When PR agency Harvey & Hugo lost a third of its financial sector clients at the start of the first lockdown, owner Charlotte Nichols took to social media for salvation.
“I was panicking,” she says. “But as I sat on my sofa in my pyjamas, I began to rekindle my love for social media. It had helped me build my business after launching in 2009 and once again it was winning new clients.”
Charlotte was social prospecting, using social media and online networks to identify, research and engage with prospective new customers and sales opportunities.
“When we first launched, I followed Twitter hashtags from our region and built up a little community of potential clients. I created website content and shared little snippets on social media,” she explains. “As time went on even though we created good content we became complacent in generating leads. Last March I researched which sectors were doing well and started prospecting again. This is something any start-up can do.
Building up prospects
Phil Hawkins, founder and director of social media agency Colour Me Social, says the first step is determining who you are going to target and which social media channel you will find them on. This includes Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok, which apart from keeping families entertained over the pandemic with ping-pong videos, has created TikTok For Business, helping SMEs create stories and set up ads on the site.
There are several social prospecting tools entrepreneurs can use, including LinkedIn Premium with its unlimited searches on potential prospects and Ninja Outreach which can find social media influencers. But it is also about just getting on Twitter and LinkedIn and searching for keywords and topics relevant to your business.
“Look through the posts and comments to find conversations that you can join,” advises Phil. “Join LinkedIn groups and share advice. Show yourself as a helpful expert.”
Charlotte says ‘listening’ on social media can also help uncover opportunities such as people asking for recommendations in your sector. “There may be a complaint from a customer giving you an opportunity to approach them,” she explains. “Hopefully, you will soon build up a list of prospects who you follow and who follow you.”
Engaging potential customers
The next stage is engaging the prospects. “Don’t give it the ‘hard sell’. Instead, do it softly through liking their content and putting up your own articles, thought leadership pieces or case studies,” Charlotte explains. “You need to build trust and credibility. Without that it will be hard to progress to sale.”
You need to research where and when your target consumes their media. Typically, Facebook and Instagram are very video and image-led, whilst blogs and whitepapers work best on LinkedIn.
Jonathan Wagstaffe, tech entrepreneur and visiting fellow at Cranfield University, advises following the BBC’s founding principles. “It is about educating, informing and entertaining,” he says. “Think about the 20 questions you get asked a lot as a business and develop content pieces which answer them. This should lead to questions from prospects about what your product is. The key is to get potential customers talking about you.”
Securing the deal
The final stage is turning the prospects into new business. “In the old world I would invite prospects offline to meet up and have a coffee. What are they looking for?” says Charlotte. “They may not want to do business now but if they are the right client then keep trying both on and offline.”
That contact is especially important now that those face-to-face coffees seem a distant memory.
“It’s important to remind people that you are here,” Charlotte says. “Be human, genuine and authentic. Sometimes on social media you can forget you are talking to real people. Alongside our educational content we have also introduced the lockdown diary of my dog Hugo playing scrabble and eating noodles.”
Phil says building such a personal brand is fundamental both now and post-pandemic. “People buy people,” he says. “Be yourself, post regularly and be patient and social prospecting can help your business grow.”
The opinions expressed by third parties are their own and not necessarily shared by St. James’s Place Wealth Management.