Posted to Leigh Carver's blog on June 25th, 2013

Social Media and Lead Generation: Choose Wisely

Social media is a trend that's not going away. It has changed the way that people communicate with their friends, family, and even colleagues; new tools and enhancements are being rolled out every day to reduce complexity, enrich social experiences, and integrate social media with our everyday life.
One of the most buzzed-about facets of social media is also one of the most overwhelming opportunities it offers: that of lead generation. To clear up some of the confusion, we're publishing a three part series on how to use social media for lead generation. Today, we're going to tackle the subject of getting started by choosing a network-- and in the next weeks, we’ll discuss your messaging and content strategy, and must-have tools for removing barriers to social success.
There are dozens of social networks, mainstream and niche alike, which serve a variety of purposes. The mainstream Big Four are LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+-- the last of which is steadily gaining traction. While those networks are incredibly important and shouldn't go unattended, there are also a number of social networks dedicated to certain interest areas and industries that provide a wealth of opportunities.
For example, I'm an avid knitter. The Ravelry social network has been a great place for me to learn more about fiber arts, and I've spent quite a bit of money on yarns and patterns that I discovered on Ravelry. I would easily say that I'm far more likely to buy a yarn I see advertised if I encounter it on Ravelry than if an ad appears in the sidebar of my Facebook. I also love music, and have purchased albums I discovered on Spotify-- and I'm more likely to listen to new music recommended to me by Spotify than I am to check out a band that has a sponsored Tweet.
The above illustrates an important point that's true for every company that is looking to use social media to generate leads: know your audience, know where to find them, and know how to talk to them. There's a very important process for getting this done, which we're going to walk through now.
1. Define your ideal customer. 
Who is he (or she)? How old is she, and where is she in her career path? What is she interested in? What are her pain points? Why is your product or service the perfect solution to her problems? It's more than likely you've got multiple ideal customers. Do some research with your current clients and figure out who you want to sell to.
2. With that information, create buyer personas. 
If you're unfamiliar with the concept of a buyer persona, they are cheat sheets to help your content creation team design their messaging to your target audience. Having buyer personas is key to any marketing success.
3. Choose the networks where you are most likely to encounter your ideal customer in an ideal mindset.
I might be an ideal customer for Fabulous Francine, who spins natural-dyed yarn entirely out of free-trade yak hair, but if I encounter a plug for her delightful product while I'm on LinkedIn, it'll fly right past me. Especially for B2C groups, it's crucial to know what social niches you can inhabit and stake out your territory accordingly. If you sell B2B, LinkedIn or Twitter is likely a better place for you-- chances are if I see a post about something that's work related while I'm breezing around in my free time, I'll ignore it.
Once you know who your customer is, make sure that you can cultivate him or her in the environment where he or she will be most likely to progress through the sales funnel. If you provide a product or service that's very specific to a niche, look for dedicated social networks where you can begin developing a presence. And no matter if you're a B2B company or a B2C group, you need to make sure the Big Four are covered, as well as know what you're getting into with each network:
1. Facebook is a great place to show the human side of your company. What are you doing that is cool or fun? Companies often use Facebook to share fun photos and engage in dialogue about their products.
2. Google+ is slowly growing, and as my coworker Chris Gaffney likes to say, "it's full of really smart people." Google+ is full of clever, stimulating conversations.
3. Twitter is like the espresso shots of social media. 140 characters or less makes for a fine blend of the humorous and the serious. A great medium for distributing timely news and carrying on conversations, Twitter is a cross between a chat room and a social forum.
4. LinkedIn is the professional social network of the bunch. Networking, industry discussions, and other encounters on the path to success happen here. This is not the place for cute pictures of your cat.
Next week, we're going to discuss setting clear social media goals, content evaluation, and how to set up your lead generation program. Until then, feel free to check out some of our other resources on social media to familiarize yourself with the networks and best practices available.
What networks do you think would be appropriate for your business’s industry? Have you tried implementing any lead generation programs using social networks? Let us know in the comments.