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Consultants who have practiced their trade for any length of time have likely become marketing mavens, public relations professionals and no-nonsense networkers. But in the new world of online social networking, many consultants are wondering how to take advantage of the growing phenomenon of Internet interaction.
The most popular online social networking sites for professionals—MySpace, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter—have become a regular topic of conversation in the news media and around the workplace water cooler. Jason Alba, author of I’m On LinkedIn – Now What??? (Happy About, 2007), says LinkedIn is still the most business oriented of the sites as well as the best place to find clients and meet other professionals in the field. However, regardless of which sites a consultant uses, the key with all of them is figuring out how to best use the service to strengthen business.
“I’ve used LinkedIn for about three years,” say HR consultant Steve Trautman, president of Practical Leader, Clear and Simple of Seattle. “I’ve got 230 direct connections, and I view it as a great sales tool,” he says. LinkedIn enables Trautman to keep track of former clients and contacts. That is necessary today because people are very transient, he says. “It’s remarkable how few of my contacts are still where they were when I met them. If it were not for LinkedIn, I would not be able to find and follow these contacts,” he adds.
An example occurred when LinkedIn allowed Trautman to track a former client who left a university position for a position with Cisco Systems in Boston. “I was going to Boston on a business trip, so I did a quick search for Boston-based contacts on my LinkedIn andI was surprised when this client’s name came up” because he was unaware that she had changed companies, he said. Trautman called the former client, let her know he was traveling to Boston and asked if she wanted to meet. She did, and the consultant opened the door to new business.
Study Before Pitching
Brian Kelly, president of Cost Management Services of Farmington, Conn., uses LinkedIn to get a better grasp on a potential client’s job history and expertise before pitching to them. Before meeting with an HR director in an investment firm, Kelly looked up the director’s profile on LinkedIn and saw that her current position was her first venture into human resources. By having that information, Kelly crafted a selling approach. “I knew, based on her background, that the client was not going to be as technically skilled in implementing HR solutions as someone else might be,” he said.
While using LinkedIn to research and keep track of customers is useful, Alba says, try these best practices for using social networking as a business tool:
Create a detailed profile. The first step after signing up is to create a profile consisting of a photo, a detailed summary of business background, previous jobs held, areas of expertise and specifics about the services and products offered.
Give and get recommendations. The best strategy for getting a recommendation is to give one because LinkedIn has a system that allows members to provide a personal endorsement for other members on the site. When an endorsement is left on a member’s profile, there is a button that allows the endorsee to return the favor and write one for the endorser, which happens frequently.
Ask and answer questions. A feature of most social networking sites is the ability to post questions that can be answered by the network. Consultants who answer questions create awareness of who they are and brand the consultant as an expert in that area.
Browse the contacts of your contacts. If a consultant wants to connect with a potential client who is connected to someone already in the consultant’s network, ask the third party for a referral. Alternatively, consultants can conduct an online search of the potential client to find out their contact information and inform the potential client of a mutual connection via Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace or another social networking site.
While all these actions may seem simple and insignificant, when it comes to social networking, it’s often the little things that pay off in a big way.
Karen Leland is a freelance writer based in Sausalito, Calif., and the president of Sterling Consulting Group.
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