Turn social media into a lead-generating machine

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Drumming up sales and growing revenue is a challenge that nearly all small businesses share. To get it right, you need access to plenty of good leads that you can hopefully convert into sales, but lead generation can be an expensive, hit-and-miss process. The good news is social media can be a powerful tool for generating high-quality leads.

With some 23 million active users in South Africa according to We Are Social, social media is a great place to find prospects. It’s not without its pitfalls, though. It’s easy to annoy people if you come across as pushy or self-serving on your social media accounts, for example, but the rewards can be significant. Thoughtful interactions and quality content that put the customer’s needs first are the keys to success.

Here are some ideas you can use to generate good leads from social media:

  1. Use custom hashtags
  2. Create ‘lead magnets’
  3. Invest in targeted advertising on social media platforms
  4. Create a buzz with flash sales and contests
  5. Host live streams or Q&As

These ideas can often be combined to powerful effect – and the return on investment (ROI) can be impressive. Let’s take a closer look:

1. Use custom hashtags

If you want to stand out from the crowd, you could create custom hashtags for your company, products and promotions. Hashtags make your content discoverable for people who are interested in what you’re doing, help get your audience involved in promoting your brand, and allow you to identify customers who are interested in engaging with you. Here are some tips for creating memorable and effective hashtags:

  • Be original – don’t copy a competitor’s or international brand’s hashtags.
  • Make it precise and targeted rather than generic.
  • Use title case so people can easily identify the words in the hashtag.
  • Don’t be too boastful or self-promotional.
  • Ensure it’s easy to understand.
  • Read it and re-read it to make sure it can’t be misread. For example, a while back the trending Twitter hashtag “#nowthatchersdead” was meant to be read as “now Thatcher’s dead” – not “now that Cher’s dead.

Some examples of great hashtags include #NationalFriedChickenDay from KFC, #LetsDoLunch by Domino’s Pizza and #WorthSaying by L’Oréal Paris. One word of caution: once you unleash a hashtag on the world, it no longer belongs to you. You might not approve of everything users post under your hashtag or brand name especially if you run into a disgruntled customer or a troll.

Pro-tip: Do you have some great blog or social media content relevant to a trending story or a popular topic? Be sure to use hashtags to draw attention to it. Don’t use too many hashtags in one post or try to hop onto trending hashtags with overly promotional posts.

2. Create social media ‘lead magnets’

One of the most powerful tactics in the content marketer’s toolbox is the so-called lead magnet, an offer or piece of content that is so desirable people will sign up to your e-mail database or register an account on your website to get their hands on it. Some examples include an exclusive discount or competition for registered users, a free webinar, or, in the business-to-business space, a white paper.

Here are some good practices for using this tactic effectively:

  • Create a dedicated customer page on your website, often referred to as a landing page, that encourages users to register or supply their e-mail address. Ensure this specific page links back to your website to ensure there are no dead ends.
  • Use a strong call to action in your social media posts to get people interested. For example: “Check out 10 expert tips to get ROI from social media”.
  • Share social media and blog posts about the content a few times to generate interest. Keep it fresh by, for example, using different factoids or stats from the core content in each post.
  • Ensure your content or offering is truly valuable. In other words, people should not be able to easily get it for free from another website.

3. Invest in targeted advertising on social media platforms

If you’re just starting your business or you’re new to social media or to a particular social media platform, you probably don’t yet have thousands of followers. Paid advertisements on social media networks can be an effective way to reach potential customers who don’t follow you, in turn helping to boost your following and create leads.

Plus, paid content can increase the chances that people who follow you will see your great content. The way the algorithms on social platforms like Facebook work means people generally see more posts from friends or family than from the brands they ‘like’ and follow. A promoted post or ad can bring your content to a users’ attention when they might otherwise miss it.

Benefits of paid posts and ads on social media include how precisely you can target the right profile of customer for your business, the ease with which you can measure results, and the control you have over how much money you spend. You can allocate a budget, target a group as niche as female trail runners in Bloemfontein, then measure how many of them interacted with your content, for example.

Here are some ways to make the most of the money you spend on paid social:

  • Try to include a visual element. A witty gif or short video clip can increase engagement.
  • Use the right platform for the job. Facebook works well for targeting consumers, while LinkedIn is great for reaching business professionals.
  • Include a strong call to action. It’s a great opportunity to punt your lead magnet.
  • Remember you can target people by characteristics like gender, age, expressed interests, online behaviour, job title and so on.
  • Make clever use of targeting, but don’t get so specific that you exclude potential customers. If your niche is too specific, you’re not going to get too many bites.

4. Create a buzz with flash sales and contests

Everyone likes a freebie or a good deal, so flash sales and competitions can work effectively on social media. Create a sense of urgency by mentioning the deadline for the promotion or competition entries. This will really get the audience’s attention. If your following is large enough, adding a user-generated content angle can work quite nicely. For example, for Father’s Day, ask users to share their favourite childhood memory with dad on your hashtag. If you’re selling some Marvel t-shirts in your bookstore, ask people to name their favourite character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

5. Host live streams or Q&As

Social media offers a cool way to interact with your audience, live and in real-time. A Q&A on a channel like Twitter or a live video stream on Facebook or Instagram offer the opportunity to talk to people in real-time, listen to their questions and have a bit of fun. If you have an international guest from your major supplier, you could ask him or her to hop on your Twitter account to answer customer questions.

If you’re a tax practitioner, you can comment live as the finance minister gives his budget speech. For a tech retailer, a live video stream of the unboxing of the latest smartphone or gaming console can be an attention-grabber. Here’s a tip: tag everyone who took part in the session and thank them for taking part. This can help extend the conversation with them and they may also share or retweet your shout-out to them with their followers.

Combine tactics to get the best effect

Your lead generation strategy for social media should align with the rest of your sales and marketing efforts. If you’re running an ad campaign in the local knock-and-drop, be sure to mention your hashtag and social media handles. If you’re presenting at a conference, get active on its Twitter hashtags.

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