Consulting firms are cautiously using social media. They stepped onto the moving sidewalk, but are standing instead of walking. At least that’s what my big take-away is from a new survey report that examined both buyers’ and consulting firms’ use of social media platforms by The Bloom Group, the Association of Management Consulting Firms (AMCF) and ResearchNow.*
The good news: there are plenty of untapped opportunities that could give consulting firms a competitive edge if they were to more effectively integrate social platforms into the broader strategy and campaigns. To do so will require a greater commitment to listening, empowering employees and using better metrics (more on that at the end).
First, the goodies. A few highlights from the research:
- Traditional Marketing/PR tactics are still the most effective. Buyers still rank personal recommendations and traditional marketing tactics (i.e., articles, media quotes, firm-produced publications, presentations, search engines) as the most important when searching for consulting firms. Consulting firms also believe the following traditional approaches have the most impact: seminars, conference presentations, SEO, books, email newsletters, mentions in the press, byline articles in external print and online publications.
- Social media approaches are gaining in importance for buyers. Buyers gave slightly higher scores in usefulness to LinkedIn and private online social networks as a means for sourcing consulting services over prior years. More importantly, nearly one-third decided not to use a consulting firm after hearing it mentioned negatively by people on social networks (typically, this occurred very early in the RFP process or before the RFP was issued). LinkedIn is the most frequently cited source of comments about firms.
- Most firms focus on the basics. The majority of firms are doing the digital/social basics (posting content on social sites, video clips, blogs, online ads), but less than half are taking advantage of tactics like publishing e-books, posting presentations on external sites like Slideshare and posting comments in discussion areas of external publications or sites like Quora.
- Even the basics could use an upgrade. More than half aren’t promoting online thought leadership content through social media at all. While nearly three-quarters allow viewers of their online publications to click and email an article, only 57% offer social media sharing options.
- Quality metrics are largely lacking. Most firms are tracking digital results by using Google Analytics to examine only surface metrics, such as the number of views, instead of evaluating the whole picture; fewer look at number of “likes” or recommends (41%), inbound links (39%) or “shares” of content (32%).
I look at this and see exciting developments for consulting firm marketing and PR programs over the next few years. Social media is expected to comprise nearly one-third of firms’ thought leadership marketing budgets by 2014, compared with only 2% in 2005, so its role in the marketing mix is clearly being acknowledged. The X factor is, how will that be deployed?
The firms that will stand out will be those that can more effectively allocate time, resources and dollars against a select number of integrated campaigns each year and maximize the impact of those to the fullest extent. In other words, it will be those who can go deeper vs. broader and do a better job with some of the social media basics that are currently being overlooked, like listening, making sharing easy and implementing a strategic method of data analysis. Firms that get smart about using metrics will leapfrog the competition, as that should influence decisions about where to focus and how social is helping achieve desired objectives.
I could ramble on, but I’ll leave you here for now. Expect more in my next post about the opportunities being missed and the importance of creating an environment that empowers consultants to participate.
What are the biggest opportunities that you see for consulting firm marketing and PR programs?
*BlissPR was a partner in this annual research initiative for the first two years.
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