Social Media for Professional Services – It’s time to Engage your Audience (Part I)

By Ken Schmitt, President, TurningPoint Executive Search

The Gallup Organization defines an engaged employee as someone “who is fully involved in, and enthusiastic about their work, and thus will act in a way that furthers their organization’s interests.” In many respects, the relationship between a business and a customer is very similar – a business wants to provide a product or service that will create enough enthusiasm to encourage the customer to act in a way that furthers the organization’s interests.

Historically, businesses have relied on traditional media to create engagement with their customers. Print ads, radio and TV spots, direct mail, email campaigns and corporate sponsorships have dominated marketing budgets for decades. However, these platforms are one-dimensional. They speak at customers, rather than engage with them. As a result, most traditional outreach methods deliver unpredictable results, ranging from a one to 20% response rate.

Enter social media!

Not long after the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s, new ways to interact with customers began to creep into our daily lives. Websites like Napster, MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and nearly 250,000 other social media sites sprang into existence. Marketing campaigns evolved rapidly from offering a simple business phone number to featuring social media icons, encouraging customers to like, follow or friend the business online.

For businesses, every like, follow, or friend, is an opportunity to provide a brand experience that connects with customers, and that experience is important. According to a 2009 survey by, 91% of consumers trust an online referral over a traditional ad. Further, a recent study by marketing firm Constant Contact and research company Chadwick Martin Bailey shows that Facebook fans are 56% more likely to recommend a “liked” product to their friends. As customers enjoy positive interactions with a brand, they engage more and share their experience with friends, family and colleagues. Social media has powered up the value of word of mouth marketing.

While most B2C companies including consumer retailers, restaurants and hotels have successfully leveraged social media, professional service firms (PSFs) have been slow to adopt this new form of marketing, citing the challenges of reaching the B2B market. Only recently have these PSFs begun to commit more resources to social media to reach their target market. In a recent survey conducted by B2B Content Marketing, of the Top 10 marketing tactics used by PSF firms, social media is #1 with 80% of respondents using this platform.

I recently presented to a group of partners from a large, San Diego-based PSF, focusing on the opportunities to engage their clients through social media. Surprisingly, while 83% of these partners maintained a LinkedIn profile, only 41% of these profiles included a link to their firm’s website, and not a single profile was 100% complete.

“It’s important to think of your online presence as your digital shelf space,” I explained, “The more products – or data points – you offer online, the greater the likelihood for your potential customers to find you. Every online update, whether it’s made on a LinkedIn personal page or company page, a Twitter account, a Facebook page, a blog or an article, represents an increase in this shelf space, allowing you to engage with your target audience.”

IBM understands the importance of creating a digital footprint. In a recent article by FastCompany, the company takes this idea of social media one step further, discussing their new commitment to becoming a “social business.” Ethan McCarty, Senior Manager of Digital and Social Strategy at IBM says, “Since IBM no longer sells consumer products, the brand experience for IBM is an experience with an IBMer.” IBM has assigned champions or experts to each web page, allowing for direct engagement with each customer who visits a particular page on their site. McCarty goes on to say, “Good conversation creates good outcomes and that brings value to the organization and to the individual.”

Over the last few years, other PSFs including Deloitte, Booz Allen, Baker & McKenzie, Mercer, and Thomson Reuters have jumped to the forefront of the social media platform. They have embraced the value of building a sustainable brand by engaging their employees, alumni, customers and prospects with market intelligence, Top 10 lists, industry trends, survey results and success stories.

This is great news for all PSFs. And although any PSF – whether they are boutique or Fortune 100 – can build an online following without a big budget or a dedicated staff, it ‘s a bit more challenging to engage this following without a defined strategy and a minimal amount of resources.

In Part II we will discuss 10 easy and cost effective steps every PSF should take to engage their target audience and create “solution evangelists.”

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