Networking in the Digital Age

Our Social Geek Radio guest on Thursday, July 26th was Sima Dahl, Founder Parlay Communications based in Chicago. I personally met Sima three years ago during the “Epic TweetUp” hosted by our friend Gini Dietrich. I started following Sima on Twitter, connected to her on LinkedIn and subscribed to her news articles and blogs. I love what she says on her personal Website: “Each day I try to live, love and laugh out loud.” Our on-line friendship was forged and I was delighted that she accepted our invitation to be our guest on Social Geek Radio and share her expertise on digital networking.

single_playerYou can listen to the entire podcast of our interview on Social Geek Radio via the link to the left and read through the transcript of the show below.

Q: Please tell us a bit about yourself and your organization.

Answer: I have a four-year-old consulting practice, Parlay Communications, and we work with business-to-business companies and professional service firms who want to add social media to their marketing mix. Before branding out on my own, I spent 20 years in corporate marketing. I have worked for large enterprise companies like SAP and small bootstrapped start-ups too.

In addition to consulting, content development and community management, we provide custom training solutions… everything from Social Media 101 for staff to tactical How To Community Management for marketers. We’re perhaps best known for showing sales teams how to practice what I call intentional social networking for business development. And I do quite a bit of public speaking as well.

 Q: A lot of the brands capturing the social media headlines are big consumer brands like Starbucks, Old Spice and Skittles. Is there a play for B2B brands as well?

Answer: Absolutely. The thing to remember is that a b2b sale is a considered purchase – the sales cycle is considerably longer – sometimes a year or more – so coupons and other short-lived gimmicks may not be the best play.

It’s critical for the b2b marketer to find their target buyers online and consistently educate, entertain and otherwise engage them in the brand conversation. And that takes considerable effort.

For example, when I worked for an ERP company, we knew that companies replaced their ERP systems just once every 10 years. That meant that we had to market to people for a very long time to stay top of mind and be invited to participate in the RFP process.

It can be challenging to find your target prospects and consistently deliver content that educates, entertains and engages. Networking giant Cisco has taken some creative risks and launched some innovative campaigns over the past few years, and recently created their own technology news website called The Network. And Linda Boff, head of global digital marketing at GE is doing some really creative things too. For examples, she says they’re driving scores of web traffic with Pinterest. IBM is another one to watch.

 Q: What about smaller companies – or do you have to be an industry giant to pull this off?

Answer:  It may look like Cisco and IBM and the rest have social media miracles overnight, but I know for a fact that a lot of trial and error goes on behind the scenes. The key for any company, large or small, is to start with the end goal in mind. I see lots of professional service firms leveraging social media to spotlight their thought leaders or fill their recruiting funnel. One of my clients reduced their talent acquisition costs by nearly 65% using social media. Those are very specific goals that can be achieved with a focused, iterative Roadmap that has lots of room for experimentation and the occasional failure too. There is some risk in undertaking a social media effort, and B2B companies can be a bit risk-adverse. I think one missing part of the puzzle is awareness and education.

Q: Can you tell us more?

Answer: When clients come to for social media strategy, we invariably start with some baseline education on what it takes to be successful with social. Too many people think it’s quick, cheap and easy, and that is not always the case. There is a significant effort in developing a robust editorial calendar and creating the content to keep the social streams full. We help them to assess whether they can manage it in-house alone, if they need an agency partner, or perhaps need to add staff.

The other side of the coin is staff education. The buzz that surrounds a social media blunder, like those that befell the Red Cross, McDonald’s when their hashtag was hijacked, the Gilbert Gottfried Afflac duck debacle… executives catch wind of that and fear the same may happen to them. The best way to prevent a similar snafu is staff education. We are strong proponents of arming employees with the knowledge and guidelines to contribute to a company’s social media streams in a positive and mutually beneficial way. That takes training, encouragement and support from the top.

Q: Now you mentioned sales training and “intentional social networking” –  have you found sales professionals to be willing to engage in social media?

Answer: Most of the sales professionals we train have a sense that they may be missing an opportunity to better leverage social networking, but they’re not sure where to begin and they don’t have time to experiment. They’re not willing to tinker for weeks on Twitter to see if it works. And quite frankly, for the majority of my sales training clients, I don’t want them to bother with Twitter. I want them to focus first on LinkedIn and then on Facebook. I show them how to unleash the Law of Attraction through intentional social networking – focused, repeatable activities that help them build a strong personal brand and generate more referrals. I know it works because that’s how I rebranded myself when I moved from Corporate Marketer to Speaker, Trainer and Consultant.

I’ve got it down to a near science. I call it the Sway Factor™ system. Now this doesn’t mean you can’t log in to Facebook to have fun and play Farmville. But when you’re there to reinforce your personal brand, then you have to log in with that intent.

The Sway Factor™ system has just three basic tenets.

  1. Practice consistent indirect marketing (of brand you)
  2. Make frequent digital deposits (to stay top of mind)
  3. Pledge unwavering personal commitment (it only works if you work it)

With intentional social networking, every action you take should underscore your personal brand and remind people who you are, what you do, and why you’re special. Because if your network doesn’t know these core facts about you, they can’t recommend or refer you. And when your network DOES know this about you, you’ve got an army of brand champions helping you catapult your career forward.

Q: This sounds like a useful mindset for job seekers too. Do you agree?

Answer: Absolutely. There’s no better way to find a job these days than to be referred into one. And for what I call career climbers, folks who are gainfully employed but trying to climb the corporate ladder, intentional social networking to build a strong personal brand is also paramount. Whether it’s been invited to speak at an industry event, serve on a prestigious board, or submit an article to a trade journal, if you have a strong personal brand you can attract all kinds of opportunities that will help propel you forward.

Q: What words of caution do you offer your clients about the pitfalls of social media?

Answer: First and foremost, I tell them that social media is not a superhero. If you have weak marketing or sloppy sales, no amount of social media can solve those problems. But social strategies can amplify what marketing is already doing well.

Another common pitfall is to bite off more than you can chew. I see gung-ho marketers try to launch multiple social campaigns at once and ultimately, it becomes overwhelming and they bail on the effort altogether. Slow and steady wins the race. I think people feel pressure to be doing more but everyone starts in the same place, at the beginning.

Many companies underestimate the effort required to keep the content flowing – this is by far one of the largest hurdles companies face. But they have content in the form of collateral, white papers and other thought leadership materials – they have to invest in repurposing it for social channels such as blogs or tweets.

I also caution professionals, especially sales, about their RONI – Return on Networking Investment. Social networking will amplify their traditional business development efforts, but there is a law of diminishing return. I don’t subscribe to anyone who says you have to spend an hour a day on social media – for most professionals I know that’s impossible. It’s about weaving it into your workflow so it’s a seamless, habitual extension of the way you work.

Q: I see you have contributed a chapter to a book called Make Your Connections Count. What’s next for your personal brand evolution?

Answer: I must admit I’ve been a bit of a stereotype as of late – the shoeless cobbler’s child when it comes to my own marketing, but all that is about to change. I had so much fun writing my chapter for Make Your Connections Count that I’m doing another multi-author book with Brian Tracy and Dr. John Gray called Words of Wisdom. And I’m in the final stages of writing my own book on my Sway Factor™ system.

And in the next few months I’ll be unveiling an entirely new brand for my consulting practice. I haven’t publicly announced this yet but I’ll gladly share it with your listeners, Parlay Communications is going to be reborn as Sway Factory and the new website will better showcase our consulting packages, training solutions and my speaking business.

Up till now my training programs have been focused on the enterprise, but I’m nearly ready to launch an affordable training option for the small business owner, independent sales rep and entrepreneur. I’m targeting Q4 the latest.

I also write for Social Media Marketing Magazine and for Marketing News Magazine so that keeps me busy, but I love helping people wrap their heads around personal branding and social networking – it’s all very achievable with a little guidance.

Q: Any last thoughts for our listeners?

Answer:  I believe we’ve moved out of the Information Age and into the Age of Referral. And in this environment, it is getting increasingly difficult to separate your personal contacts from your professional contacts. The truth is, every member of your network is a potential referral source – for whatever it is you’re seeking in life. People have to get comfortable showing up in social streams, being human, being authentic, and looking after their personal brand. They have to be their own Chief Marketing Officer, their own best champion. And companies that embrace this truth will be in a better position to enlist their employees in their social efforts as well. A personal brand need not compete with a business brand – when done right, they lift each other up.

Please tell us which websites/social sites you’d like for people follow.

Answer:  I’m SimaSays on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, LinkedIn… all the likely hangouts!

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