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The over-hyping of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn has caused many of us to develop a “who cares” mindset, especially when it comes to our businesses. I know this all too well because I originally landed squarely in this category for some time. To complicate matters I was a proud card-carrying member of the “disregard” club.  
But I recently changed my mind about the potential for social media to engage the customers of solution providers, after launching an experiment to see whether it makes a difference. Here’s what I learned: your voice matters more to your customers than you think. Start the conversation with your customers and see where it leads.

Not enough time

We often develop a “who cares” mindset because time and money resources are scarce and social media is a line item that is typically put on the back burner.  In fact, in a study by The ASCII Group, that polled over 1,300 solution providers in September 2010, 77 percent of those having a social media account were considered inactive.  Without a doubt these numbers are a reflection of what we know is true – lack of time kills these efforts.  So how do you create a social media strategy with the time constraints we all have? This is where our experiment begins.

The trust of 40 and the experimental new service

I crafted a strategy to automate the posts of 40 solution providers on their Facebook, Linkedin and/or Twitter accounts based on those solution providers’ preferences. The service would show consistency and automatically post select content up to three times daily.  Any content even remotely sensitive would be avoided, so all posts would be safe and neutral. And so I began a mission to find the right content to make this work.

Sparking the conversation

The relevant and safe content I found to post ranged from notable business quotations to timely articles about technology to top ten checklists about small business marketing. Anything that seemed interesting and deemed to be worthy made the cut and was automatically posted across all the solution provider social networking feeds.

By creating the content and automatically posting the information, we eliminated the time issue that plagues many solution providers. And we quickly learned from the solution providers that the automated service was sparking conversations and the response was immediate.  Interactions took large pendulum swings up and down based on content, time of the day and the individual. Conversations flowed as customers made comments on posts, re-tweeting articles to simply responding with a ‘like’ on Facebook.   Here’s an example of this, where 15 comments from customers were attributed to one Facebook post:

“Limelight was how we lit the stage before electricity was invented. Basically, illumination was produced by heating blocks of lime until they glowed.”
November 17, 2010 at 6:00pm • Like Unlike • Comment

Debbie: Wow….learned something new today.
Tim: Hey Deb, I’m full of useless facts!

Debbie: Now Tim….I KNOW that is not true. (Company name) is a proven fact of total knowledge. It’s a great EVERYTHING Computer/Network maintenance/savior.

Tim: Wow! Check that out! Unsolicited client testimonial!! Thanks Deb! We love you guys too! And I have your stuff ready to deliver on Tuesday if that’s ok.

The experiment was working but why?

The Answer: Your customers want more…

Based on feedback, we have learned that your voice matters more to your customers than you think. By default, each solution provider takes on a leadership role in some form with the companies they serve. Social media is an opportunity to reinforce this leadership position through enhanced open dialogue, sharing timely information and interactively engaging with your customers.  Solution providers who don’t participate are simply missing out on interactions and conversations that customers want to have but never take place.  

As an initial skeptic of the value of social media, here’s my advice to solution providers:  No matter how you start the conversation, just start it – you never know where it will lead.

Jerry Koutavas is the President of The ASCII Group. ASCII provides services to SMB IT Practices in areas of operations, sales and marketing and vendor management including an automated social media service. ASCII reduces your need to hire more resources because ASCII services are responsible for supporting your business in critical areas that that are non-revenue generating. That means more of your time is spent on building your business, not administering it.