Consultants Generate, Leverage Word-of-Mouth Online

By Lin Grensing-Pophal, SPHR Sep 10, 2010

For HR consultants, the best marketing tool is referrals and recommendations. Positive word-of-mouth is everything. In fact, a recent study conducted by Clemente Communications Group, LLC, in Glen Rock, N.J., “Consulting and Professional Service Firm Hiring by U.S. Middle-Market Companies,” revealed that 44.4 percent of companies hiring consultants turn to information searches to find information about firms or individual practitioners.

What does this mean for HR consultants? It means that in addition to using their own web site, they need to pursue other means of getting the word out about their services and their expertise through other channels. Some possibilities include:

  • Contributing guest blog posts to relevant sites.
  • Publishing articles in respected trade and professional journals targeted to their key markets.
  • Being active in relevant online forums and groups through trade and professional associations and social media outlets like LinkedIn, which is particularly relevant for business audiences.

J.T. O’Donnell is founder and president of CAREERREALISM.com, and a former staffing industry executive. She left the corporate world in 2001 to start her private career coaching and workplace consulting practice and now has a Top 10 career blog that draws more than 40,000 readers a month, 34,000 Twitter followers and a weekly subscriber base of more than 14,000. How has she done it? By leveraging the power of the Internet and using a technique she calls “social looping”—the process of leveraging social media tools to attract audiences and build authority via online presence.

“Veteran salespeople know one thing to be true,” said O’Donnell. “It takes about 90 contacts, on average, to turn a complete stranger into a customer.” Customers need multiple experiences to build trust, she said. The Internet and social media provide “incredible opportunities to reach potential customers we never had an opportunity to reach before, and to build relationships faster and more effectively by speeding up the process and having more contacts with them,” she said.

The Power of the Web

Gina Abudi has leveraged a number of online tools to raise her awareness online and to build a strong network of followers—and clients. Abudi is partner/vice president of strategic solutions for Peak Performance Group, Inc., in Glouchester, Mass., and is active online through her blog and participation in social media, including LinkedIn and Twitter. Blogging has been a great source of clients, she said, but even HR consultants who don’t feel they have the time, talent or tenacity to maintain a blog can increase their exposure online through their web sites and participation in social media, she said.

Donna Rogers, M.Ed., SPHR, president of Rogers HR Consulting in Springfield, Ill., agrees. Rogers launched her business about 10 years ago and her web site about five years ago. Recently she updated her web site, which “definitely needed some updating,” she said. Rogers is active on LinkedIn and has been exploring the use of Twitter and Facebook after attending the Society for Human Resource Management Leadership Conference in 2009.

Like Abudi, she blogs. As their experiences demonstrate, there is no shortage of options for generating online exposure.

A web site is an important tool for any HR consultant. But, it’s no longer enough, say those who have become active online. Web sites, blogs, YouTube accounts, participation in the “big three” of social media—Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn: These tools tend to represent the package of activities that HR consultants need to consider when attempting to establish an online presence to help generate awareness and drive word-of-mouth. Clearly, though, these options can represent a lot of work.

Finding the Time

Gregory J. Michaud, Ph.D., is principal and founder of Bradford Hill Associates in North Andover, Mass. “I think it can be overwhelming, especially for a new consultant,” said Michaud. With so many options to choose from and so many different approaches to take, it can be tough to know where to begin, he said. But, starting small and sticking to the basics can help, he added.

Abudi agrees. HR consultants might want to pick just one area of focus, she suggested. Abudi recommends LinkedIn. “Participate in discussions … and generate regular status updates,” she said.

“Be a part of whatever groups there are in LinkedIn that have to do with your specialty, and be an active participant,” added Michaud. “When someone has a question, you’re there with an answer.”

While it can all seem overwhelming, and an obvious question from many an HR consultant is: “How can I possibly find the time to do all this?” there are some tips and best practices that can simplify the process.

Abudi monitors coverage of HR issues in a range of publications, including The Wall St. Journal and The New York Times. When she spots something interesting, she posts about it, linking it to a client project or case study to generate interest. She might link to or refer to a case study from her web site.

In addition, she uses Google Reader to help her stay on top of items being posted on various sites. For example, Google Reader alerts her when there’s a new question posted on LinkedIn in one of her areas of interest so she can choose to go to the site to provide a response.

And, of course, leveraging material from one place to use in another can be useful. Pulling information from blog posts to include in e-newsletters, for instance. Or using items from an e-newsletter in a status update or tweet.

Whatever they do online, HR consultants need to make a commitment to keep it going. “Where I see so many companies going wrong is building strategies and then forgetting all about them,” said O’Donnell. “If people aren’t seeing fresh content, fresh tweets and fresh posts, they’re never going to come back.” HR consultants desiring to build an online presence need to commit to maintaining that presence, she said. “You have to keep the foot on the gas; it has to stay fresh or it will die.”

A Process for Getting Started

Allison Aiken is with Carolina PR/Marketing, Inc., in Columbia, S.C. The firm works with clients to help them leverage their online activities and keep up with the latest news in health care and information technology. Her advice:

  • Define your goals for social media. What do you want to accomplish?
  • Create key messages that will drive the content you post.
  • Research what others are doing.
  • Define what social media success looks like. “Do you want key media following your Twitter account? Is there a specific number of followers you want on Facebook?

Finally, don’t be afraid to “give it away.” “Web 2.0, especially, is all about reciprocity,” said Michaud. “The more you give away, the more people come back, I find.”This might be somewhat counterintuitive and difficult initially for HR consultants to do because, after all, they make a living by charging for their expertise, but it is the way of the web. “It’s all about gaining respect and authority, and you do that by showcasing your knowledge and being a resource,” said O’Donnell. Importantly, HR consultants can do that more readily and less expensively than ever before.

The Internet is a great tool to equal the playing field in this way for HR consultants, said O’Donnell. “You can really compete with any size organization,” she said. “All you need to do is prove that you know what you’re talking about.” Yes, establishing a presence and generating positive word-of-mouth in the Web 2.0 environment can be time-consuming. But the efforts can really pay off say those who have learned through their experiences.

Lin Grensing-Pophal, SPHR, is a Wisconsin-based business journalist with HR consulting experience in employee communication, training and management issues.

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