Strengthening Customer Relationships Using Social Media
You might be unsure what social selling is, but it’s going on around you all the time. Most likely, you've even participated in it yourself.
Social selling is more than just a buzz word. In fact, research shows that 89 percent of professional salespeople believe social networking platforms are vital for making and closing deals. 
And it can be useful to understand the "ins and outs" of social selling, even if you don't work in sales. Think about the last time you connected with someone on LinkedIn or followed a brand on Facebook – that's a glimpse of social selling.
In this article, we'll take a deeper look at what social selling is, and how it can benefit you and your organization.
What Is Social Selling?
Social selling is the process of finding and connecting with new customers, and building relationships with them, using social networking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
According to author and corporate educator, Marie Wiese, "The new sales funnel is about sharing valuable content that your buyer cares about and creating meaningful connections with them. At its most basic level, social selling is about selling the way you, as an individual, buy." 
Although it can be a slow process to establish, it is far more robust and often more effective than "quick hits" such as social advertising or cold calling.
The Difference Between Social Selling and Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing raises awareness of your brand and products with the aim of attracting potential prospects, while social selling is needed to convert these prospects into buying customers.
Social selling uses social media platforms to engage sales prospects and develop relationships with them. If your social selling activities are successful, a potential customer will tend to choose your product or service when they're ready to make a purchase.
Does Social Selling Really Work?
Social selling can be highly effective in comparison with other, more traditional sales channels, if used in the right way. In fact, 90 percent of top decision-makers admit that they usually ignore cold calls, but use social media as part of their decision-making process. 
In order to be effective, social selling must deliver authentic, timely content that's valuable to potential buyers. According to research, over 80 percent of business-to-business (B2B) buyers said that good social media content influenced their buying decisions. 
One of the biggest benefits of social selling is that it's relatively easy and cheap to do. Most social media activity is free, and can require as little as a 5-10 percent investment of your time to be successful, even if it takes a little while for that success to manifest itself. 
The Nine Stages of Effective Social Selling
Use this nine-step process to set up an effective social selling program in your organization:
1. Do Your Research
It's no use having a great social selling program if no one can see it. So your first step is to identify where, on social media, your customers are most likely to be active.
Seek out online discussion groups or forums appropriate to your industry, and start building a presence on the social media platforms that matter most to your prospective buyers.
Use Search Engine Optimization (SEO) effectively to ensure that your content rises to the top of feeds. And monitor interactions with your posts using tools like Google Analytics. These can provide valuable insights into how your customers are interacting with you and your brand online.
If you want to target particular groups of customers or key demographics, it can be useful to spend some time Developing Personas. Essentially these are archetypes of the customers you want to connect with, enabling you to understand more about their likes, dislikes and behaviors – so that you can target your content and communications more effectively.
2. Get the Right People Involved
Decide who your key stakeholders are. You'll likely need to prove the business case for social selling to senior managers before going ahead with it, so it's essential you know who these key players are.
Your marketing colleagues may well already have a social media strategy in place. So, be sure to work closely with them to discuss how you can extend this to social selling. Where in the customer journey does marketing stop and selling begin?
You'll also need to agree who's going to create the content. Will there be dedicated content producers? Or will you be able to contribute too?
3. Build a Professional Brand
Customers need to know that they can trust you. This goes way beyond simply being aware of what you offer. You need to establish a strong professional brand, with a clear statement of what you do, an engaging visual presence, and coherent messaging.
Make your organization's values clear, and demonstrate how you live up to them. Remember that every single thing you do on social media – from posting videos to liking a comment – counts toward the final goal of building strong, genuine relationships that will ultimately yield sales. So be professional and polite at all times.
Be sure to check out your organization's social media strategy, if it has one. This should provide guidelines on how to present yourself and your brand effectively and ethically. This is particularly important if you're using your personal channels too.
4. Put Value Over Volume
Give people a reason to follow you by sharing your expertise, following key influencers, and offering thoughtful solutions that provide real value to your customers. Your content should be concise, informative, and leave the prospect wanting more.
Only contact your customers when you have something to say that they will have a genuine interest in. Pestering them with posts that lack clear purpose or filling up their inbox with request after request is not social selling – it's spamming – and you'll likely lose prospects because of it.
5. Think About Your Audience
Business-to-Consumer (B2C) customers will mostly be buying and using your content themselves. So, if this is your target audience, create snappy, informal content that engages their attention and addresses issues they're likely facing.
Avoid dry, formal, hard-selling style at all costs! For example, you could produce a weekly "Top Tips" blog or post a "Tip of the Day" that focuses on a common problem – and demonstrates how you can help people to solve it.
If it's Business to Business (B2B) customers you want to reach out to, remember that they are almost always buying on behalf of other end users. And they likely need to justify major purchases to the C-suite. This means that they'll want all the answers! For them, your content needs to be more detailed and data-driven. It needs to make the case for your knowledge, competence and trustworthiness.
6. Build Your Network
Be proactive, think laterally, and use your contacts to widen your brand reach even further. Join new social media groups or forums, share your success stories, and actively grow your network. And if you're comfortable doing so, share publicly available content on your personal social media profile too.
If you do decide to use your personal account to share social selling content, be sure to consider the impact this may have on any brand campaigns that your organization may be running at the time.
7. Be Patient
Social selling is a slow, involved process that requires a lot of patience. It's about building relationships over time. Some customers will need to read five pieces of content before engaging with you and your product, so be consistent and give them a reason to commit. 
8. Communicate One-on-One
Direct contact with your customers allows you to build up professional relationships more quickly and effectively, even when it involves negative feedback. This is because it's easier to provide instant feedback to customers when they contact you. So be sure to listen and respond (in a timely manner) to comments that you receive on the content that you share via social media.
It can be helpful to have a formal process in place for handling social media criticism. And, in fact, demonstrating that you're willing to engage with customers, no matter what their feedback is, can help you to strengthen relationships that might initially appear broken.
9. Measure Your Success
Most platforms offer a ton of metrics that organizations can use to track customer interactions and to gain insight into user experience. You can discover who your social media followers are by demographic group and location, for example. Or find out how many stay to read your content or watch a video. Most importantly, you can see how many make the full journey from prospect to customer.
Use these learnings to tailor the content and messages that you send out via social media. For example, if you find that most customers only watch a small proportion of your videos before turning off, perhaps it's best to invest in short-form content, rather than spending huge amounts on long videos that no one is watching to the end.
You can use LinkedIn's Social Selling Index to measure the success of your social selling activities by assessing them against four key areas:
- Establishing a professional brand.
- Making contact with the right prospective customers.
- Providing engaging content.
- Building strong relationships.
Ultimately, social selling is about harnessing the power of social media platforms to find your customers and develop meaningful and – importantly – lucrative relationships with them.
This is best achieved by producing high-quality social media content that interests and engages them, and that demonstrates your value as a brand.
There are nine key steps you can follow to set up a successful and effective social selling program in your organization:
- Do your research.
- Get the right people involved.
- Build a professional brand.
- Put value over volume.
- Think about your audience.
- Build your network.
- Be patient.
- Embrace one-on-one communication.
- Measure your success.
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