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Use social to bait the hook, haul in leads

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It's conference season, and I've been coast-to-coast visiting the usual events. After eavesdropping on many a conversation—and being part of several legitimate ones, too—it's clear that the hottest topic around continues to be social media integration. One question remains: How can we make this component more of a tangible element within the marketing process? Countless startups with platforms and plug-ins have emerged to rise to the challenge, and strategists aren't hesitating to jump all over it as well. This kind of forward thinking is great and stirs up innovation, but let's be honest: The majority of marketers don't yet need these comprehensive tools and programs, so we're getting ahead of ourselves a bit. Most marketers merely want to start at square one, figuring out the process of using social to augment the lead funnel. Here are three ways to start simply and build up a solid process that will yield results. • Scour the field. This could take as little or as much time and investment as you want to put into it. Such social platforms as Beevolve or Alterian are heavy-hitting, comprehensive tools that help you track conversations and monitor analytics from numerous angles. You could otherwise choose to take a simpler approach, and go for something less intensive, like Salesforce.com's Radian6, to quickly find out who's saying what about you. Then there are options such as Klout, which gives scores to let you know the magnitude of influence social users have so you can figure out who you should be wooing in order to create the largest ripple effect for your brand. These and countless other resources are out there; it's up to you to figure out which work for your specific needs. • Set the bait. You already know that social media abusers who spew self-promotional pitches and self-aggrandizing thoughts have more than worn out their welcome in the online world. And it's no secret that people would rather follow companies that appear as "friends"—specifically informative, timely friends who deliver value through social outlets. But you may need a bit of a refresher on precisely why it's so important to set the bait for your followers and make your social media channels all about them. Those 140-character quips or amusing infographics may be entertaining, but your buyers need some substantive bait dangled in front of them to really get hooked. Lead generation is all about creating interest and collecting the data of potential buyers—which you can't do without the intentional use of engaging content. Pique followers' interest by posting videos or social games. Use bit.ly to post links to educational content—either on your own site or elsewhere—and track who's opening what. Once you have an idea of the people clicking the links and filling out your Web forms, you can feed these contacts into your funnel. The interest is there, the bait has officially been set and, yes, you're starting to catch fish. • Import. Importing or integrating your contacts from your social media channels into your funnel is key. You'll miss out on powerful lead-gen if you're not viewing social as a path by which leads are cultivated and gathered. By embracing social monitoring tools, we can add new names to the funnel earlier and start the process of conversion more quickly. Some tools like the ones mentioned here can now automatically add subscribers, followers and friends to your CRM or marketing automation platform. If you have IT capabilities in-house or are willing to outsource, you can take the data points that the social platforms' API offers and mash that up against known lead and contact data, then score them. The only element of importing contacts into your funnel that should be human-driven is the conversation that takes place via your social channels and carried over once the nurturing begins. Everything else in this process of mining and adding contacts into your funnel needs to be automated. This is still an immature area, but in the coming year we'll see some amazing social media tools that come ready to integrate seamlessly with all of your sales and marketing software. Finally, keep in mind that you can—and should—always use social media to drive followers to your website—it's your store front—where they will find many more ways to interact with your brand. Give them webinars or e-books to download, and their fingerprints will be all over your site. The defining element of social success, after all, is funnel conversion. Feeding the contacts from your social channels into your marketing platform is what helps achieve this. Justin Gray is CEO of lead-generation company LeadMD Inc. (www.leadmd.com). He can be reached at jgray@leadmd.com.

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