nurturing social mediaToday’s guest post comes from Nathaniel Mollen, a student of philosophy at Ursinus College. Marketing is only a little like metaphysics, but it’s made him somewhat of an expert in making dry topics both clear and interesting.

Lead nurturing is not really a new idea, but the term “lead nurturing,” and its codification as a strategy for using email to improve lead quality by relationship building only came into its own in the 2000s with Microsoft and the like paving the way. The fact that it took almost seven years after email became a widely used form of mass communication for marketing people to realize the potential of using it in this way may be a lesson for the industry. As the very premises of how people do business change at an incredibly rapid rate, it pays to be as on-the-ball as possible with new trends in how people communicate.

This is why online lead nurturing – lead nurturing that takes advantage of social media – is incredibly important. Current doctrine seems to dictate that all email-based lead nurturing campaigns include links to social networking sites like Facebook, but there’s very little in the way of advice on using the social networking sites themselves for nurturing, since getting a lead to follow you online through email is already a double opt-in – a high quality lead already.

But maybe that’s not enough anymore. Maybe doing the lead nurturing online entirely is the way of the future. Email is seeming less efficient by the day, and adapting existing lead nurturing doctrine to work with social networking seems like a very smart thing to do. Unfortunately, the groundwork for doing this easily – much less in a way optimized for the medium – just isn’t there yet. Because the most obvious features of social networking is its ability to share, most marketers consider the options it presents only for lead generation. But by ignoring the things it brings to the table in terms of accessibility and personalization – the more conversational nature inherent to the medium – you’d be remiss to not consider it. After all, a lead who has followed your page has already expressed an interest in knowing more (doubly so if inbound from a hub like LinkedIn).

So how do you adapt to this new way of communicating?

One begins by understanding that online lead nurturing has to play by the medium’s rules. Social networking posts are almost always necessarily shorter than would be otherwise ideal for an email update. In this not-quite-so-new-anymore age of Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus, and Twitter, things are much more high-key, and information goes by a lot faster. It’s the compression and information density that so many sociologists love to critique, but love it or hate it, it’s your marketplace now, and it must be understood.

So the first thing you’re going to have to consider is the rate at which you update. Posts being shorter means that you’re either going to have to compress the amount of information you’re passing at any given time (and risk coming off as too stiff – the point of this is, after all, relationship building) or repackage it into smaller pieces. If you’re doing it in smaller pieces, then the rate at which you send those updates out must also be more rapid. More frequent updates also compensate for the high-key nature of social networking by helping ensure your leads maintain their interest. Naturally, this must be balanced so as to not annoy or buffalo your leads such that they are lost.

This effect is especially pronounced on sites like Twitter, which have set character limits. If you’re including links in your updates, that only compounds the problem. How do you communicate anything effectively to your leads? This is the persistent problem Twitter has in general with attracting new users: the perception that 140 characters can’t possibly hold anything of value.

The trick with Twitter is in not thinking of individual tweets as online lead nurturing updates. Tweets are best send out in bursts which together form a whole. If lead nurturing is fitting together pieces of a puzzle, then online lead nurturing with twitter is like building the puzzle pieces themselves out of Lego. It’s not such a hard thing to consider when you remember that the optimum length in characters for an email heading is about the average length of a tweet, so if you have experience with that, you likely already have the necessary skills for making it work.

The most important thing to consider, however, is the dynamic nature of social networking. Email campaigns are largely impersonal, because they have to be. Making an actual connection with each of your possibly hundreds of leads by email is generally too work intensive to be practical. To be practical, most email lead nurturing campaigns have to be largely automated and static.

On the other hand, the dynamics of social media mean that actively interacting with your leads – making them fans by outreach – is suddenly practical. Not only can you readily like and reply to their comments, you can also share or retweet your leads’ content in return. In other words, there are many more opportunities to make your online lead nurturing more about the lead and less about the pure mechanical automation of releasing product or service info. As lead nurturing – online or not – is absolutely reliant on establishing and maintaining this relationship, this makes social networking potentially invaluable. After all, who among you would remain friends with someone who’s always speaking and never listening?

Naturally, as comparatively new ground, this sort of online lead nurturing can run into unfamiliar difficulties – like the danger of making yourself too available – but it’s a potentially powerful and very much cost and time effective tool to have. And when you’re a startup business with no time or money to waste, it’s things like this which can mean the difference between breaking even and being forced to abandon years of work.

Good luck, and happy marketing!