Five years ago, the primary function of social media for businesses was community building. Today, the role of a company's presence on popular social networks has evolved to include customer service, building brand awareness, and perhaps most importantly, lead generation.
"Social media has been the great equalizer in terms of lead generation for small-business owners," said Bill Peppler, managing partner of staffing firm Kavaliro. "No longer must you be reliant on a sophisticated CRM system with thousands of contacts. You can find what you want for free through sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn."
Twitter is an especially powerful lead-generation tool, said Bernard Perrine, CEO and co-founder of small-business marketing technology firm HipLogiq. If a business owner listens for relevant conversations, he or she can engage in them and entice potential consumers.
"Twitter is unique because as a public forum it allows for intent-based marketing," Perrine told Business News Daily. "[It provides] opportunities for small businesses to join in on relevant conversations in real time, and in a personal, direct way through @Replies and popular hashtags. With the right listening tools, small businesses can easily find conversations about their product or service happening right in their neighborhood."
For example, if a local coffee shop searches for keywords like caffeine or hashtags like #needcoffee, tools such as LeadSift and HipLogiq's SocialCentiv can find tweets within the shop's vicinity and flag them, giving the shop owner an opportunity to reply directly with a special offer to get the consumer in the door. And because these tools find the consumer right when he or she is looking for the product or service — in this case a cup of coffee — chances are high that the consumer will visit the shop. [Social Media Marketing Solutions for Small Businesses]
The "favorite" button, Twitter lists, trending conversations and promoted tweets are other effective ways to generate leads on Twitter, Perrine said.
Another lead-generation tactic you can employ through social media is high-quality content marketing. A recent Business.com survey found that half of marketers want to start or already are generating leads through white paper downloads, and 40 percent are looking to invest in webinars featuring their products and services. Because many potential customers research a company before they make a purchase decision, a great piece of content discovered through the company website or social media accounts can be the determining factor in their final choice.
"Buyers are doing their own research before contacting companies," said Business.com's CEO Tony Uphoff. "Buyers expect that when they engage with a company's sales reps that it will complement the experience they've had in researching products and services online. This is why content marketing has become so valuable, both to buyers as a research tool and to advertisers as a core marketing tool."
No matter what social networks you use, it's important to remain engaged with your current and potential customers if you want to close the deal.
"Engagement is the key to sales, and social media channels give businesses a way to directly engage with [consumers]," Perrine said. "Each social network has its own type of audience and style, and businesses will find the most success if they tailor their strategy to the individual social network. With the right customized strategy, you can build communities and loyal fans who will share and retweet posts and help recruit new customers."
Originally published on Business News Daily.