Basic social media platforms image shows icons for LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Blog, Google Plus and YouTubeHave you met any business people lately who weren’t interested in finding new clients?

I certainly haven’t.

But I have met more than a few people who don’t actually get how social media can help them with this challenge.

And often enough, even among those who do have a sense of the potential of social media for lead generation, there is lack of understanding about just how to go about tapping into this opportunity.

These five simple steps provide a framework for using social media to find potential new clients via the social web and then begin engaging with them:

  1. Get clarity about your ideal client
  2. Survey existing clients
  3. Check in where the clients are
  4. Listen for concerns, interests and needs
  5. Share your knowledge

1. Get Clarity about Your Ideal Client

Social media provides new opportunities to identify our ideal clients and provides also some new learning and experimentation, especially for those not already comfortable with using social media for business.

Having a clear picture of our ideal client is essential if we are going to:

  • use our marketing time and budget productively
  • not be always settling for whoever comes along

This is basic foundational work for any kind of marketing, but taking time out to do it thoroughly is essential.

Our existing clients can help.

2. Survey Your Existing Clients

It seems to me that, one way or another, every book on social media and every social media consultant or coach tells us to find our prospects on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networking sites, so that we can engage with them there.

Fair enough.

But how do we find them?

One strategy I recommend is to ask our existing clients what they do, what platforms they use, what networks, and how much, on the basis that there is a good chance others like them will have similar social networking patterns of behavior.

I work on the assumption that my clients will be happy to help, within reason, as they will want my business to do well.

Using a tool like Survey Monkey (free or premium) can help in collating and analysing the results of our enquiries (I believe in keeping such surveys simple and brief so that it’s not a burden or nuisance).

3. Check in Where the Existing Clients Are

Once we know where our existing clients spend their time and engage on the social web, we need to make sure we are there too.

We may be already signed up to the platforms and groups they are on. If not, we need to register, for the main ones at least. For most executives or other professionals, we should be able to cover a reasonable amount of the field from the platforms listed in my post from last April, Six Key Social Platforms for Busy Professionals: LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Blog and YouTube (and note the recommendation there to not try and become proficient in all of them at once!).

With some ongoing experimentation, we should be able to get a picture of which platforms or networks are likely to be most helpful to our cause.

4. Listen for Concerns, Interests and Needs

Social networks provide priceless information to help us connect with clients and prospects. Once we have a sense of the places and spaces where our clients and prospects are likely to be we can begin to learn more about them by hanging out there ourselves.

The first thing to do is listen. Listen for what the conversations are and for what they reveal about the interests, concerns and needs of the people with whom you want to connect.

The second thing to do is listen some more.

Above all, we have to resist the temptation to immediately use these new channels of communication to broadcast about our products and services.

5. Share Your Knowledge

Once we have done some listening and developed a sense of the way people are communicating on a particular platform, say on a LinkedIn Group or with Twitter or other social platforms, we can start to share our knowledge and experience.

That does not mean diving in and declaring (however much and however justifiably we believe it) that we have just the product or service to solve their problem. If we do feel we have the answer they need, or at least an answer, and we have a sense that this will be all right to mention, then it is absolutely essential, for our ongoing credibility with the particular group, that we be transparent about the fact that this is our product or service, or – say – that we are affiliates (and thus stand to gain a commission).

What we can be sure of is that if, and as soon as, we start to look like we are just using the group to trawl for clients and not making any positive and reasonably disinterested contribution, people will tune out.

More positively, as we connect with the real concerns and issues of people in the group and offer help and suggestions where we can, people will become more receptive to learning about what we have to offer in terms of products and services.

Sometimes a mindshift is needed

I fully realize that, for many business people, this way of doing things will not come naturally.

But I believe it’s increasingly the way savvy professionals are going to be finding new clients.

And at the same time keeping “top of mind” for existing clients.

It’s all part of social selling.

Have you tried this approach, or something like it? Please feel free to share your experience.

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Des Walsh is an executive coach. He helps business owners and entrepreneurs worldwide deal effectively with the feeling of being left behind or overwhelmed, or both, about social media – especially LinkedIn - and how to engage safely and effectively with social media to help grow their business. Connect with Des on LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter. And to stay in the loop, get Des’s weekly Social Business Bites (select snippets of his "best of the week" online finds).