July 2014
By Ute Klingelhöfer

Image: © kbuntu/ 123rf.com

Ute Klingelhoefer is the founder and owner of the consulting agency contentwerk. She supports organizations with their communication through digital media and provides consultancy on the topics of writing and customer relationship management. She also offers seminars on social networks. She has co-authored the “Social Media Check”, an analysis about presence on networks.


uk[at]contentwerk.eu
www.contentwerk.eu


 


 

Well positioned on social media channels

Many companies do not consider being present on XING or Twitter, mainly because of the time and cost factors. Nevertheless, the engagement is worthwhile. Customer relationship is just one of the aspects.

Companies not selling their services directly to consumers, and these normally include service providers from the area of technical communication, often consider engagement on social media to be superfluous. “Our customers are not on social networks”, they are quick to state - a preconception that this article seeks to correct. Opportunities and conditions are highlighted here, where even B2B companies, e.g. providers of technical communication services can successfully engineer customer relationships and new customer business through social networks.

In deed, anyone not dealing directly with selling consumer goods really should not expect a direct increase in sales. Social networking is about increasing the reach of your company website and offerings, better positions on search machines, about new employees and about strengthening your reputation. However, the primary aim is to build relationships.

Maintaining networks

The motto, especially in the service business says: “Business is done with people” – and not with brands. Business can be concluded only when a relationship based on trust has developed previously between the business partners. It is especially this preliminary work of creating a personal relationship that can be boosted significantly by connecting on social networks. Anyone who publishes useful content regularly ensures that his business will stay on people’s minds, interacts with his contacts and builds up his network considerably.

A rule-of-thumb states that in marketing one needs six to twelve contacts with a person till one can be remembered and is anchored in memory. Anyone who doesn’t rely just on personal meetings and nurtures his relationships online achieves a trusted relationship with his counterpart much more quickly.

Improve position

If a customer is looking for a new service provider, he first forms a picture through a search engine, often Google. When a service provider maintains a social media profile and provides valuable technical information in a company blog on the website, he improves his chances of landing on the first page of a search machine.

Google Plus will also play a greater role in search machine rankings in the future. Even today it is already possible to link your website with author information, so that you can be displayed together with your photograph as author along with the search result. The search result takes up more space due to the photograph and garners attention. This increases the probability that your website will be visited and not that of your competitor. He might have a better position in the search machine, but no photograph.

Acquire skilled employees

Today it is not the employees who are the applicants but the employing companies. This principle applies particularly to companies that are looking to employ young skilled personnel. The so-called “generation Y”, which includes people born between 1981 and 1995, doesn’t select jobs based on lucrative status symbols alone. It is important for this generation to identify with the company culture – the “employer brand” is gaining more and more significance. Some companies use their presence on social networks to address potential applicants and to be accessible for their queries. BMW or TÜV Rhineland maintain special career pages on Facebook, DATEV e. G. concentrates on maintaining a blog where employees express their personal opinions and publish technical content.

Build reputation

Social media invite sharing of experiences with companies and products on a public forum. Negative experiences spread particularly quickly. It is therefore even more important for a service provider to be able to actively guide these discussions and to influence what is published on the Internet about his own company. With your own published content there is less danger of articles by third parties about your company occupying the uppermost positions in search machine rankings. Reputation also means developing a kind of “I brand”, which is often represented by the director or the employee with the most customer contacts in case of service providers. You can successfully develop this brand by bringing articles on your specific topic again and again into discussion and positioning yourself as an expert.

Find a platform

Your resources are limited. Thus, it is worthwhile concentrating on a selection of channels, but you must also support them correctly. When selecting a platform think about the fact that people are driven by different motives when they login and present themselves on a specific platform.

Collect contacts: Facebook

Facebook represents the largest platform with about 1,28 billion active members worldwide. The leader of the pack of social networks is fighting the preconception that it is purely about private communication. The institute Forrester Research has determined that 57 percent of B2B decision makers have given a Like posting for a dealer before. The fact is that facebook has become a kind of ecosystem, which unites many functions of other networks with each other: A service provider networks with his business contacts, presents his events and follows pages which in turn keep linking to valuable technical articles.

Naturally there is a lot of personal information available. It is exactly this information that brings you closer to the customer: You start talking to each other about personal interests. This link can work as an advantage against your competitors.

The times, when one networked only with a close circle of friends on facebook are past. However, it might be a good idea to organize contacts in lists and selectively publishing certain information.

Acting professionally: XING and Linkedin

The career network XING in German and its international equivalent LinkedIn are classic business networks where presenting one’s own professional capabilities is in the foreground. Networking with colleagues and business partners, sharing professional articles in groups as well as providing references to interesting professional material are important actions here. While XING has about 7 million members in the entire German-speaking region [1], LinkedIn has only four million here [2]. Nevertheless it can be observed that the number of contact requests is growing on LinkedIn.

On XING it is becoming clear that the growing importance of the personal brand, be it employee or director, is considered with the integration of a new function here as well: Every member has the option of better highlighting his own skills even using graphics in the profile: E.g. by linking individual pictures or uploading PDF material. Personal profiles can be designed to be more inviting and personal in this regard – entirely in the sense of the thought “Business happens between people”.

Remain up-to-date: Twitter

Anyone who is active on Twitter would like to fulfill his need of always being on the ball: Irrespective of whether it concerns news of the world, the region or from a group of friends. The past has shown that a lot of world news was first published on twitter, before it reached other news channels.

Company accounts that are maintained by employees who are not allowed to express personal opinions have a hard time on twitter. Twitter is a medium that lives on strong opinions. This expression of opinion must be permitted to the employee responsible for the twitter channel or it is better that he tweets under his own name. The attraction of twitter is the uncomplicated contact with strangers: Interest in the same topic or even participation in the same event are enough reason to “virtually socialize with a conversation” through tweets with other fellow Twitter members and to follow each other.

Expand profile: Google Plus

Google Plus is a product of the search machine Google and therefore a reason to work with this platform. If you are logged in to your Google account during a Google search, you receive search results that are already personalized and in line with your own interests.

Thanks to Google Plus the user receives search results enriched with recommendations from his network, identifiable through the fact that a networked person on Google Plus has already given a “+1“(recommend button, similar to the like button on facebook). Even if Google Plus appears uninteresting for everyone except a very technophile target group, it is recommended to reserve a GooglePlus page for you personally as well as for your company. Then you have a URL with your name.

 

Motivation of the user

Facebook: Be entertained

Google Plus: Technical discussion

XING and LinkedIn: Professional network

Slideshare: Share professional knowledge

Twitter: Current news

Reasons why users remain on a platform.Source Ute Klingelhöfer

 

Sharing knowledge: Slideshare

The platform Slideshare offers the opportunity of uploading presentation slides and thus saves the effort of sending slides by email after events. Furthermore, the person uploading his slides profits from the very good search optimization of Slideshare, with which one can also appear high up in the Google search results.

A good talk cannot be understood through its slides alone. Therefore, don’t shy away from making your presentations available to a wider audience. Anyone following the motto “Share what you know – sell what you can!” need not fear theft of ideas.

The importance of your own website remains unshaken in spite of social networks. This is your own place on the Internet, where you alone define the use of the content. Use the website as a base for all your valuable content and avoid publishing your most valuable texts and media on social networks alone. Primarily use a blog on your website to publish your own tips and analysis.

A blog that is updated regularly also sends Google the signal that your site is well maintained, which also impacts your ranking positively. Consider the social media as the sales force of your website that work for you: After sharing the link on your social network you will gain visitors to your website without having to do much more.

Controlling ratings

The contents on rating platforms are the only ones that you as service provider can hardly influence. Your only option here is to react with a comment to ratings and thus show your presence. Use this opportunity. Companies that are interested in young skilled professionals should especially observe the reviews on kununu.com. Employers can be rated there.

Getting started

As soon as you have registered your personal profile on one of the platforms you can start observing the pages of your competitors and customers. Search specifically for your customers and connect with them through a contact request, a “like” or a subscription to company news. You will then receive regular updates. Participate in discussions and comment on the contributions of others. After this phase of familiarization you then have to formulate your objectives: What do you want to achieve and what measures and tools are appropriate for that purpose? As a technical writer it might possibly be easier for you to write blogs rather than short status messages for facebook, which should entertain the user in an original way and be particularly amusing.

Show persistence

When you start a new blog it is always advisable to prepare contributions for a month in advance, so that you don’t immediately give up when there is a lack of response at the beginning. Continuity is important, especially when you are starting and when no one yet knows what you have to offer. Think about the six to twelve contacts that are required till your offering makes a mark. Keep taking the time to comment on other blogs or to network with others and developing a fixed group of reliable interested persons. They forward your articles in their network and thus increase the span of your reach. A significant step would be that you advertise your offerings on social media. This can be through talks, in the email signature, on your business card or on the website. And, of course, during conversations that you have with a customer or an interested party.

Invest time

Plan half an hour every day, best divided in 2 x 15 or 3 x 10 minute intervals. Use the time to build and maintain your social media activities – especially at the beginning. You can also plan the publication of articles 1x/week in advance with apps such as bufferapp.com, but you must continue to invest additional time in your reactions and interactions with other contacts.

The success of your social media activities is essentially up to you: If you are serious, you plan sufficient time for it and don’t expect miracles at the beginning. You write regularly and are interested in developing contacts. If you engage on social media only because you believe you have to keep up and actually have no interest in it, this will be noticeable in what you publish as well. Naturally, success will fail to appear.

Recommendations

  • Make it clear which of your employees (which person) publishes an individual article.
  • At the beginning, concentrate on one platform, add to it only when you have found a rhythm.
  • Formulate your objectives and parameters from which you can discern the development of your channels.
  • Develop a plan of topics that gives you certainty during hectic periods.
  • Differentiate between personal and private communication: Private communication seldom happens in public on social networks, but personal communication offers an anchor for making contact.

Note

  • Every platform requires you to address your contacts individually. Give up sharing a message on all social networks with the help of a software.
  • Social Media doesn’t mean “quick” and “for free”: The good quality of your content, texts, photographs and videos matters here as well.
  • The same mode of interaction applies to social media as to personal interactions: anyone who takes the effort to not just read your content but also honors it publicly in the form of a recommendation or a personal comment expects a reaction from you.

A champion isn’t born in a day: Keep track of your content, but don’t give up immediately if an article doesn’t get any reactions. That is the rule rather than the exception: 90 percent read, 9 percent comment sometimes and only one percent of the users on social networks publish content themselves.

 

Building relationships

Acquiring personnel

Extended customer service

Advertisements for new products

Increasing brand awareness

Opportunities on social media for service providers
Source Ute Klingelhöfer

 

Achieving success

The use of social media is neither superfluous for service providers, nor will social media lose importance in future. Quite contrary, anyone who is familiar with the media and engages with them early on develops a competitive advantage. Your company has already established valuable relationships with people today, you collect experiences while dealing with the fast moving media, which you can later transfer to any platform, you ensure good positioning early and thus contribute to your search machine ranking. If you close yourself completely from social media, you forfeit the chance of connecting with your customers, who are networking more and more.

Links related to the article

[1]    XING

[2]    LinkedIn