How Social Media Can Derail Your New-Business Efforts

You Just Might Check Yourself Into Some Extra Competition

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Social media has had a dramatic impact on the life of the agency business development executive over the last several years, particularly when it comes to prospecting, doing market research and gaining industry intelligence.

Whether it's zeroing in on marketing decision makers at companies on LinkedIn, or learning what's on the mind of that individual through his Twitter feed, we use social media on a daily basis to bolster new business. What I've learned most over the last year is that , along with many benefits, social media can actually work against your agency.

Let me share a few risks you might not be aware of -- as well as how you can capitalize on them.

Linking to your client prospect
When you link to a marketer, whether a prospect or current client, you are letting your LinkedIn colleagues know who you're talking to or working with. That's not necessarily bad. By monitoring LinkedIn, you can give your agency team a sense of the landscape and agencies you might be up against in a review.

It also has some downsides. Our agency was recently participating in an agency review and within the first day of talking to the prospect, who we were already linked to, a number of agency business development folks connected to the same contact. While the prospect wasn't revealing agency names of the other participants, we pretty much knew who we were up against.

Recommendation: Don't link to your pitch prospect until after a review. This not only keeps the review quiet, but it also doesn't give your agency competitors an opportunity to find potential weak spots in your armor.

Giving away market insights
It's amazing what real-time market research can do for agencies in a pitch. You can quickly gain market insight by tapping into your social networks. But at the same time, it provides your competitors with a trail of clues about which reviews you're participating in. Be careful. You may be telling your competitors what companies you're pitching. In a recent pitch for a consumer electronics brand, one of the agencies was out of the starting blocks doing market research on Twitter. It didn't mention the brand, but from the market segment and type of product it was researching, we figured out that we were pitching the same account.

Recommendation: Be mindful about mentioning the brand and products that your agency is pitching. Competitors who are paying attention can put two and two together and potentially get themselves invited into the pitch.

Checking in
We're all using location-based technologies, as they are becoming an important part of the marketing mix we provide to clients. But it's interesting to see what agency folks are revealing through their check-ins. If you suddenly see a number of your competitors checking in at a company on Foursquare, I'd say there's a review or project opportunity. It's that simple.

A great example is a recent prospect that we've been trying to get to know. A media rep had mentioned it might be doing a review, and we noticed that a number of agency competitors that we're connected to were checking in at this company. This alerted me that there was a potential opportunity for an agency. This is great way to monitor your agency competitors and open a door to new prospects. On the other hand, this information is fair game for everyone, which means you may find yourselves competing against more agencies.

Recommendation: Don't check while you're pitching! This was a big fat clue that the company was indeed reviewing agencies.

Social media has been invaluable for zeroing in on client prospects. But be careful. The same social activity that gets you in the door or gives you pitch-worthy insights could be giving inside information to your competitors. So don't be a social tool, it could cost your team an opportunity!

Greg Straface is VP-business development of PJA Advertising & Marketing in Boston. His agency experience includes Ogilvy & Mather, Publicis and Doremus.
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