Social media for professionals: the value of networking by proxy

Candice O'Sullivan
September 24, 2013

In the last couple of weeks, you may have come across this headline:

LI $70 million account win

This is the story of Mitchell Rock, a financial advisor from New York City, who works for The Rock Group at Morgan Stanley, a global financial services firm. The story goes that Rock, who had been on LinkedIn for little more than seven months, came across the profile one evening of a man he had done business with some 12 years previously but had since lost touch. Rock sent this contact, who now lived on the west coast of America, a message updating him on his current business focus and directing him to a landing page on his website. Three weeks later, Rock had converted a very cold lead into a very large account. It turned out that his old business contact knew of someone who had an immediate need for the kind of services Rock had to offer.

This case study is obviously the exception, not the norm, but a spokesperson from Morgan Stanley did make the following comment about the role social selling was playing in her company’s lead-generation efforts:

‘For those [of our] advisors who are using social and doing so on a daily basis – meaning it’s actually part of their practice, something they have absorbed – 40% have gotten a new client.’ However, she also added the caveat that ‘a failure to be consistent will yield no better results than trying to diet by going to the gym once a month. It has to be part of their business development and marketing efforts on a regular basis.’

This example demonstrates one of the more compelling reasons for using social media, which is their potential to act as an accelerated networking tool. These kinds of platforms help to remove the challenges of time, distance and geography that so often act as barriers to traditional face-to-face networking. In the case of Mitchell Rock, LinkedIn enabled him to reconnect with someone who had ‘fallen by the wayside’ many years earlier. Now, you could argue that this ‘reconnection’ could just as easily have happened at a networking event or function and led to the same outcome and you’d be completely right. But if we look at it from another perspective, that serendipitous run-in hadn’t happened in 12 years, so how much longer would Rock have been waiting? Potentially forever.

There are myriad reasons why we lose contact with people over the years. However, social platforms, like LinkedIn, are making it easier to maintain these relationships and to keep people in our circle, even when we are no longer directly involved with them. The benefit of this is that they remain in touch with who we are and what we do; we retain ‘mindshare’ should they ever happen to need our kind of services again. And because we are known to each other within a specific professional context, we retain the permission to sell to them even when significant time has lapsed. Even if we’re not directly interacting with each other, we’re regularly sharing posts and receiving status updates about each other, and the familiarity created by these repeated online interactions helps to maintain and build trust. While the relationship is conducted at a distance, it doesn’t fade in the same way it would with a complete absence of contact.

Cumulatively, these virtual social experiences can serve as a valuable proxy for – or as a useful addition to – our traditional networking approaches.

This post was contributed by Candice O’Sullivan, Director and Head of Strategy at Wellmark. You can find Candice on Google+ at +Candice O’Sullivan or follow her tweets on brand strategy, content marketing and related topics @candicepill.

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