Why smart businesses are looking for leads using social media, not just Google

02/12/2009 at 6:17 pm 2 comments

Here’s a “reprint” of a blog I posted on ZDNet last week.

I was asked to speak to a group of recently unemployed people at Whittle College in Chelmsford last night about digital marketing. I gave Google about ten minutes of a two hour talk. And here’s why.

The people I met last night were inspirational. Faced with unemployment after the recession left them facing redundancy, each one has embarked on getting themselves trained up in new skills — mostly project management through Prince II — to face the job market once more. Several of them were looking at starting their own businesses, joining the 300,000 new businesses recently started in the UK as a result of people finding themselves in the same boat (source: Enterprise Nation survey). They’d booked onto the Digital Marketing workshop to help them understand how to best market those new business ideas of theirs.

It would sound odd that I barely touch upon Google and search engine marketing/optimisation in a talk on Digital Marketing, but I genuinely believe that the results you can expect to see through that route are a fraction of what’s offered on social networks, especially for businesses that are only just establishing themselves.

Let me try and explain two things I’ve noticed.

First off, how new technology can change behaviour in a generation. When I ring a doorbell I use my index finger. I guess many people reading this article will. Ask someone in the generation below us to ring a doorbell and they use their thumb. Why? Because they spend all their time texting on their mobile phones. They do that more than using a conventional keyboard. So their thumb has become their dominant digit. Mobiles are MUCH easier to use if you lead with your thumb. You only need to look at an older person trying to text quickly with their index finger to see how a generation has adapted.

And that same younger generation also never visits Google. They can’t comprehend a web where their friends and contacts aren’t instantly on hand. The web to them is Facebook and MySpace. If you want to know something you ask your friends — just like we did before Google came along, in fact. The idea that you try and get answers from a robot and a database seems to them as old fashioned as our belief that Yellow Pages is the best place to find businesses. Unless Google adapts to support the needs of the generation below us, it could disappear once that same generation is in the workplace and making buying decisions.

Which leads me on to my second view. How useful is Google? Really. I mean if you’re looking for a business. I once did an exercise to find a PR company in Huddersfield. I reckon, through other research methods, that there are around 11 PR companies in Huddersfield. If you type “PR company Huddersfield” into Google you get 132,000 responses (there are only 146,000 people live in Huddersfield!). For me, only three of those 11 companies websites get directly referenced on Page 1 of Google. That’s a 15% rate of accuracy. And 131,989 results I could really do without.

It’s like a conversation with Rain Man! If I asked a friend for a recommendation of a PR company in Huddersfield and he droned for hours about everything that even slightly touches upon the subject, obscuring the information I really asked for with with everything else he knows no matter how poorly qualified or relevant, I’d never ask him again. And yet people think Google is the best thing since sliced bread! Why?

More and more people, even of my generation, aren’t going to Google for answers any more. They are tapping into the crowd available to them through sites like Facebook and Twitter. Why search through databases of historical documents for something you need when you now have access to millions of people to ask? We’re going back to what we used to do before we relied on Google to give us answers, as we can now millions of people sit behind my keyboard and screen, only 140 characters away.

And with this comes enormous potential for businesses. While many companies with established ways of thinking are scrapping over the top positions on Google through expensive SEO or even more espensive Pay Per Click programmes, I think the smart money is heading towards tapping into social networks and listening out for people who are quite happy to share a need. And with every need comes a sales lead!

Here’s an exercise to prove the point. Try going to Twitter search and typing “i need” and a keyword that describes something you do. Then try “can recommend” and another keyword. Then “can suggest”. And then try all the keywords associated with your business. Surprised by how many people ask for recommendations of suppliers of products and services that match yours on Twitter? Why would you be! It’s word of mouth marketing brought into our super-connected era. And these people want answers. They don’t care who gives them necessarily, so long as it’s from a real person that they perceive to have considered their response. A result of that kind from a real human being beats an algorthimic response on Google any day.

And this is what smart businesses are exploiting. Using tools, of which my own companies Twitter Sales Leads tool is just one, it’s possible to monitor Twitter and other social networks to look for instances where someone is posting a need for what you do. And this is a real sales lead! It’s so much better qualified than a click from Google at 50p a go. With Google marketing you pay for the click in the hope that a number of those visitors to your website lift the phone or fill out a form to start a conversation about whether you can help them. My guess is that 2% of those costly clicks will do that; the other 98% are worth nothing. On Twitter, you get to speak to someone with a need directly — you’re already in the sales cycle. And what does it cost? Twitter Search is free, but even the fee for the tools to better filter results to focus only on prospective sales leads are minimal compared to what most companies are prepared to throw at Google and SEO/SEM experts.

The way people are using the Internet is changing. And with it businesses need to change how they engage with customers. Start using your thumbs rather than your index finger!

I’d welcome your comments.

Our Twitter Sales Leads tool is now up and running! Click here to find out more.


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PRESS RELEASE: Twitter Sales Leads launches for small businesses UPDATED: How the web covered the launch of Twitter Sales Leads

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. rp50four  |  10/12/2009 at 5:14 pm

    Thought provoking and entertaining post, Ian. Started me thinking. Anecdotally I know that most teenagers are not using email and with eNews/email open rates continuing to decline, the social media space is becoming ever more important.
    Incidentally I’d be interested to know if you used ” ” or [ ] enclosures with your PR Company Huddersfield search.

  • 2. wecandobiz  |  10/12/2009 at 6:00 pm

    Thanks for your comment.

    I didn’t put it in quotes and today I get 209,000 responses. If I use quotes then I get six responses, but five of those are this blog or the original version at ZDNet! The other, only remaining response seems not to actually reference any of the PR companies in Huddersfield…

    The fact remains, if you put almost anything into Google you’ll get a whole stack of irrelevant stuff returned which is hard to exclude with clever use of brackets or quotes in your query. And the stuff that IS relevent can be old and often doesn’t come with the same level of human recommendation attached as would a suggested response by a real person on Twitter.

    It’s interesting, as I’ve been taking the contents of this blog to a number of very knowledgeable people in social media and CRM in research companies and the press recently and my argument meets with little resistance. Suggesting that using Google brings up a lot of junk gets met with nods; the same when I suggest that more and more people just ask their questions of the crowd on social networks now.

    I hope to be able to point to a press interview on this very subject soon.

    Ian Hendry
    CEO, WeCanDo.BIZ

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