Stop. Take a moment. Now breathe. It's easy for anyone to become overwhelmed with social media. From LinkedIn to Facebook(c) to Twitter and more, whether you're ready for it or not, it's staring right down at you. For the systems integrator, not only do they have to learn new technologies in hardware and product, but also how to embrace the new way of doing business-through social media.
The social networking trend has hit the security industry like a tsunami and dealers and integrators are using Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, Twitter, YouTube and more to educate and discuss topics relevant to security, for brand awareness and to network virtually with their peers. And a number of them who are ahead of the 'social' curve (i.e. built their brand through social Web sites when they first became hot a year or so ago) are taking the next step in finding efficient ways to track direct revenue and sales leads garnered through these media.
Using and tracking social networking for sales isn't easy. It's a process of trial and error whether using software and analysis platforms that are able to track such information automatically or manually recording the number of leads on a consistent basis in a spreadsheet after each customer interaction. Different methods are being tested and although there is no one specific approach across the board that works most effectively, integrators are gaining traction with this approach by discussing methods internally, increasing their activity in general on social sites, by "friending" or "following" others and their companies and by actively thinking about how to do it best. And a gentle reminder: it has to be done carefully and with proper etiquette in mind.
Avoid 'spamming' people for sales
"The biggest mistake is when a company is overzealous in their marketing efforts on social media," explained Julian Brachfeld, director of Marketing, NAS Security Systems, Middletown, N.Y. "If it appears that the only reason someone 'friended' you is to bombard you with nothing but advertisements, that's going to turn a lot of people off. There are too many companies out there that absolutely cross the line between this type of abusive marketing and being informative."
Brachfeld explained that the only effective way to track productivity of any marketing efforts, including social media, is by simply asking the potential customer: 'how did you hear about us?' "That is the only true way you will find out where it's paying off," said Brachfeld. NAS Security Systems maintains a database through which, aside from current customers, they are able to track and document whether a customer found them through a blurb on Facebook, word of mouth or through a Web search. "We do this on an ongoing basis," he continued. "I can't say that Facebook has driven any of our business yet, but I can see that our 'friend' database grows every day and when we do send out a message or an update, more people see it."
For integrator Dakota Security Systems, Sioux Falls, S.D., no matter the social media interface, it comes down to the importance of relationships. "LinkedIn is just one more tool for us and our salespeople working on those relationships," explained Eric Yunag, president and chief executive officer. And while tracking the profit or number of customers that come from those relationships is difficult, one of the things they have done is to start quantifying the number of Web site referrals coming in from LinkedIn. "So from that perspective, we are trying to quantify the tangible result that is being achieved by our LinkedIn presence," Yunag continued. "From that, we are seeing an increase in traffic over the last six months from LinkedIn to our Web site."
Linking up with LinkedIn for sales
Kourtney Govro, vice president of All Systems Designed Solutions Inc., Kansas City, Kan. and chief executive officer of Sphere3 Consulting, also in Kansas City, confirmed that LinkedIn is the easiest social Web site to track direct revenue, "because you can line-item that person back to how you got that connection and made the sale," she explained. "For Sphere3 Consulting, over the last year, we looked back at how we made all of our high-level sales relationships and it all came from social media," Govro continued.
Ron Oetjen CPP and president of Intelligent Access Systems, Raleigh, N.C., said that within the next several months the company will have reporting capabilities in place to track leads from social media. "We're definitely going to be targeting which message is coming from where and what region," Oetjen explained. "Tracking leads or revenue based by vertical markets is more challenging. When you can track the data without asking too much personal information from people, it's fairly simple. When you have to start asking people for certain data, it gets more difficult and possibly unreliable."
Integrators may find it hard to manage social networking sites, especially when out in the field and not in front of the computer. "It's almost enough to just make that first step and get started on one of these social networks," explained Melissa M. Courville, head of Marketing and Sales, DICE Corp., Bay City, Mich. "If you don't have a large enough marketing department that can handle 'tweeting' every day or posting messages on Facebook, invest a few moments in programs like Hootsuite that tie in many of your social media sites all in one," she continued. "Sending out a message via Hootsuite broadcasts it to all the sites that you click on."
Jumping on the social bandwagon
Other organizations and integrators, including PSA Security Network, All Systems Designed Solutions and Intelligent Access Systems are going a step further in assigning social media interns or members of their team to man all of their social operations on a weekly or monthly basis, devoting as little as a few hours per week or up to 15 to 20 hours.
"Social media may be free but it's important to have a dedicated resource to write blogs and push information out," explained Lisa Cole, director of Marketing for PSA Security, Westminster, Colo. "I think you're going to see this more-having a full time social networking person like we've done."
USER TIPS AND TRICKS FOR INTEGRATORS
1) Respond in a timely manner. If someone posts a negative response in a discussion on your page, don't let it go unattended. Think of it as an opportunity to address the issue versus an obstacle or hindrance.
2) Do your homework. Research the different social Web sites and decide which is best for you and your company. Find out if having one social Web site is enough for your company depending on the information you want to share and the people you want to network with. But in most cases, the more you have the more exposure you'll gain.
3) Focus on time management. Before you open up an account with a social Web site, make sure you or someone on staff has time to devote a few hours per week to maintaining it. Don't ignore your brand presence on your Web site and how it ties to other parts of your operation or philosophy.
4) Keep it professional. If you decide to open up a social account for your business, discuss with others in the company the image you want to represent as well as etiquette in general. If you and your employees have a personal social page in addition to the company one and the two are tied together, make sure everyone knows how the company should be represented.