Social Media: A Must or A Bust for Consultants?

Business was humming, yet I had heard a regular refrain that made me doubt my marketing efforts. In the era when Facebook and Twitter were taking off, people regularly asked whether I was promoting my business, books, and ideas on those platforms.

I had toyed with the idea. Each time I inventoried the pros and cons, I concluded that those often-vital marketing vehicles did not suit my business model or my professional goals at the time.

It’s no secret that social media can radically change your business’s fortunes. Plenty of consultants supercharge their fan base, their prospective client pool and their credibility—and thereby their income potential—through an active social media presence. If you are wondering how fervently to pursue this time-consuming but potentially game-changing strategy, here are some questions to consider.

What are your ultimate business goals?

If you are looking to attract a national audience, social media is a must. You can break out of your geographic area and attract clients and fans that you might never meet otherwise.

While my clients are national in scope, I am lucky enough to live in a large city, which gives me access to the prospective clients I seek. Former colleagues, fellow consultants and generous associates continue to introduce me to their networks—and I do the same for them. If you don’t have the inherent luxuries of such generous circles, you might choose to build them through social networks.

How many clients do you need to meet your annual income target?

The more clients you need, the more likely you are to need a social media presence. My business model relies on a handful of clients annually. We engage deeply and for an extended period. Don’t get me wrong, I always want a robust pool of prospects, so that both potential clients and I can be very choosy about whether we will make the best partners. I find that reaching out to them personally—in a customized way—is a powerful alternative that helps me stand out in this era when so many others rely on social media. If I needed as large a pool as, say, a career coach, I’d be all over the social networks.

smartphoneCareer coaches and the like might rely on hourly appointments with dozens of clients a month. When your business model leans on engagement with more clients than you are likely to encounter based on word-of-mouth referrals and networking, social media creates awareness and demand for your services on a scale not easily attained otherwise.

And of course, if your business employs people other than yourself, you likely have a mandate to continuously attract relatively large numbers of clients. The more employees you hire, the more social media can help you establish the presence and the volume you need to fill your sales pipeline.

Where do your potential customers hang out?

Pew research found that 78% of Americans age 30 to 49 are active on at least one social media site, as well as 64% of those age 50 to 64. Of course, those numbers are even higher for people in their 20s. So at least two-thirds of people in those key organizational decision-making age groups use social media. Fully 73% of US adults turn to YouTube for how-tos and entertainment. And well over two-thirds are active on Facebook, 74% of which log on daily.[1] These are impressive numbers that are hard to ignore.

If you’ve decided that social media fits your business model, ask yourself where you can find your clients. Can you turn a frequently asked question into a short video for YouTube? Are there groups on Facebook or LinkedIn where your prospective clients gather? Can you reach them through stories or visuals on Instagram? Twitter is a great way to reach out directly to influencers, as is LinkedIn.

What is your competition doing?

If yours is a niche already occupied by more social gurus than you can count, consider carving out space for yourself: Is there an angle, a voice or a content area that has been overlooked? If the answer is yes, then survey your target market—even if informally—to confirm the demand.

If you occupy one of the few areas that still has only a few gurus who maintain an active presence on your social media platform of choice, try to figure out the reason for that void. It’s possible that’s just not the right platform to connect with your ideal prospects, or maybe, regardless of platform, social media isn’t the right way to reach them. Either your field has been waiting for you, or there may be a distinct reason why others have opted out of social media.

Are you prepared to regularly engage with your communities?

There are three levels of social media presence: profile – having a well-crafted and complete profile on your platform of choice. Postings – sharing brief updates to posting in-depth, thought-leadership articles. And engagement – building a following and engaging within online groups and communities, either groups that others have built or a community that you build yourself. Obviously, engagement is the most time-consuming. And when it comes to your profile, the experts say to maximize credibility, make sure that your profile is complete, including a professional photo.

engagementBut even if you build a huge following on Facebook or LinkedIn, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to reach them. There’s no longer a guarantee that your carefully crafted postings will automatically show up in your followers’ newsfeeds on Facebook or LinkedIn. While the social media gurus say that the era of that sort of “organic reach” is over, postings within groups are favored by these platforms and are less likely to be filtered out by their crafty algorithms.

Doing social media well is not an activity for the faint of heart. Audiences these days crave more than information. They want to interact with you—and with each other. Whether through polls, contests or conversation, consider the degree to which you plan to interact with your communities. This engagement requires a more sustained effort than posting alone, but it does provide the opportunity for you to understand your audience’s needs and thought processes in a way that can greatly benefit your service offerings and future plans.

I know plenty of savvy consultants who calendar time for themselves to spend on LinkedIn or Facebook each day. Some engage for 20 minutes each morning. Others spend an hours-long block at least weekly to livestream content or to respond to posts. No matter your style, ensure that the time you commit is proportional to the amount you expect to get out of your efforts. It goes without saying that the competition for attention is fierce, so the more you plan to peg your business’s success on social media, the more time you will want to spend building your audience.

Based on these questions, I decided to focus solely on LinkedIn and build my profile there. I periodically repost the articles that appear here on GoingSoloGoingBig.com. And I do engage with some groups and a private LinkedIn community we set up for consulting workshop alumni. For now, that’s what makes sense for the various aspects of my business.

Don’t spread yourself thin

Social media is alluring by design. And it’s tempting to go all in – to try and be everywhere on all platforms at once. That’s a recipe for exhaustion. Do your research about where your prospects hang out – their social media platform of choice (or no platform at all). Target the most likely groups or build one of your own. And show up consistently and authentically.

There are plenty of digital carcasses all over the various social networks. The more you learn about and plan your activities, the less likely you will be to abandon your efforts. Consider what your target market desires, the vehicle(s) and the frequency with which you plan to engage them and the estimated time required. If you suspect that you will not be willing or able to devote the necessary time, you might hire someone to help tackle this part of your business.

And if all of this sounds too overwhelming for you to handle alone, consider hiring a social media specialist before you abandon the effort.

The wonderful thing about social media—and all else related to running your own business—is that there is no one answer on this issue. Plenty of people run their businesses with no social media presence and have done very well for themselves. Others tackle it and take their fields by storm. So be honest with yourself about your goals and the landscape around you, then find the best way to achieve those goals.

In many cases, your answers to the questions above might lead you to choose a social vehicle or two and get started. For most new consultants, the exposure doesn’t hurt. But if your business model relies on a small clutch of clients at any one time, if your network is strong, and you are willing to build relationships through intense one-on-one rapport, you just might be able to buck the trend.

[1] Pew Research Center. “Social Media Fact Sheet.” Retrieved January 28, 2019, from http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/social-media/