Monday, February 28, 2011

Building Your Business or Professional Practice through Effective Social Networking

A Practical Guide for Corporate C-Level Executives and Private Practice Professionals

By Ned Barnett © 2011

Introduction – The Way It’s Always Been …

Having worked with C-level corporate executive and private practice professionals for more than two decades, I have learned a few key facts:

1. No matter what firm the work with – or for – at their core, the men and women who operate at the C-level in corporations, trade associations or non-profits are ultimately self-employed, in that their careers are their number-one clients. This is also true, though a bit more self-evident for private-practice professionals, even those who are members of large practice groups. Regardless of the name on the door, ultimately, their success – if any – rests with their own efforts.

2. Successful professionals and C-level executives are constantly looking for new prospects, and constantly working to convert those prospects into new clients. They know that to sit still is to lose ground to those with a bit more energy and drive – they live by Abraham Lincoln’s famous observation:

Things may come to those who wait ...

but only the things left by those who hustle …”

3. With the exception of telephones replacing telegraphs, and email replacing surface mail, nothing has really changed in the way professionals and C-level executives have sought new clients since the first stock exchange was set up when, on May 17, 1792, 24 brokers met under a buttonwood tree in lower Manhattan to create what became the New York Stock Exchange. Regardless of the nature of the profession – physician, attorney, CPA – or organization served by a C-level executive – personal and professional reputation is at the heart of their success.

4. Successful executives and professionals also know there’s got to be a better way – they are constantly looking for a new approach to finding prospects, then converting them into clients.

Which brings us to the point of this White Paper.

If you’re a private-practice professional or a major-organization C-level executive, and if you’re reading this, you know the value of hustling for prospects and clients – you know that if you don’t do it, nobody’s going to do it for you. You also know that your professional reputation – and often your personal reputation – are your most valuable assets. If you’re known and trusted, half the job’s done – but if you’re relatively unknown, mere hustling may not be enough. To bridge that gap, you know how to network and you know how to man the phones, but you also know that networking and cold calling are inherently, inefficiently retail – an approach that is as time-consuming and costly as it is ultimately, reliably effective.

As skilled as you are with traditional business-building networking approaches, you want something more efficient, more cost-effective and – over time – even more reliable than that reliably old-fashioned approach to sales.

Traditionally, that old-fashioned approach has meant burning a lot of shoe leather, and burning up a lot of phone lines, attending Rotary and other civic club meetings, buying a lot of meals and playing a lot of golf – all hoping to network yourself into yet another client or business deal. If you know how to make this time-honored networking drill work, this remains an effective way of attracting prospects, but it is hardly efficient or cost-effective. Besides, it’s what everybody does – and when you’re doing what everybody does, it’s hard to stand apart as someone special.

Social Networking – The New Technology Alternative

Thanks to the Internet – including websites and blogs and Social Media networking sites such as Facebook and Linkedin, YouTube and Twitter – it is now possible to set yourself apart from the herd, and to do so without leaving your office. Social Media make possible a relatively new kind of networking – one called Social Networking – that, when done right, sets you apart as a “Thought Leader,” otherwise known as a content-area expert. By providing content and communications, you can become someone who, in a relatively narrow area of expertise, is seen by others as being a step ahead of the pack, someone worth listening to. A Thought Leader.

Before delving into the details of Social Networking, first, here’s a brief introduction to the five secrets of Social Networking success that – when applied properly, create certain success:

a. Content: Create and present new and readily-accessible free information, “content,” that is different enough to be engaging. This sets you apart. However, make sure that your content is frequently refreshed – you need to create enough ongoing and useful content to be sure that the people who ought to be interested in what you have to say keep coming back for more.

b. Conversation: Unlike a speech you gave at the Rotary – or even a book you wrote as an acknowledged expert – Social Networking is not a top-down preaching effort. Rather, when done right, Social Networking is a peer-to-peer dialog … on steroids. To succeed, you need to not just create and present content – you must monitor this for responses from others, then answer those responses you generate. In time, you’ll find yourself at the center of a conversation. Visualize it – it should look like the expanding rings you create when you chuck a rock into a still pond – and these echoes, as they expand, bring you to the attention of people who may have missed your initial content.

c. Consistency: To be successful in Social Networking, you need to make a commitment to post both regularly and frequently. Occasional posts issued at odd intervals are insufficient for the creation of “followers” (see below) – and those followers are essential. Each tool (see below for details) needs its own frequency. Though more often is better, major White Paper can be issued just six times per year and still be effective; however, blogs should be issued at least a couple of times per week, and Tweets and Facebook comments should be published several times per day. Set a pace that is both comfortable and sustainable – if you find that even this is a challenge, look for a “ghost-writer” who can help you sustain the consistent frequency – as well as the quality – needed to grab and hold that Thought Leader position.

d. Followers: These are people who, having become interested in your content contributions, will formally identify themselves as subscribers (blogs) or friends (Facebook) or followers (Twitter, LinkedIn). Followers will become part of your virtual, online network – your personal Social Network – if you offer both useful content and vibrant two-way conversation. These followers – at least those who are the right people (i.e., potential prospects or referral sources) – will become engaged with you, even if only in their own minds, and they will then network out to their own friends and followers and spread the word … the word about you –the Thought Leader – and your useful, fresh and original content.

e. Transformation: This is the inevitable process inherent in effective Social Networking – the process of turning followers and friends into prospects, lead-sources or clients. To be ultimately effective in Social Networking – unless this is just an ego trip (which it often is, but not for people who become financially successful because of their online efforts) – you’ve got to monetize your followers, based on the content and the conversation, in a way that makes the creation of free content worth it. If you’re an investment agent, broker or advisor, this ultimately means new clients.

When you’ve embraced these five secrets of Social Networking success, you will have created for yourself a persona as a subject area content expert – a “thought leader.” You will have transformed yourself, in your online persona – in your own special area of expertise – into someone who people looking for answers will turn to for advice, insight and business support. That’s the initial, primary goal of your Social Networking efforts. Once you’re seen as a Thought Leader, a content expert, a “guru,” you should have no trouble turning followers into prospects, and prospects into clients.

Keep this in mind – nobody will become a follower unless they have a personal interest in your area of specialization. Some followers will be colleagues, for sure, but most will be potential clients who are looking for reliable answers to very specific questions. If you answer those questions, you’ll earn their trust. They will then turn – as prospects always do – to someone they trust to provide the services they’re looking for.

Getting Practical – Tools for Social Networking Transformation

To become a Thought Leader, even before you start producing the content that will lead people to find you, you’ll need to create several essential Social Networking infrastructure tools. These include:

1. A website – pick a URL that reflects yourself, your business and your proposed Thought Leadership position (such as or, then create the site in your persona as Thought Leader, then populate it with initial copy reflecting this expertise. See below for an outline of such a website.

2. An email address, linked to the URL, so you can communicate in the persona to be created by the website.

3. A blog-site on Blogger or WordPress – each has benefits and shortcomings – however, Blogger ( is both easier to use and linked to Google (the parent company) ensuring that it will be easily “searched.”

4. A Facebook BUSINESS account (which is different from the personal account). When you create the Business Account, make sure that your personal account – assuming you have one – isn’t sharply at odds with the business one. Too many people sabotage their business image by portraying a playboy image on their Facebook personal account. Remember, if you put it online, they will find it.

5. A Twitter account, linked to the Facebook BUSINESS account. Using a Facebook app, you can link the two accounts together, so Tweets to your Twitter Followers will also reach your Facebook friends. As noted above, the “conversation” is critical to Social Networking success, and both Twitter and Facebook are ideal forums for engaging in the “conversation.”

6. A LinkedIn account – LinkedIn is more business-oriented than is Facebook – though not as popular or widely used. It is an excellent place to network, and it is ideal as a means of establishing your Thought Leadership position.

7. Google searches related to our parallel topics to keep posted on breaking news, blog posts, etc. You will want to seek out others who blog on your subjects – then periodically add thoughtful and respectful comments (respectful especially if you disagree) to their own blogs. This is part of the “conversation” noted above.

8. A YouTube network set up to host videos, should you choose to venture into the realm of video blogs (highly recommended IF you can present yourself well on camera). If you have stage fright, or are uncomfortable reading your blog on camera, don’t go the YouTube route – but if you’re comfortable in front of others – perhaps as a platform speaker – then YouTube is a “must.”

There may be other infrastructure tools you’ll need later on, but to begin the process, this should be sufficient. For instance, once you’ve created a strong pool of committed followers, you may want to look at installing a “BuddyPress” captive social network within the website. BuddyPress is a useful free tool created by the WordPress folks that allows you to create a virtual affinity group (i.e., a business “fan club”) on your website – but that is definitely a “down the road” addition useful only to those who are truly committed to an aggressive implementation of Social Media methods and tactics.

Getting Started – Implementing Social Networking Tools

To put these foundational tools into place, here are the steps you’ll need to follow:

A. Create a plan of action – including the topics you’ll cover, the frequency of your various posts, the signposts you’ll look for on the road to success, etc. This does not need to be detailed, but it will prove useful in keeping you focused.

B. Create the foundational tools noted above, then begin creating basic content for the sites as needed.

C. White Papers:

a. On a schedule identified in the Plan, write periodic White Papers of from five to twenty-five pages, each focused on a specific portion of the expertise that will, collectively, elevate you into thought leadership. If you’re not entirely clear on what, exactly, constitutes a White Paper, consider that you’re reading a White Paper right now. Note the style, the outline (major sections, sub-sections), and the pacing. Note how this takes you from broad concept to specific details – then adapt the outline and approach to your own subject matter.

b. Use graphic layout and letterhead to give some formality to the White Paper. Don’t be shy about including graphics if these are appropriate. Include your contact information and hot-link URLs to your website and blog site (see below).

c. Produce the White Papers as PDF documents (to make them less likely to be modified and “borrowed” without permission) and note on them that they can be reprinted or used (without change) with permission, to encourage others to share them widely.

d. Offer them as free downloads from your website – and include a link to them in your blogs, especially blogs based on the White Papers.

D. eBooks: Publishing and distributing eBooks will position you as an “author” in a way that blogs and White Papers can never do. Both prospects/clients and even the news media will see you as inherently more credible for having published books.

a. Pull together a collection of White Papers (minimum 36-50 pages when paginated, with lengths up to 250 pages possible) into a thematic eBook that will then be offered as free downloaded content.

b. Lay the text out in book format (pagination, illustrations, cover, etc.) – and don’t be shy about using graphs, used-with-permission photos and other illustrations to dress up the eBook.

c. Post eBooks for free downloads – these become the ultimate in free content, as well as a great credibility builder

d. Down the road, you can pull together a set of from three to five eBooks into the manuscript for a full-length to-be-published printed book. This book would be offered as both a not-free printed and e-book published book. Do this only if you believe that the printed book will either be a useful sales tool or if you honestly believe that the printed book would sell in quantities sufficient to justify the printing costs.

E. PR and Press Releases:

a. Create under-400-word press releases to announce your White Papers – this will help attract readers and build your reputation at the same time.

b. Set up a free account for BusinessWire, then use this fee-based service for distributing press releases promoting your White Papers – and, down the road, your eBooks. Do not use a “national” distribution – ask them for the most local (and most inexpensive) geographic distribution for your release.

c. If you have no experience in placing press releases, ask your BusinessWire account representative to walk you through the process – they are unfailingly helpful and willing to work with you.

d. PR – use professional Public Relations techniques to help generate followers and online “buzz” for your thought leadership White Papers, eBooks and Blogs. Here are some PR techniques you can use.

i. Monitor breaking news in your thought leadership niche-market news space

ii. Write and post short, pithy blogs related to breaking news you find

iii. If you also use video blogs as well as written blogs, create video blogs related to breaking news and post them on YouTube and your website.

iv. Seek out others’ blogs writing in your thought leadership niche market space (use Google Search to find them) and comment on them as appropriate

F. Blogs: These blogs will be the core of your ongoing communications with your followers and friends, as well as those who might become followers down the road. While White Papers and eBooks are ‘bigger’ and ‘more impressive,’ blogs are your most important thought-leadership communications tools. In these, you’ll take elements of White Papers, or breaking news, or some “issue” and articulate your views in chunks of 250-to-750 words – short enough to be easily read, yet long enough to make an important point, one worth reading and remembering. Here’s how to proceed:

a. Write a set of blogs, based on each White Paper, that break it down into bite-sized thought-chunks. Typically, a ten-page White Paper will yield half a dozen useful blogs, each visiting in a more conversational tone one of the important points within the White Paper. Sometimes, a White Paper might yield as many as 25 blogs – but for that, you’ll need a longer and more detailed White Paper.

b. When I write blogs based on my White Papers, I typically write all of the appropriate blogs, based on the White Papers, as soon as the White Paper has its final edit, and before I post it. I also generally write the two or three promotional tweets that go with each blog at the time I write the blogs, then load the Tweets into TweetDeck (see below) to be issued at a later date. While I don’t use them, there are tools available for managing and scheduling the posting of blogs which work a lot like TweetDeck.

c. Write blogs based on breaking news and other relevant topics not linked to the White Papers. Because business and the professions are heavily-regulated and intimately linked to national economic recovery initiatives, you might be tempted to write politically-themed blog-posts. Remember, some clients may not share your political beliefs – so venture into this realm cautiously, eyes-open.

d. Should you venture into creating political blog-posts, you can create a parallel blog-site at to more effectively reach the political audience likely to be interested in an investment agent, broker or advisor’s views of the implications of state and federal regulation of investment products and services.

e. Seek out investment-related blog-sites and either create a parallel blog-site within that domain or offer “guest blog” posts to the blog-sites. This is an excellent way of spreading the word – and you can often just re-publish previously-created blogs – and attracting new followers.

G. Video Blogs: As noted above, you should not venture into video blogs unless you’re comfortable in front of a camera. In video blogs, style is as important as substance (something you won’t face in printed blogs), so only use this if you can create a good, straightforward and technically-competent video, and only if you’re comfortable and effective on camera. No video blog is infinitely preferable to no video blog at all.

a. If you go the video route, in addition to posting them on your website, create a YouTube network to house your growing collection of videos.

b. Create video blogs based on written blogs – including both White Paper-linked blogs and breaking-news blogs.

c. Invite satisfied clients to create testimonial blogs – these are far more powerful than printed testimonials, and far more believable as well. Post them on YouTube and on your website.

H. Blog Comments: Commenting on others’ blogs, as noted above, is an important and effective way of attracting new friends-and-followers online, by showcasing your insights in front of audiences others have already created for their blogs. Only comment on blogs that are in the same basic market niche you’re embracing as a fledgling thought leader – don’t shotgun this approach.

a. First, use Google Search and Twitter to find others who are blogging on your niche-market topic area.

b. Monitor those blogs – looking for opportunities to offer intelligent comments.

c. Whenever appropriate, comment on the blogs – see (f) below for how to comment.

d. Monitor these blogs and your comments for further comments, and remain engaged – if someone answers you, engage that comment with one of your own.

e. Remain professional in all comments – don’t be drawn into an emotional debate.

f. In every comment, you want to advance the discussion. Either agree with the host blog, then add a useful additional point or two – or, respectfully disagree and make from one to three brief points. Don’t ramble, don’t filibuster, and don’t pontificate. Show respect, show insights, back up your statements and remain conversational.

I. As noted above, post Tweets, as well as comments on Facebook and LinkedIn. This should be a daily – ideally a several-times-daily – process. These should cover the following – remember, you’re part of a conversation:

a. From one to three (per day) Tweets and posts offering brief insights into your primary topic, based on your professionalism

b. At least once a day, create one Tweet and other posts with a link to a third-party source offering information you’d like to share

c. Retweet at least one useful post a day – five would be better, as it keeps you engaged, but once per day is the minimum.

d. Post at least one “personal” (i.e., not professional) account per day. This doesn’t have to be “intimately personal” – in fact, it shouldn’t be. However, the point is to show your humanity. Some recent effective personal Tweets I’ve posted include the note that Las Vegas had freezing rain and snow-covered mountains in all directions, and another was a link to a particularly funny Dilbert cartoon. Your goal here is to humanize yourself to your friends and followers.

e. At least once a day – and as often as you can justify it – tweet a respond-all comment to one of the people you follow. This really helps advance the idea that Social Networking is all about the conversation.

f. Always reply to everyone who replies to you. This is common courtesy, as well as the best possible way of keeping the conversation moving forward.

J. More on Twitter: There are tools available – some free, such as TweetDeck, and some with nominal fees, such as HootSuite – which allow you to manage your tweeting to control the time it takes. Here are a few hints:

a. I use TweetDeck to post my ongoing professional-tips tweets (I post three-per-day during weekdays and once mid-day Saturdays), and load them in a month in advance, freeing me up to concentrate on the more timely tweets and reducing my overall time.

b. I have my Twitter account linked to my Blackberry, allowing me to monitor, post and reply to Tweets even when I’m away from my office and my computer.

c. I have my Twitter account linked to my Facebook account, so all of my Tweets populate my Facebook account as well. Of course, I post other items on Facebook which aren’t Tweeted, but in this way I generate more content on Facebook (which reaches a different audience) without additional effort.

K. Work LinkedIn forums/discussions related to your primary Thought Leader market-niche topic focus, adding comments, starting threads and engaging in the conversation there.

L. Create an email database of followers who opt-in for emails by contacting you on your website (as well as those who give you business cards at real-world networking events).

a. Send them links to White Papers, blogs and other content products (including video blogs).

b. Periodically encourage them to follow you on various social media.

c. Issue special breaking-news alerts (keep your followers apprised via email as well as social media of what’s happening in your market-niche Thought Leader space).

M. Website: Though it’s listed last – because it’s not a new “Social Networking” concept – your website must be at the heart of your online (and off-line) marketing and promotional efforts. If you don’t already have a website, in the beginning keep it simple and to the point.

If you already have a website, take a moment to review the content recommended below, then ensure that your existing website includes this material. If you don’t have a website, use this as a conceptual template for creating one at FatCow or one of the other hosting sites that provides easy-to-use, plug-and-play website templates.

A. Home Page – here you present basic information about you and your services, along with links to the major sub-pages (which tie into your Social Networking efforts).

· Who you are

· What you do

· Who you serve

· What you offer

Page Link Menu (on home page) with links to all of the other pages noted below)

B. About you and your vision (your position) – this defines who you are as a business person – it is the essence of who you are in the eyes of your clients and prospects.

C. Product Page – Samples of What You Provide (links or downloadable as PDFs) of the services you offer as an Investment professional

D. Social Networking Communications Tools: Here you link to or provide downloads for your Social Networking tools:

1. White Papers (pdf downloads) and eBooks (when available)

2. Case Studies

3. Blogs

4. Video blogs

5. Blog Comments

6. Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn (encourage visitors to follow you on these various sites)

E. Testimonial Page – Kudos and endorsements

F. E-Commerce Page – buy now! – this would apply if you have something to sell online (unlikely, but possible)

G. Contact – how to get hold of you

Conclusion – Getting It Right

Social Networking is not hard – if you’re in sales, you’re already a superb communicator, and as noted, Social Networking is all about content and communications. If you want to become a Thought Leader, you already have the intellectual tools to do it. What you need now is the commitment to carry forward – which means regular communications.

Unless you hand off the actual creation of the content and the placement of the posts to a “virtual ghost-writer” – someone in your employ or an outside consultant – you have to commit to creating content on the schedule noted above. You also have to commit to spending time each day on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Rather than this being a chore, you may soon find that it’s a pleasure – potentially even an addictive pleasure (and at that point, the challenge will be to control and limit your time online, rather than finding time to post and monitor your posts).

However, the payoff is remarkable. You can be seen as a Thought Leader within a matter of weeks or months (depending on how regular and frequent you make your posts), and from there, it is a short step to creating fans, advocates, referral sources, prospects and clients – and more business. Remember, this is a business venture, rather than a game or a play-time. It is far less costly than traditional advertising – or even public relations – and the results can be all out of proportion with your cost investment, or even your time investment.

But it’s up to you – more than any other kind of marketing except for face-to-face networking – success in Social Networking depends on your interest and your commitment.

So, are you game to give it a go? The Internet is waiting …