Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Virginia Bankers Association's Retail Banking Symposium in historic Williamsburg, VA. I was asked to come present on the topic of Social Networking for Community Banks and was also able to sit in on many of the other great presentations over the two-day event. I also took advantage of the warm weather (well, warmer than it had been in Michigan) and got out for a nice run using my Droid and Endomondo (check out the map here). Because Williamsburg is a pretty popular place, the Google Map details are pretty impressive and show exactly where I ran (including the sidewalks and such). Amazing.
One of the underlying themes of any successful social networking strategy is helping to bring someone down the "know me, like me, trust me" path. Social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and others are called "social" and "networking" for a reason - they are not intended for the "hard sell". So, that makes using this type of strategy somewhat different than traditional marketing and advertising because you're not directly going after customers for the sale.
Instead, you want to use these sites to help customers first get to KNOW who you are, much like you would at a networking event at the local Chamber or similar networking event. Imagine if you showed up to one of these events trying to sell your wares - chances are nobody at the part would be interested in chatting if that was your focus. You want to generate some conversation, listen to others and respond to questions so that people know who you are, and eventually what you do.
Once people KNOW you, they can then make the decision as to whether they LIKE what you are talking about, what you stand for, how you take care of your business, etc... Social networking sites are a great way to help people in this process since there is an opportunity for so much information to be made available online. In some instances, these first two phases can take place without you even realizing it's going on. That's happened to me, actually. I've had instances where someone has called me and said "so-and-so suggested that we connect and I've been looking at some of the things you've done on the Internet and think it would be a good fit for us, can we talk?". They went out and checked my blog, saw my Free Webinar Wednesdays site, looked at some of my SlideShare.net presentations and possibly viewed my LinkedIn profile. The point is they got to KNOW me and then LIKE me without me being involved in the process.
Finally, if you're lucky they will decide to TRUST you and you'll have the opportunity to do business together. Keep in mind, this process takes time and is not as immediate as some would like it to be. But, I propose that the relationships that generate out of this process are going to be longer-lasting and bring more value over time since they are going to be based on the relationship, not simply on the product.
So, what are you doing with your social networking efforts to help people get to know you, like you and eventually trust you? Are you selling your products and services or offering helpful information to educate, entertain and help others be more successful? I'd be interested in your comments and feedback, so let me know what you think!
P.S. One of the folks that I got to know, like and trust during the conference was Wanda Queen, Results Consultant with Cohen Brown Management Group. During my presentation I collected cards for a drawing to win a new iPod Nano - one of the tools I talk about at the end of my presentation that can make it easy for people to collect video and audio while "out and about". This type of rich content is very attractive to customers (and search engines) since it's "sticky" and more attractive than reading text on a page.
Anyway, I collected roughly 60 cards and we held the drawing at the cocktail party after the first day's presentations. When the winning card was drawn, which was Mark Debes, SVP for Retail and Marketing for Fauquier Bank, he wasn't there to collect his prize and the "crowd" decided to draw again. The next card I drew was Wanda's and I cheerfully awarded her the Nano. However, just a few minutes later Mark walked in! Wanda pulled me aside and said that he deserved it, he was a banker and he should have the Nano. What a great gesture on her part and Mark was certainly surprised (but very happy).
I made sure that Wanda got a nice dinner out of me for her act of kindness and we were joined by another banker and had a wonderful dinner. I feel that I really got to know Wanda and her philosophy on taking care of customers. Now, I can say that I also "like" and "trust" her too. The best part is we got to do this all face-to-face. So, while social networking tools are great, there's a lot to be said for good "ole fashioned" in-person networking... And congratulations, Mark. I'm looking forward to your first video! :-)