Social Media Factors in Consulting

    1 FREE Audiobook RISK-FREE from AudibleSocial media is a fairly new phenomenon that has taken the world by storm.  There are few people who haven’t jumped on this bandwagon in Big_Likeone form or another.  This has created some big opportunities for consultants and some pitfalls that they need to be aware of to make sure that they use it wisely.  This week we will discuss social media and how it affects consultants and the consulting industry in general.

    1. How has social media changed consulting?
      1. It’s changed it from many aspects.  It allows consultants – whether they’re large multi-national firms or an independent consultant – to get their message out to more people more easily.
      2. Consultants now have outlets that allow them to publish free content and promote it on all of their social media sites.  This can be done with an account in the name of the firm and through individual accounts.
      3. For instance, when my consulting firm Geneca publishes a blog, they go out on their own Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media accounts to promote the new article and get the word out to their followers.
      4. They also let our internal team know that it’s out there and many of us promote the blog to our followers on those and some other social media accounts.
      5. From that, the people that we’ve promoted the blog to will read it and, if they like it and want to share it further, they may retweet it or share it through some other form of social media.
      6. It isn’t just for blogs and articles either.  A firm can create a video and promote it the same way.  If it works to their advantage, the video goes viral and people keep sharing and re-sharing on down the line.
      7. But this marketing approach is just one facet of how social media has affected consulting. Like many other industries, it has really turned consulting on its ear.  It has changed the way firms and individual consultants share their information.  It’s changed the way prospective clients seek out a consultant.
      8. Let’s just consider the big three in social media.  There’s LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.  These are considered the minimum sites a consulting firm should be on.
      9. If a company is considering doing business with a firm, they may start following them on Twitter and LinkedIn and ‘Like’ them on Facebook.
      10. This allows them to kind of monitor or watch the firm to learn more about what they do, how they do it and let’s them decide whether the consulting firm is a good fit for them.
    2. What do consultants need to consider with social media?
      1. Well, it can be a double-edged sword.  Social media has created an environment where we have much more public personas.  More people are more aware of us and what we do.
      2. The downside is that more people are more aware of us and what we do. This is particularly an issue for individuals.  Whether you’re an independent consultant or just an employee of a firm, you want to make sure you’re consistent and credible and that you’re not offensive to a large number of people.
      3. I’ll go back to the example I mentioned a minute ago.  If I promote my firm’s blogs and other articles on Twitter, you would hope that that is helpful to the firm.
      4. But if I also used that Twitter account to promote controversial beliefs about politics or maybe sexist or racist views, it could end up hurting my firm’s brand by being guilty by association.
      5. Now the firm, or whoever originates the content, doesn’t have a lot of control over who redistributes their content, but if an individual wants to be considered credible in what they Tweet or distribute via social media, they need to make sure that they are consistent and professional in everything they publish online and that they develop an audience or network that will appreciate the content that you are promoting.
      6. What those things come down to is branding, which we’ve talked about in the past.  And it’s something you need to start thinking about as soon as you start social media accounts.
      7. In social media, you need to brand yourself consistently in a way that you want people to see you.  Some people don’t realize how public their profiles really are.
      8. Just as an example, I have kids in high school that are starting to think about colleges.  I recently attended a seminar on improving your chances of getting scholarships at colleges.
      9. The speaker said that as soon as you get on the college’s radar, they start looking at your Twitter and Facebook accounts to see what kind of stuff you’re putting out there.
      10. If they see inappropriate pictures of drinking parties or worse, or if you’re posting offensive posts with racial slurs or cyber-bullying, it’s going to hurt your brand.
      11. The same thing applies with people in a professional environment.  We hear a lot about employers monitoring someone’s social media accounts before they hire them.
      12. But prospective clients can do the same.  If a client is considering doing business with a firm and they know you could be a member of the team, they may Google your name and see how you’ve branded yourself.
      13. Another aspect of this is that your history is out there forever.  Let’s say that when you first started out in social media, you posted pictures of you partying a lot and had a couple pictures of you passed out on the bathroom floor.  Everybody likes to have fun and I’ll admit to sewing some wild oats in my college days.
      14. But that was a few years ago.  You’re grown up now and you only post professional information and you’re not ashamed to make connections with people in your professional life.
      15. So you meet someone at a meeting and connect with them knowing that you have nothing to be ashamed of because you post on the up-and-up now.
      16. But that person can go back and see your history from before your connection and see what kind of stuff you posted in days gone by when you might have been a different person.
      17. So when you connect with people today, you need to be aware that you’re giving them access to your entire history on that social media platform.
      18. One other pitfall is other people have influence to brand you differently than you want to be branded.
      19. In the pre-social media days, word-of-mouth advertising was influential in its own way.  But now it has taken on a power of its own.
      20. If a client has had a bad experience with their consultant, they can broadcast it themselves on their social media outlets and hurt your branding more than ever before.
      21. There are also folks out there that do it unfairly.  It’s one thing if you have a bad experience with a company and broadcast your dissatisfaction, but it also allows unscrupulous competitors to rather anonymously bad mouth you.
      22. Someone can start a bad rumor about you and it can go viral before you even know it exists.  Mark Twain said “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on”.
      23. Anyone in business today needs to monitor their name in the various forms that it can be used and make sure there aren’t people out there that are bad-mouthing them.
    3. You mentioned that social media can be a double-edged sword.  What are the positives?
      1. I believe the positives far outweigh the negatives.  As I mentioned before, it’s a great tool for personal branding.
      2. Whether you are an independent consultant or you work for a firm, it’s critical to make sure you develop your personal brand.
      3. Tom Peters wrote a famous article in Fast Company back in 1997 that is as relevant – if not more – today than it was back then.  The gist of the article is that we don’t live our fathers’ careers anymore.  Years ago, when you got out of college – or home from the war – you went to work for the GMs and GEs of the world and worked there for your entire career.
      4. Today’s world is different.  There are too many companies that just don’t last forever like that.  Companies and workers also evolve differently these days.  Companies evolve to need different types of employees and the employees evolve with different needs.
      5. The result is that people change jobs with amazing frequency.  They need to have a brand out there that lets a prospective employer or client know who they are and get a familiarity with their skills – something more than a simple resume will do.
      6. My situation is a good example.  I’ve written a book on Consulting called Consulting 101.  It’s available in print and as an audio book, recorded by a top notch narrator I might add.
      7. And while I certainly want to sell books, I don’t have grandiose delusions that book sales will send me to an early retirement.  A major part of it is personal branding.  I write blogs and articles and we have this podcast.
      8. And I promote it through my social media networks.  It’s a way of sharing information that I hope is of value to people, and branding myself as someone who knows a fair amount on the consulting industry.
      9. I work for a firm and have no plans to leave, but you never know what will happen a year or two down the road.  My priorities or my firm’s priorities may change and I may be out there looking for a job.
      10. Additionally, if my firm proposes me as the project manager on a client’s project, that client may do a search on me and I want myself branded appropriately.
      11. Another big benefit of social media is the greater ability for networking.  Very early in my career, we exchanged business cards and kept either a stack of them or put them in a rolodex or something.  If you wanted to keep in touch with someone in your network, you had to find their business card and call them on the phone.
      12. That’s not impossible, but could be cumbersome to keep in touch with a large volume of people.
      13. Social media makes it so much easier to interact with people.  You have easy access to them and you can see what they’re up to.  For instance, if someone in your network publishes an article or changes jobs, they update their LinkedIn profile.  You go into LinkedIn every day or so to monitor updates and you see their new status.
      14. You can immediately respond and congratulate them on their new job or read their article and comment on it.
      15. It has the dual benefit of easily making you aware of their status updates and allows you to easily send them a message. And you can do it with more people without spending a lot of time on it.
      16. Finally, I think another big benefit of social media is how it allows access to information.  People can share their knowledge and that of others to facilitate greater learning and information sharing.
      17. I use Twitter and LinkedIn a lot for this.  I’m connected with a lot of professionals who write and share content on consulting, leadership, and career development.  It allows me to find blogs and articles that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to find.
    4. How are consulting firms using social media?
      1. Much like individuals, they’re using it to brand themselves.  If you go to any website of a consulting firm, they’ll most likely have links to the various social media platforms urging you to follow them or like them or link up with them.
      2. Then you’ll see periodic updates from them promoting their blogs or webinars or some other form of content sharing that promotes their brand of thought leadership and gives people a taste of the services they offer. They do this to attract both clients and employees.
      3. It allows firms to have access to a targeted market that is interested in them – and vice versa – rather than spraying advertising dollars that don’t always hit their target market as efficiently.
      4. It facilitates an efficient conversation with their target markets.
    5. Has social media created business opportunities?
      1. Absolutely, it’s spawned an entire segment of the consulting industry. There are potential clients that want to know how to use social media effectively for marketing, recruiting and just branding in general.
      2. Consulting firms are happy to step in and provide advisory services on how to create a corporate Facebook page or develop a Twitter presence that will allow them to develop a large virtual community.
      3. And probably bigger than that is the professional services industry for SEO, which stands for Search Engine Optimization.  Sometimes referred to as Google-Juice.
      4. This is an industry that consultants have found to be in high demand; teaching their clients how to use social media to give them a higher listing presence on Google, Bing and all of the other top search engines.
      5. It’s not only a complex combination of art and science, but the search engines are always tweaking their search algorithms, so you’ve never quite reached a point of utopia.  The best approach today could give much different results a few months down the road.  It’s a constant effort that firms often hire expert consultants to help them get on the first page of search results and stay there on a consistent basis.
    6. How should a consultant use social media wisely?
      1. Well you need to keep those downsides in mind that we discussed earlier.  I would suggest to an individual consultant to define your rules up front.  How are you going to use the various social media platforms?  For instance, I use LinkedIn and Twitter almost exclusively for business.  I only have business contacts on those two platforms and only interact with them with business-related communications.
      2. I have a Facebook account where I interact with personal friends.  I share information about my kids’ activities and personal activities.  But I don’t post offensive posts or even expose my political opinions there.
      3. I also set my security so others can’t access my information.  I would suggest that anyone using a social media tool for personal use to set their security as tightly as possible so that the only people that see their information are those that they grant access to it.
      4. That’s not fool proof though.  If people like your comments or tag you on Facebook, their network can see it if they don’t have their security set appropriately.  You only have so much control over it, but you can let your connections know that you don’t want to be tagged unless you’ve approved it.
      5. One trend I’ve seen some people use is a pseudonym.  For instance, instead of using their first and last name, they use their first and middle name, such as Erica Marie.  That way, you’re not as likely to come up when people do a search on your first and last name.
      6. But I think the key thing to remember is to think every time you use any social media tool.  If it’s not something you’d want your grandmother to see, then don’t post it.  But you also have to think from a business perspective.  If you want to like Wal-Mart, that’s fine. But what if Target is your client?  If they see that you’re out there liking their competition, they may not like you.
    7. Final Thoughts?
      1. Social media has created so many opportunities for people to share information and network, but people have to use it wisely and think about how they are affecting their personal brand.
      2. I think the bottom line is that there is no right approach.  It’s such a new trend, not all of the rules have been proven.  There are definitely some bad approaches that you want to avoid, but the good approaches are evolving. You just need to make sure you’re thinking with every move that you make.

    Next week’s topic: Knowing the client’s  business

    Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting

    Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting

    Consulting 101 provides you with 101 useful tips to optimize your professional performance and jump-start your consulting career with success.

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