to have your sales funnel well-defined and nailed down. Doing this will help you to “piece it out” to the employee/franchisee/affiliate. If you don’t nail it down effectively, your employees won’t know what to do, your franchisee will feel like they’ve been ripped off, and your affiliate won’t know how to sell effectively. There are a number of tools on my blog to help you nail down your sales funnel effectively. You might want to start by reading some sales funnel blog posts and downloading my Sales Funnel Quick Reference Guide and Sales Funnel Worksheet.

The next thing you need to do is decide which of the three types of sales-funnel-replication methods you want to choose. Each one has its own opportunities and challenges (which I’ve briefly discussed, above). Deciding which one really comes down to one question: How much return do you want to derive from this effort compared to how much time/attention/energy do you have to give. (There are other considerations, of course, but I think they tend to all feed into this particular question). Obviously, regulatory considerations might be a factor, too.
Start small. You don’t have to jump in with both feet right away. Start small.

    If you are going to use the employee method, you don’t have to start by hiring an employee. Test the waters by outsourcing. Go talk to my friends at ContemporaryVA to outsource your administrative assistance or get in touch with me to outsource your marketing. Start small and, if it works and you want to bring it in-house, you can. But by then you have some idea of what works and what doesn’t.

  • If you are going to use the franchise method, partner up with someone who is interested in getting started in the biz and wants to try it out. Let them know that your goal is to franchise and work with them to figure out what works and what doesn’t. In a sense, they’re getting in on the ground floor of your franchising effort by providing feedback and a testing ground instead of initial payment.
  • If you are going to use the affiliate method, set up a referral reward system and let your customers know about it. Test out a few different ideas and see what works. Then go talk to your peers in related industries about the reward of referrals. (For example if you are an investment advisor, go talk to accountants and estate lawyers). Later, you can investigate software that can help you offer affiliate rewards on a larger, automated scale.

Lastly, test and refine, test and refine, test and refine, test and refine.

What should real estate professionals tweet about?

For years, real estate professionals have struggled with finding ways to connect with potential and previous clients to remain at the top of their minds for when those people want to buy or sell again. Calendars, fridge magnets, and the occasional mass mailing were the only way…

… Until social media came along.

Social media in general — and Twitter specifically — offer real-time connection to your potential and previous clients. You’ll know exactly what they’re thinking when they’re thinking it and that will help you to engage them before they make a real estate decision. Along the way, Twitter also gives you the ability to position yourself as an expert in a particular marketplace (i.e. to a specific niche or for a specific neighborhood).

Signing up for Twitter is free and very simple. And finding people (especially locals!) is also very easy.

Okay, so you have a Twitter account and you’re already to tweet. What should real estate professionals tweet about?

Here are 12 ideas that you can build off of to tweet an unlimited number of tweets!

  1. Tweet buying tips: Tweet to give people tips on buying a home in the area you cover. Is there something specific to watch for? Are there great opportunities? Is an older neighborhood regaining traction as a trendy locale?

  2. Tweet listing tips: Tweet to give people tips on how to sell a home in your area. Are there challenges to overcome? Is a certain type of buyer moving into the area? What are the key features for many of the homes in the area? When is the right time to list?

  3. Tweet about reasons and statistics to encourage buying and listing: Let people know when it’s a seller’s market or buyer’s market. Keep your readers up-to-date on how interest rates, the economy, and the local marketplace are combining to make it the perfect time to buy or sell.

  4. Tweet neighborhood stats: Buyers wants to move to an area because it has the right combination of things they’re looking for. Let them know that YOU know how many parks there are; what the student-teacher ratio is at the local grade school; how many Starbucks are nearby; how many buses serve the area; and what the home-sale trends have been like recently.

  5. Tweet about ideas to enjoy the home you’re living in: On average, people move once every seven years. So, for seven years, they’re not necessarily thinking about you and your services. Unless you help them to enjoy what you helped them buy. Give them ideas to increase the value of their home, increase the safety of their home, and make their home feel like their castle and refuge. That will make you an integral part of their home investment for the seven years between the time that they need your services.

  6. Tweet links to homes you’ve listed: This is an obvious one! Don’t overwhelm your followers with tweets about the homes you list, but definitely send out a few tweets a day that say: “Growing family? Check out this home: [link]” or “Newly retired? Check out this home: [link]“.

  7. Tweet your achievements: Be proud of your achievements! Tweet about the awards you won (when you win them; you probably shouldn’t tweet regularly about them after that), and especially tweet about when you list a home and when a home sells. A real estate pro who regularly tweets “I just sold another home! #awesome” shows potential clients that they can get it done.

  8. Tweet what you are doing right now: Real estate professionals are busy people. (You don’t need me to tell you that). So keep people up-to-date with what you’re doing by telling them. “I’m showing a home in the East Culbert neighborhood” or “I’m just about to meet with a potential seller.” Keep it generic and positive and accurate.

  9. Tweet about local neighborhood news: If you are positioning yourself as an expert in a particular neighborhood, become involved in that neighborhood by tweeting their news. Talk about the upcoming street-wide yardsale or the gradeschool magazine drive to raise money for new playground equipment or the quilting bee at a local church to send money to a South American orphanage. Soon, people will recognize you as a place to help them disseminate their local information and they’ll not only pay attention to you for local news (which will include “I’m listing a house in your area!“) but they’ll also think of you when they’re looking for a local expert to help them list or buy.

  10. Tweet to cheer local teams: This tip is related to the above tip but it’s not as “newsy”. Get involved in local teams by cheering them on and reporting their successes. Ball leagues, soccer leagues, bowling leagues, even the dart league at the local watering hole. They won’t mind the extra attention and it will benefit you and them in the long run.

  11. Tweet about local businesses: Like you, local businesses are trying to get by with local clientele. Sometimes it’s easy; sometimes it’s hard. Generously promote local businesses. If one of them is having a special, tweet about it. If one of them is holding a barbecue, tweet about it. If you’re bringing your shirts to the local laundromat, tweet about how much you like their service. Generous promotion is reciprocating, even if those businesses aren’t on Twitter as much as you.

  12. Tweet to engage local people: This one is huge. Don’t just tweet things out as if they were announcements. Don’t just follow the above 11 tips and ignore this one. If you only have time to do ONE of these 12 tips, do this one! Engage your followers. Talk with them. Joke with them. Empathize with them. Communicate with them. Listen to them. Share what they are talking about.

Sit down with these 12 tips and come up with dozens — or even hundreds — of potential tweets. Once you have a big list, you’ll be armed with tweets for every occasion… and you’ll have a reason to send people to your Twitter page. Some of these tweets you can tweet as they happen. Others can be scheduled and put into a rotation (using a social media tool like Hootsuite).

Want some additional ideas about what you can tweet about? Check my blog post 101 retweetable tweets!