EXPERT WITNESS: Know, like, and trust: The real purpose behind social media

By Dr. John F. Sase

with Gerard J. Senick

"All things being equal, people will do business with - and refer business to - those people they know, like, and trust."

- Bob Burg, Endless Referrals (McGraw-Hill, 3rd ed., 2005)

We live in a world filled with social media: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, blogs, vlogs, and many others - so many choices, so little time. Since we have professional work to do in our respective fields, we need to budget our time wisely. Social-media experts inform us that, in order to succeed in any business or profession, we need to understand thoroughly how to leverage social media. As author and media consultant Erik Qualman reminds us, we need to know our "Socialnomics" (www.socialnomics.net), how social media affects the ways that we live and do business. However, the question remains: in which social media should we invest our time? In this month's column, we will explore this question and related matters.

The first thing that we need to decide is whether we plan to use our social-media time for business or pleasure. Though I (Dr. Sase) count myself among 750 million "close friends" who use Facebook, I cannot consider it a viable venue for serious business-to-business communication and networking. Granted, Facebook is fun. Many of us enjoy watching the antics of cute kittens or viewing photos of our college friends and ourselves that were taken years ago under conditions that defy description. Nevertheless, I find that a more serious social-media site works better for professional networking. I prefer to use LinkedIn (about 100 million users) for this purpose. Before becoming involved with LinkedIn, I invested some time to explore it. I asked myself the question "How does this social media fit into my overall media mix?" I determined that LinkedIn did provides a strong element in the optimal media mix - maximum return on investment/minimum time and money cost.

In general, determining the optimal mix poses a unique challenge for each of us. Media includes both the newer electronic formats as well as the more traditional print. For example, many attorneys and other professionals do well by securing the back cover of area phone books. If one's potential client base is the general public, this type of ad placement can result in a very productive investment. On the other hand, economists and similarly positioned experts who direct their messages mostly to professional clients generally decline these ad opportunities. However, these experts often use PR letters, mass mailings, and other print-related materials that still produce positive results.

Like most "do-it-ourselfers," we must admit that we do not know the complete answer to the question of how to market our own professional services. Then again, no one else seems to have the answer, either, even though many mountebanks stalk the Internet purveying their wares. Though some of these media gurus are quite good (they remain afloat in a field that remains in constant flux), the overall relevancy of their methods to marketing professional services remains low. Therefore, we must assess the potential of our social-media involvement carefully before making a substantial investment of time.

Of course, we need to begin somewhere. Perhaps as a professional economist rather than a marketing guru I (Dr. Sase) can guide by example through discussion of my own media mix. In addition, I will outline the evaluation process that I use before committing a portion of the ten to twenty percent of my work time that I allocate to professional communications. This commitment of a one-half to one-full workday per week equivalency has been promoted by marketing/public relations gurus such as Zig Zigler, Tom Hopkins, and others for many decades. Though social-media work is not difficult, it does require an ongoing dedication of both time and effort.

Many forms of social media - both traditional and nouveau - exist today. Therefore, I search for and settle upon the ones that give me pure enjoyment and that present a high probability of a worthwhile return for my investment of time. Like most of us, I find that making an ongoing commitment to a particular media form seems to be less of a chore when I enjoy the participation. For example, I like to write about Economics and related topics in a way that edifies readers who have a more limited background in the subject. I look upon this opportunity as a way to teach and to share my expertise, both with attorneys and with the legal community at large. I feel that a newspaper reaching this community is a good vehicle for my writing. As a result, Gerard J. Senick and I have been producing this monthly column for the Legal News for more than a dozen years.

Another mainstay in my social-media mix has been my Web site, www.saseassociates.com. This Web site, which I use for my consulting practice, includes text, photos, video and audio files, downloadable PDFs, and other content related to the field of Economics. As it continues to evolve, my site has become a participatory learning process. I learn from the research that I do for my site. I like to share this information with my colleagues in order to help them with their own projects. Currently, any Internet user can build and maintain a small Unix site of unlimited pages and more than enough e-mail boxes to carry a practice through years of growth for about $200 per year.

Many excellent books, articles, and free videos are available to help us to get up and running on the Web. Though many hosting sites offer to build and manage Web sites for users of their services, I find that the knowledge and skill gained from doing it myself has contributed to my ability to tweak and improve my site with ease and to keep it integrated with my media mix.

Is a Web site essential to market one's services? Personally, I have found that clients discover and retain me by following the ancient path of "know, like, and trust." First, most of us prefer to know something in advance about those with whom we choose to do business. Second, we are more comfortable working with others whom we like and with whom we share basic human values and beliefs. Third, when we consider making a substantial investment of our time, money, and confidence, we seek to work with other professionals whom we trust.

So, is a Web site absolutely necessary? No. However, it is a valuable convenience in this day of electronic media. More often than not, we find ourselves going online in order to locate a business, to find pertinent information, or even to get a phone number. Functioning in this capacity, a Web site serves to reduce search time for most users. Furthermore, when used as an integral component of a media mix, a Web page can help us to develop the fundamental attitude of "know, like, and trust" that remains at the core of any professional relationship.

In addition to using the variety of static Web pages, many of us have taken to developing audio and video content on our sites. (Warning: this activity can be a real time-sucker if you truly enjoy working with this media.) I (Dr. Sase) started making movies when I was twelve years old. I used an inexpensive 8mm camera that I bought with the earnings from my paper route. In addition, I have been recording music and spoken word since my teenage years. Using such media has become second nature to me. Therefore, I gravitated readily to YouTube as a social media and invested the time to learn my way around that sector of cyberspace. Since I make animated PowerPoint (PPT) presentations for teaching Economics and related subjects, I uploaded these works to YouTube by using some inexpensive software that allows one to automatically convert PPT files to YouTube video formats. Growing more comfortable with the world of YouTube, I continue to expand my range of productions and have made many available to my client base through my professional Web site and directly at www.youtube.com/saseassociates.

Analogously, I look at my LinkedIn network as I would a college dorm, one in which I get to invite incoming residents. As LinkedIn exudes the underlying tone of a study dorm rather than a party dorm (I think that Facebook has become the party dorm), all of us have some expectation of the atmosphere and code of social behavior. Recalling my undergrad years, I remember fellow "dormies" with whom I would study on a regular basis. I also remember that the engineering students would concentrate in one dorm and that contingencies of pre-med and pre-law students would band together in other dorms. Liberal arts and business students would carve out safe havens in other residence halls. The most functional dorms were those that were hospitable and friendly, were tolerant of differences, and maintained an air of healthy communication.

As a result of these and other living/learning experiences, I take the time to introduce myself when I send out invitations on LinkedIn. When I extend invites to join my network, I mention something about myself and my interests that I hope are relevant to an invitee. Apart from one embarrassing incident in which I accidently clicked on a button in LinkedIn that sent automatic invitations to everyone in my e-mail directory, I make my invitations personal rather than sending the generic "I'd like to add you to my professional network - [name]." Furthermore, when I have something to share with members of my network, I may make a general posting on my site. On other occasions, I send out a link or some specific piece of information on an individual basis to those who may be the most interested in the topic. It takes more time than "spamming" a bundle of names. However, I consider this personal touch as important because I believe that social networking represents an opportunity to achieve the spirit of "know, like, and trust" with colleagues.

Social media that I have not included in my mix are Twitter, blogs, and vlogs. For short messages on the run, I use text-messaging on my cellphone. However, I prefer to work with the fuller keyboard of my laptop for more detailed professional communication. I have experimented with blogs, but find them to be very time-consuming and somewhat duplicative of my feature column in the Legal News. I am considering vlogs as a means of social media. However, with so many poor-quality vlogs on the Internet, I am waiting until I can achieve the level of quality that I get in my YouTube videos. Otherwise, a vlog is not much more than a Skype video call.

Using a social media mix has resulted in reaching a wider base of clients and colleagues within my own field, not only in the Midwestern United States but in various countries around the world. More importantly, focusing on the know-like-trust approach in my communications has helped to strengthen and grow my client base with the kinds of clients with whom I prefer to engage. Finding and maintaining a clientele that I get to know and like is a pre-condition to having a base of clients whom I trust and who can trust me. I have learned that people will trust you more when they notice that you care more about others than you do about yourself. In effect, they are saying that they do not care how much you know until they know how much you care. These are relational elements that potential clients of attorneys consider when they seek legal counsel. Therefore, social media can provide attorneys with avenues to find clients, to get productive referrals, and to establish a network of trust within their community.

Of course, social media is only the tool. It is the content of the media that gives purpose to the communication. Otherwise, we are just flapping our gums. So, we say this to attorneys: Find the media mix that works best for you and your practice and fill it with content that reflects the best of what you have to offer. This combination should prove to be an effective way to grow your client base, to realize a healthy return on your investment of time and money, and to achieve a meaningful purpose in your professional life.

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Dr. John F. Sase of SASE Associates, Economic Consulting and Research, earned his MBA at the University of Detroit and his Ph.D. in Economics at Wayne State University. He is a graduated of the University of Detroit Jesuit High School. Dr. Sase can be reached at (248) 569-5228 and by e-mail at drjohn@saseassociates.com.

Gerard J. Senick is a freelance writer, editor, and musician. He earned his degree in English at the University of Detroit and was a Supervisory Editor at Gale Research Company (now Cengage) for more than 20 years. Currently, he edits books for publication and gives seminars on writing. Mr. Senick can be reached at (313) 342-4048 and by e-mail at gary@senick-editing.com.

Published: Wed, Apr 18, 2012

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