Here's what happened when Steven Raeburn, social media trainer and editor of legal magazine The Firm, took to the streets with an experiment to prove the real world, face to face benefits of a virtual social network.
The idea came to me while I was cooking fish fingers for my daughter on Thursday evening.
As a social media trainer for professionals, I have long advocated the bottom line benefits of a wide social network coordinated via Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and it suddenly struck me that the way to demonstrate its real, tangible benefit would be to prove it by utilising my own. So I decided that the next day, I would simply head out the door and let my social media network direct me through the day. I had no appointments in the diary, nothing prearranged, no plans and no real objective, except to prove that social media use was an advantage to business. I would stand or fall by the sword I was now living by, and I trusted my day to the social media fates. But would they be kind…? Sure, it would be a stunt, but one I had confidence could be performed with no safety net
The proof that this was going to be a fun and productive day came just a few minutes later as I told my evening twitter followers (@TheFirmOnline) what I had in mind, and a hash tag -#FirmTwitterTour - quickly came into being. Followers whose work and personalities I knew well but had never met were raising curious virtual eyebrows and wondering where I would turn up. Aside from providing tremendous encouragement, it reinforces one of the great social media lessons I always urge professional tweeters to bear in mind; most of their clients, professional colleagues, contacts and real world network contacts spend a lot of their evening time on twitter, and this is a ripe time to firm up your connections, create and expand a personal reputation, and demonstrate the skills that bring you business.
First stop was at the offices of @ThePrisonLawyer, whose tweets on justice and political issues are a must read, and who has swiftly become a leading voice in the legal twitter sphere. He wasn’t in, but I left a spontaneous calling card which quickly became the motif of the trip. A pic of it was quickly posted and circulated on Twitter by those who had seen what I was doing. A buzz had already begun. Twitter was asking where I would turn up next.
Nearby was the office of Urban Realm design magazine, the editor of which was a real life contact of mine, but someone whose twitter persona (@UrbanRealm) I didn’t really know. We had a quick chat and a catch up, and I found out he hadn’t been harnessing his LinkedIn connections effectively, so I gave him a brief coaching session and, within a few minutes of leaving, he had tweeted to is 5,653 followers: “@TheFirmOnline stops by to deliver social media tips. Cheers!”
If that isn’t good (free!) advertising, branding & marketing all at once, bringing my training expertise to potential new clients, then I don’t know what is.
Meanwhile, @HighlandLawyer, a professional whom I have forged a close personal bond through our introduction via Twitter, had got into the spirit of the tour, tweeting “Anything can happen in the next half hour”, and the next stop was at the office of the Strathclyde University diploma, where @EkBusinesslaw is a tutor. It was his research that concluded earlier this month that only 11% of law firms were currently using Twitter, and his work had fuelled The Firm’s news reporting. Our twitter connection had led directly to his publication as a columnist in The Firm, raising his profile across Scotland, bringing him to the attention of news networks, as well as the entire profession,. and the audience of The Drum, in excess of 40,000 on twitter, and 400,000 online who had read his report.
And yet we had never met, except via twitter.
We shook hands as old friends and regaled each other with tales as old soldiers do, and after receiving directions towards my next encounter, he tweeted out to his network: “At approximately 11.30am @TheFirmOnline appeared at my location. Wow! Twitter leads 2 face 2 face meeting = creating networks.”
From that point on, the day was a virtual blur, alternating between flying visits to firms, individuals and contacts who were following and engaged with the tour as it unfolded, and dropping in to surprise those whose social media presences could benefit from some exposure or a swift tinker & MOT. The engagements veered from the prosaic near miss at @CairnLegal, who was making a cup of tea at the time, to a catch up with the Harper MacLeod Connect2Law founder, Anne MacDonald (@HM_OutandAbout), in what became a day of pinball through the offices of tweeting Glasgow. I picked up a goody bag and T shirt from Brian Inkster, bumped into BBC reporter Reevel Alderson (@NewsnightScot) in George Square, mid-report. At lunchtime, I had a bizarre crossed-wires, near-miss with new Firm blogger, the, former radio presenter, and now trainee solicitor Amanda Maclatchie, (@Miss_Amanda_Mac). We had arranged to meet, but I ended up chatting to her on the phone from her Edinburgh office from the reception desk of her Glasgow one, where I had turned up by mistake.
Meantime, pictures of my calling cards were popping up all over Twitter in those offices where I had stopped or missed an intended target. On the network itself I had been described as Batman, the Real Radio Renegade, Fantastic Mr Fox and an old fashioned madman by lunchtime. A crowd forms a circle, and the soft PR benefit and the goodwill raised by the encounters during the day, real and virtual, cannot be calculated.
OK, so its all fun and games until someone loses an eye, right? What was the real point to all this? And did anyone make any bottom line gain? As I always say to every professional who is coming to grips with social media, what elevates the smart use of Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook from being more than just an entertaining pastime is that they have matured into media with the potential to bring clients in your door, and money into your bank account. The point of the tour was to prove this. And yes, for starters I can give you three diverse, concrete examples of real material gain right now.
Between two of my intended tour stops, I jumped into the adjacent office of a third, a small legal practice whose principals are not using social media, and when I explained what I was doing, signed them up to a training session that will benefit them, and bring a payment to me. A result.
Another contact, who tweets confidently on his own but whose large scale company have a cautious attitude to social media, invited me in to pitch my social media training to his firm based on simply watching the tour. So that’s real business development potential for us both right there.
And perhaps most obliquely, one of the people I intended to drop in on (@DuffWilma) whom I have never met, but whose bacon roll habits I seem to know intimately, was attending the wedding of another tweeter, (@Louhickey) whose cabaret I had seen performed @ClubNoir. Wilma mentioned she was getting a haircut ahead of the big day at @KennedyandCo , and in need of a bit of a thatch trim myself, I tweeted them to request an appointment. I’m usually a Toni and Guy man myself, but their Glasgow branch isn’t on twitter. So on Saturday, they’ll get the benefit of my business, and Toni & Guy won’t. And that, in a nutshell, is how every professional who has saleable experience, technical skill, judgement and professional expertise to market, should procure business via twitter.
Be out there, be confident, make friends, express yourself honestly and above all, be yourself. This comes easily to all professionals on a face to face basis, and social media is remarkably intimate. Your clients, past and potential, are out there watching every minute of every day. You are either joining them, or shunning them, and your presence as part of a real, actual social media community, will allow you to get the business that is going out there, whether it is a haircut, a legal problem, a branding inquiry, an accountancy dilemma or whatever area your expertise can assist in. The virtual network is populated by clients and businesses with real money, who pay attention to their screens and build real world relationships with the people they find there. The tour proved that more successfully than I could have anticipated.
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