You’ve decided to move forward with social selling, and created a robust online presence.  Next, you developed your social network, focusing on low-hanging fruit (existing contacts) and LinkedIn groups.  Then you sat back and learned, gathering intelligence to inform your social selling and marketing.  Now it’s time to take the big jump and begin providing content to your network.

This can be intimidating – perhaps even on the same level as the dreaded cold calling approach to sales!

But it doesn’t have to be this way.  Much of the content you share will be created by others.  This step of the social selling process does not mean that you need to write blogs and record videos!  Yes, some savvy social selling professionals do these things, but the key word here is “share.”  Plus, you’ll be creating content without even realizing it when you begin participating in group discussions on LinkedIn!

So what is this content that you need to share?

- Informative, educational materials that your company produces
- Informative, educational materials that are produced by others
- Information that is of value to your prospects or competitors

Note the terms “educational” and “value.”  Self-serving promotional material is not content, and sharing it is the fast lane to credibility loss. 

The content itself can come in many forms, including:

- Blogs
- Social media posts
- YouTube videos
- Ebooks
- SlideShares
- Webinars

Here’s a short primer I wrote about content marketing for A/E/C firms that goes into a lot more depth.

Social selling and content marketing are intertwined, but also distinctive from one another.  However, this is where sales and marketing intersect.  Through the intelligence gathering or listening stage of social selling, you can learn about items of particular interest to your clients and prospects.  Feed these topics to your marketing department, and ask that they work to develop content centered around those topics.  Maybe they will generate the content, or get others in your firm to create the content.  Or, perhaps they can research and find content of relevance created by others, external to your firm.  Either way, once that content is created or located, they should forward it to you to share on your social networks.

Business development and marketing can never exist in a vacuum – their success or failure is critically dependent upon one-another.  Social selling forces them to work together, but in a very positive, team-based approach.

Let’s work through an example of this step in social selling.

Through active listening in a facilities management group in LinkedIn, you determine that a lot of prospective clients are curious about Building Information Modeling.  While BIM is certainly not new to the A/E/C industry – we’ve been talking about it for a decade – the reality is that few owners actually use BIM as a facilities management tool (aka, BIM 6D).  But as owners become more sophisticated and BIM becomes the standard for design and construction, the conversations on the facilities side are happening with increasing frequency.  (Just check out the agenda to the most recent Construction Owners Association of America Fall Leadership Conference to see how relevant this is right now.) 

You now know that there are a lot of prospects hungry for more information.  What is BIM?  How can it be incorporated throughout the facilities lifecycle?  What information do facilities managers need to provide to designers and constructors to make the model useful?  Does it make sense for their industry or their firm?  What Computer Aided Facilities Management (CAFM) programs integrate with BIM authoring software like Revit?

When prospects are asking questions like this, seize the opportunity and begin providing content.

For starters, participate in the conversation.  Share an example of one of your clients who integrated BIM into their facilities management process.  (Be sure to respect client confidentiality and NDAs, but it’s pretty easy to share valuable information in a generic way.)  List a few best practices or hurdles to success.   

Next, connect with your marketing department.  Let them know about the dialogue taking place, and find out if your firm has published any content related to integrating BIM with facilities management.  Maybe there’s a blog post, ebook, video, or some other form of content already in existence.

Work with marketing to determine if there’s anyone in your organization that could generate relevant content fairly quickly.  Maybe it’s asking too much to get a comprehensive blog post or ebook turned around in the short term, but the topic can be added to the content calendar for future development.  However, maybe it is possible to churn out a short case study with relative ease, outlining the steps a client took to integrate BIM with facilities management.  This case study could be as simple as a blog post.

If no internal content is currently available, or will be in the near term, then you’ll need to look externally for content.  What published information is out there?  You or your marketing department can conduct the research. 

Depending upon how you set up your social media accounts and what topics or groups you are monitoring, you may already be exposed to a steady stream of content.  It’s critical to capture relevant content that you may want to reference in the future.  So if you are a member of a BIM group in LinkedIn, or you are monitoring the #BIM hashtag in Twitter, you may have already come across pertinent content.  Hopefully you captured it (saved the link, downloaded the white paper, etc.). 

For this example, I just conducted a simple Google query on “integrating BIM with facilities management,” and this link from Autodesk, “Using BIM for Operations and Facilities Management” came up near the top.

No matter how you find the content, you’ll want to share it with that LinkedIn group that is engaged in the dialogue.

It can be shared with a really simple post:

“I’ve been enjoying the discussion about facilities management applications for building information modeling.  Here’s an excellent article from Autodesk that demonstrates the many applications of BIM within the operations and maintenance phase of a facility’s lifecycle:”

And just like that you’ve created content (responding to a question or joining a conversation) while also sharing content (including the link).

Perhaps your firm has a relevant case study, in which case you could just as easily have written:

“I’ve been enjoying the discussion about facilities management applications for building information modeling.  My firm recently worked with a client to successfully incorporate the building model we developed with their CAFM software.  Here’s a short case study: [Insert link].  One of the lessons we learned in the process was that…” 

When you post to a group discussion, anyone monitoring the conversation will see your post.  You will have provided value.  Some group members may decide to “check you out” by clicking through to your LinkedIn profile (which is awesome, because you took the time on the front-end of the social selling process to populate it with informative, meaningful information!).  Some of those researching you may be competitors or vendors, and that’s okay (they may be future teammates!).  The real value, however, will come when prospects begin checking you out.

Don’t expect miracles and don’t expect immediate leads.  You need to become a reliable, regular provider of content for prospects to really sit up and take notice.

As you engage more and more with your groups, you may soon begin providing information that you come across that may be of value to them – proactive sharing, verses reactive sharing when you are responding to a specific request or conversation. 

Again, the content may be created by your firm (best case), or created by others.  Through your constant social listening you’ll get a feel for each group’s member’s interests, and it will become easier to share content of value that you come across.

However, understand that there are limits.  It’s one thing to regularly post content of interest on your own status updates (which is a best practice, by the way), but it’s another thing to constantly bombard your groups with content.  Save the content shares for highly relevant information.  Focus more on the conversations taking place, and adding information and value to the discussions.  Don’t be a content spammer!

It’s absolutely allowable, even advisable, to regularly share content, and in fact the concept of vetting through the myriad information out there, cherry-picking the best of it, and sharing it with your social network even has a name: content curation.  Thus, this stage of the social selling process is essentially akin to you being a museum curator, learning what’s out there, and creating exhibits (content) for visitors (your social network) to see.

There’s a general rule of thumb to share content from others five-to-ten times more than you share content that you or your company produces.  Of course, you need to be wary about sharing content from your direct competitors because you don’t want to promote them over you and your firm.  But content generated by complementary, non-competing A/E/C firms is fair game. 

This stage of the social selling process is really all about giving; that is, providing your network (clients, prospects, vendors, colleagues, etc.) with information that is meaningful to them.  Content can be a great gift, particularly when it is highly relevant and delivered at just the right time.  So share quality content liberally in your LinkedIn status updates and your Tweets, and save the content shares within your groups (e.g., link to a blog or ebook) to those that address a very specific topic or discussion taking place.

You’ll be building your online reputation, and exposing yourself and firm to many potential clients – if not directly to decision-makers, then to decision-influencers or those that can connect you to the ultimate decision-makers.  And if you begin generating some of that content yourself, you’ll be further branding yourself as a thought leader in your industry.

Don’t be scared about sharing content.  Be smart.  Make sure it is relevant to your network(s), and you’ll be doing your social media connections a big favor! 

In the next post we’ll jump to the final step in this process, which is really what the first four steps lead to: developing and enhancing relationships.  That’s ultimately why you want to engage with social selling in the first place. 

Previous posts within this series:

Social Selling: Does it Make Sense for A/E/C Firms?

Developing Your Social Networks

Intelligence Gathering to Support Social Selling