Oh, the tangled social media webs we weave…but does virtual engagement pay off? Here’s one longtime entrepreneur’s take.
I’m an outspoken proponent of social media marketing. But it’s not right for every investigations business. In this article I’ll detail the pros and cons of adding social media into your marketing mix and walk you through finding the right social networks to complement your business needs and personality.
Each social network has strengths and weaknesses, and it’s worth learning how each one works before you invest time and money in learning to use it. Choosing well and thoughtfully can help you leverage its strengths and make the most of your efforts.
There are privacy issues. For “retail” private investigation agencies who help clients with delicate personal matters, privacy is a big concern. Most prospective clients probably won’t mine social media to find an investigator; they’re looking for discretion above all, and social media doesn’t really foster a sense of confidentiality.
Big corporate customers don’t go there. You probably won’t find “commercial” clients (e.g. insurance agencies, bigger law firms, etc.) using social media. How many attorneys do you think are trolling Twitter to find the right investigator? The odds are probably hovering around zero percent.
It’s a time suck. Social media requires a committed investment of time and focus. Time you spend on social media is time you’re not spending working in your business. You cannot be immersed in your investigation or out serving process if you’re busy curating content to build and feed your social audience.
You can become an industry leader. Establishing yourself as local media’s go-to expert on matters related to investigation has never been easier. Social networks can provide high visibility at a very low cost. They can be a GREAT way to build an online presence, start a community-wide conversation, and get your name out there in the ether. After all, journalists surf social media, too.
You can cast a wide net and reach anyone who’s listening. Most businesses need some kind of an online presence, and social networks are a great way to build one that (you hope) prospects will run into when their need arises. And social media can be an effective tool for reaching specific people or businesses, too, or as part of a strategy of public outreach. Trust and thoughtful leadership converts prospects into buyers. You’ll hear me say that again.
It’s free. So why not give it a shot?
Right now, there are basically six viable choices when it comes to social network platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube and Pinterest. Let’s talk a bit about each.
It’s the biggest. Facebook is, hands down the largest social network, having just topped a billion users. And it’s popular with investigators. In a recent poll I conducted online across Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn, investigators and process servers overwhelmingly said they would choose Facebook over any other social network or a company blog. Respondents added that Facebook allowed them to connect with other investigators both personally and professionally.
It’s easy to get going. Facebook offers a simple and legitimate online presence without the need to build a dedicated website. And Facebook makes it easy to target specific business-types and media contacts, too. I use Facebook to build agency brand recognition and referral traffic by starting conversations on pages and in groups popular with potential business prospects.
Best of all, it’s free or low-cost. Although…(see below).
Pay-to-promote - Facebook has recently decided to significantly throttle back page post visibility in users’ newsfeeds in favor of a nominal “pay to promote” fee. It’s becoming harder to build a page presence without promoting posts, and I have serious questions about the technical aspects of this. I foresee a downward spiral of engagement once a business starts paying to reach its fans.
Privacy issues - Facebook offers the least amount of anonymity to its users because of the sheer number of users and due to poor privacy controls.
Less-than-stellar mobile apps - Internet users are increasingly moving to mobile devices, but Facebook apps for iOS and Android are clunkier than, say, Google+ and Twitter.
How to Optimize
In researching this article, I visited ten private investigator and process-serving agency Facebook pages. What I saw in the “About” sections was pretty astonishing:
Only 4 revealed where in the world the agency was located.
A mere 3 included an email address.
Two of them blocked non-U.S. users entirely.
Optimizing Facebook marketing deserves its own article altogether. But of the 10 pages I reviewed, most could do these 5 simple things and see positive results:
1. Include the agency domain name in your Facebook page’s “About” section.
2. Ensure that the profile image describes or reflects the business or brand. (I use my company logo.)
3. Use the “cover image” (big picture at the top that spans the page width) to quickly and powerfully define what your business does.
4. Build a sense of community on your page by giving your audience great information. Anticipate their needs through your experiences with past clients; this sets your agency apart from the competition and establishes trust and thought leadership.
5. Engage your fans by asking questions. Get a discussion going. Give them a reason to keep coming back. (A bit of controversy generally does the trick!)
Simplicity - Twitter was born as a “micro-blog,” in which users compose a mini-memoir in 140 characters or less. The service has evolved into a powerful real-time communication platform IF you are willing to invest in the time required to stay actively engaged. Expect to commit lots of energy maintaining conversations with power-users who are important to your marketing strategy.
Too much information - I find Twitter a bit overwhelming and time-consuming. Tweets from users I follow come at me fast and furiously and it can be tough to keep up. The latency of any tweet is measured in minutes. I cheat a bit and have Twitter set up to automatically send out a tweet every time I post to my Facebook pages. It’s a pretty hands-off approach, and I rarely visit Twitter as a consequence.
How to Optimize
By familiarizing yourself with advanced search tools and by managing hashtags and followers lists, it’s fairly straightforward to connect with local influencers and media contacts. At least one respondent to my poll indicated that he had landed three clients via Twitter versus one client via Facebook.
SEO - Set up a complete profile and start posting content to Google+ right away! That’s how strongly I feel about the search engine optimization and marketing possibilities of this network. When I post content to Google+ I find it indexed and highly ranked in Google Search in hours rather than days.
Better privacy controls - Once you learn to manage your contacts into “circles,” you’ll find that getting content to the right people, and then protecting that content from further distribution, works better than with other social platforms. I can easily share various types of content with the personal or professional circles confidentially and conveniently and effectively filter the type of content I want to see, when I am ready for it.
Plays well with others - The most powerful aspect of Google+ is that it’s fully integrated into all of the tools Google has to offer—Gmail, Drive, Docs, Calendar, YouTube, Search and Local.
Slow growth - The obvious problem is that Google+ still has far fewer users than Facebook and is growing very slowly. I think business owners are overwhelmed by all of the social networks marketing pundits say we should focus on if our businesses are going to survive.
Learning curve - While posting and sharing content is VERY easy, navigating the Google+ social experience and building connections is not as intuitive as it could be.
How to Optimize
I look at Google+ not so much as a social tool, but as a highly effective content distribution channel and search engine optimization/marketing tool. Use Google’s products as a package, and it’s a breeze to create a seamless command center that facilitates communication, marketing, agency operations and much, much more!
Google+ also has an innovative feature called Google Hangouts, which is essentially super-simple video conferencing and a great way to connect with clients, subcontractors, employees and peers. The marketing uses of Hangouts are only limited by your imagination and desire to be on camera.
Focused on business - LinkedIn also rated extremely well with poll respondents and is undoubtedly a favorite among private investigators and agency owners for making professional connections. The true power of LinkedIn as a business-to-business (B2B) marketing network is that it’s easy to reach out and find recommended professionals anywhere in the world very quickly. And it’s relatively free of non-professional content.
Fees for premium usage – If you want to use the “full” version of LinkedIn (e.g. add unlimited connections, make advanced searches, and contact users outside your network) you’ll have to subscribe to the paid version. This is Facebook’s main advantage over LinkedIn—free is always cheaper than not free.
How to Optimize
When I am searching for an investigation service provider, I definitely look for the small details in potential providers’ LinkedIn profiles:
- Is the profile complete?
- Does their background reflect my investigative needs?
- Has the person been professionally recommended by colleagues and clients?
- Have they written any articles that I can reference?
- Do they have a website where I can learn more?
- How do I get in touch with this investigator or process server right now?
Tip: Be sure to include those details! Also, I strongly suggest you take advantage of the new LinkedIn personal profile layout and create a LinkedIn business page.
SEO - YouTube videos can rank very high on Google—often on the first page—without much effort at all, just a little care and attention to choosing a title and a solid video description (with smart keyword choices). From a search engine optimization perspective, backlinks from YouTube (which you include yourself) can be powerful directors back to the site of your choosing.
Digestibility - Prospective clients find video more compelling than reading a lot of advertising copy. Which would you prefer, to watch a two or three minute video or read a thousand-word ad? Most folks appreciate the ability to get information with the least amount of effort.
Ads - The introduction of “pre-roll” video ads by YouTube (except when specifically blocked) is beginning to annoy users. Advertising can also make it challenging to seamlessly incorporate video directly into a company website or blog. This shouldn’t deter you from creating video, however, and there are other advertising-free options from which to choose.
Trolls - Videos can attract negative and snarky comments from random YouTube users, so set your video preferences to allow you to moderate and approve comments before they are publicly posted. Consider turning off video ratings as well.
How to Optimize
Create quality video content, add well-chosen titles and key words, and post away! People make major purchasing decisions based on confidence and trust. When agency owners step in front of the camera with a message of sincerely and empathy, video can create a sense of connectedness and familiarity—and that can help potential clients overcome the psychological barriers to picking up the phone and sharing sensitive personal details with a stranger.
Many online businesses are reporting that Pinterest drives lots of referral traffic to their websites. Investigation agency owners have been slow to adopt Pinterest, so there’s not much anecdotal information out there yet about its highest and best use for professional investigators.
Pinterest is the fastest growing social network right now. Visual media, images and video, are considered a highly effective form of advertising on social networks. On Facebook, visual posts are clearly the most popular—they are shared, commented on and “liked” most often.
Pinterest does imagery and video very well, and imagery can elicit a strong emotional response when used intelligently. Emotion can play a powerful part in moving a prospect towards making the decision to buy.
Copyright - One area of concern I do have about the commercial use of Pinterest is running into intellectual property and copyright entanglements.
Click here for a great article about minimizing your legal risks using social media:
How to Optimize
Personally, I’m not investing a great deal of time or capital in Pinterest on behalf of my agency right now, but I have started using Pinterest to help round out my efforts to build a more personal brand (if you will). I’m somewhat new to this platform, so I’m still figuring out how to best use it for a service business.
Regardless of which social networks you choose to ply there is some VERY basic advice that applies to all:
1. Fill out your personal network profile completely, or at the very least include your profession, location and one way to get in touch with you outside of the network. Don’t keep personal connections guessing at what you do professionally or where you live and work. For example, if a “friend of a friend” needs a referral for a private investigator in Northwest Florida, I want my social connections to remember that my agency is in Pensacola.
2. The same applies to your specific business profile page.
3. Include a call to action! What do you want the person reading your post or watching your video to do? You have to tell them:
- “Like this picture if…”
- Share this video with…”
- What do you think? Write to me in the comments below.”
- For more information, visit…”
- If you have questions, contact me at…”
The trick is not to come across as spammy or overwhelming. Undoubtedly, you’ve come across this problem many times in your travails in social media:
I’d love to hear from other agency owners about your experiences with social media marketing:
1. What successes are you having and where?
2. Do you have any tricks that help you get the best return on the time and money you’ve invested in social media?
Leave your answers in the comments below, or visit my website, where you can find links to all of my social profiles. I look forward to hearing from you soon!
L. Scott Harrell is the founder of several successful investigations-related start-ups. He speaks to other private investigation agency owners on matters of marketing, creativity and client acquisition through the real-world application of technology, time-tested techniques and walking a mile (or two) in their shoes.