Social selling is easy in principle. Find useful content. Add value to it with your personal insights. Share with the right people at the right time in your networks.
Repeat. And build relationships.
In practice, it takes time and focus to build a social selling habit. Finding that content is all about useful content curation.
Social selling and content curation
Here are 10 steps your sales and marketing teams can take to get you on the right path for content curation to power your social selling program:
- Define Your Audience
- Answer the Right Questions
- Get Your Roles and Resource Clear
- Start Knowledge Discovering: Avoid the Echo Chamber
- Filter Effectively: Use Automation
- Make Sense: Work as a Team and Add Value
- Share the Right Content in the Right Channels
- Build Your Community and Engage Your Influencers
- Make it Stick: Build Daily Social Selling Habits
- Keep it Fresh: Get Feedback and Refine
1. Define your audience: who are you doing this for?
Before you start curating content for social selling, you need to be clear who it’s for. This is where understanding your target buyers and their community is essential.
Building out an understanding of the topics that interest them will help your curation efforts to be more focused. For example, a leadership audience may prefer long-form articles from their top five preferred sources such as Harvard Business Review, McKinsey, and Knowledge@Wharton.
Review the social profiles of people you’re aiming to build relationships with.
It will give you a good sense of the type of content that gets their attention, which is what should be driving your curation efforts.
2. Answer the right questions
Anyone can find and share content. But if it’s not relevant and targeted for your identified audience, you’re just adding to the noise. Put yourself in your prospects and clients position.
Here are three questions they’re probably asking:
Can you help them with the best answer and what are the latest trends in my sector?
Successful social sellers are the first to tell their clients and prospects what’s happening in their sector.
If there’s an emerging trend or development in your sector, an interesting guide or report, or a blog post that relates to their business, you want to be the one sharing it with your clients, prospects and wider social network.
If you’re not doing it, your competitors will.
What are the risks and opportunities for my business?
You don’t want your client to have to tell you about their merger, acquisition or new product launch.
You want to let them know you’ve heard about it. Offer something back: a congratulation note, a comment, a question, offer of help, or share content that might help them based on what’s happening in their business. Show them you are thinking about them.
What’s happening in my competitor’s business?
It pays to be a little paranoid. You should be looking at what your own competitors are doing, of course.
But successful sales professionals also track what their clients’ main competitors are up to. Are they writing interesting content, and your client should be upping their game? Are they launching a new product that provides a challenge or opportunity to your clients and prospects? Add your insights, and you’re adding value to the relationship.
3. Get your roles and resources clear
Every sales professional should be sharing content themselves, and personalizing it with their insights. But that doesn’t mean that everyone needs to play an equal role in content curation across the sales team.
Some people are going to be more naturally outward looking than others when it comes to finding and building sales intelligence. Figure out who’s going to take the lead. It may be your marketing colleagues.
Mary Shea, a principal analyst at Forrester, uses these categories to help you think about where you and your team are on the social selling journey:
Not everyone on the team needs to be a celebrity, or even an expert to begin with. The point is to get started and move up the latter as you and your team build experience in sharing content. We like the emphasis on sharing at all levels here.
4. Start knowledge discovery: avoid the echo chamber
By now you should be clear on why you’re curating content for social selling, for who, and in what topic areas, and who’s going to read it.
Now it’s time to start seeking out that content, what we call knowledge discovery.
Don’t start with Google.
The answer for many people is Google. But while Google is an incredibly valuable resource, it’s not where you’re going to find the latest content. Google is designed to help you find authoritative content, not the latest content or ideas that may be bubbling up. Your prospects and network are looking for the latest information.
Content about trends and competitors that’s out of date won’t help them. Most new content is not found using Google but using social platforms, tools, and specific websites.
Social networks have become important content discovery platforms. Over a third of web traffic to major publishers comes from Facebook alone, which is primarily people visiting content their friends have shared. Social has overtaken search as the way most people get their news.
Ask a group: Community discovery platforms
We’ve already talked about the power of collective intelligence. There is a range of large networks and community sites that have become important discovery platforms. You may find that these communities are already curating the types of content you’re seeking.
These community discovery platforms include:
If you have questions there is a good chance someone may have already asked them on Quora. You can search for all questions asked on specific topics and see the answers.
There is no end to the specific interest groups on Reddit where you can discover latest content and ideas.
The feeds from Twitter can spin faster than a hamster on a wheel so finding relevant content can be difficult. Twitter lists can help you get more control and there are a range of tools you can use to focus on the content being shared on Twitter. For example, you can search for any topic on BuzzSumo and sort by the most shared articles on Twitter over the last week.
Many of these groups have become overwhelmed by marketers sharing links but there are some good restricted groups where people share interesting content.
If you are an interior designer after ideas for small gardens or kitchens or more or less anything then Pinterest is a great discovery platform. Users curate content on specific topics.
Tip: avoid the echo chamber: embrace diversity in your knowledge discovery
If you’re sharing what everyone else has already shared, you’re not adding value. Worse, you’re in an echo chamber, where everyone just agrees. Think different, as someone once said.
Three ways to avoid the echo chamber in social selling:
1. Be diverse
Look beyond the bigger websites and publications for niche content that others may not discover.
2. Share early
Don’t reshare the same articles that have dominated your network for the past week. Find and share it before your competitors too. Use alerts and filters to discover it faster.
3. Be different
Challenge the prevailing wisdom. Ask a question, disagree with reasons, spark debate and discussion. It’s a wonderful way to challenge the echo chamber and get engagement.
5. Filter effectively: use automation
You’ve carefully selected a balanced and diverse set of knowledge discovery sources to help you find great content for your audiences.
You’re using a range of websites, social networks and platforms to gather content. How are you going to keep tabs on all this information? How are you choosing the articles that are most relevant to your audience?
This is where we get to the core of effective curation for social selling: filtering.
Manual Filtering: Is Time on Your Side?
You could attempt to manually filter. Let’s say you’re trying to keep on top of trends in big data to share with your network.
You could do the following:
- Create a Twitter List that includes key influencers on big data, monitor it for relevant content (though bear in mind you’ll see everything those influencers share, not just content on big data, so that’s a noisy list)
- Do a Google search for the latest content (though Google has indexed 266 million articles on “big data” and counting)
- Create Google Alerts for key terms and check those daily
- Monitor RSS feeds from key industry blogs and publications using an RSS Reader
- Do a daily check of your preferred websites
- Check influencers on LinkedIn and find relevant posts
- Filter out the noise and share the most relevant content
And repeat that task, every day, for all your social media networks and audiences. It’s easy to see how quickly manual filtering of the web can spiral out of control.
Automated filtering: tools are your friend
The secret weapon with effective social selling is automation. You need a reliable method to seek out all the potential content that might be relevant to your audience, and to quickly sift it to decide what’s worth curating and sharing.
Here are some tools to help you work smarter in social selling with automation:
Set up Google Alerts to keep track of developments in your sectors. Simple and free. Though not always comprehensive and not always the fastest way to track information.
Tools like Buffer and Hootsuite are useful for scheduling a batch of content in multiple social networks. You can build up a library of quality content and schedule where and when you want to share it.
Depending on the level and the package, some of these tools will suggest content to you, though they’re not really designed for curation.
Lots of websites still publish content via RSS. So, it’s important to follow those feeds. Tools like scoop.it and Feedly are good RSS readers. Their limitation is that you only see content from a fixed set of sites and sources that use RSS (and that’s not most websites).
Curation tools for social selling
Many tools have emerged to support social selling which are tools that are more full-service content curation tools.
Anders Pink is an example of this. With Anders Pink, you can set keywords, domains, RSS feeds and Twitter accounts you want to follow. You can get a customized briefing on the latest content from the sources you want, refreshed every few hours.
Whichever tool you choose. Do use one. You don’t want to filter the web by hand.
6. Make sense: work as a team and add value
Content curation for social selling is easier and more scalable if you’re working as a team. A sales and marketing team can work effectively together to scan a larger volume of content and flag relevant articles to the right people in the team.
Marketing + sales = social selling curation dream team
We all talk about the importance of sales and marketing alignment. Both have a shared interest in keeping clients and prospects engaged and moving through the funnel.
Content curation for social selling is a shared activity that aligns sales and marketing:
- Marketing teams can find, recommend and save relevant content for sales teams to share with their networks. They can add a suggested commentary on the content, or share it directly on social.
- Sales teams can use this saved/recommended curated content and personalize it with their own insights and share it via their social networks.
- Marketing teams can use curated content as a source of inspiration for new original content, such as round-up posts, analysis of industry trends, and longer form guides.
- Sales teams have more to say to their audiences and more social touch points, but don’t have to invest as much time in finding relevant articles. Curation is a team activity.
- Marketing teams play an active role in supporting social selling by filtering and recommending great content to share
- Curation forms part of the overall content marketing strategy, reducing the pressure to create new content and providing ideas for future blog articles/posts and original content.
7. Share the right content in the right channels
You are what you share. The previous sections looked at the importance of seeking out relevant content and making sense of it before you share it.
Where and when you share it is just as important. To maximize your impact, you need to share curated content with the right audience, in the right channels, and at the right time.
Target the right social media networks
Where are your prospects and buyers spending their time? If it’s business to business (B2B), focus on LinkedIn and Twitter (but don’t ignore Facebook). And don’t overlook email. It’s social too!
Focus on individuals
Social selling is not just broadcasting to your followers. Select specific people to share content with. It’s about building relationships: one to one. LinkedIn InMails makes this easy. It’s a more powerful way to ask for a connection because you’re sharing content and adding value.
Always personalize your shares
It takes 30 seconds to add your thoughts when sharing an article. It makes all the difference. Even if it’s content you haven’t created, you get the credit for contextualizing it and helping people make sense of it. For example, here is an example of a LinkedIn message I received:
8. Build your community and find your influencers
Listen, share and be patient. Social selling is about building authority and relationships. A key way of doing this is to curate and share content created or shared by people you are trying to build relationships with, every day.
Often these people will be influencers in their domain and inside their organizations. Every sector, niche, and prospective client organization has influencers who people turn to for insights.
Find them. A tool like BuzzSumo can help you identify experts by the number of followers and (more importantly) how engaged their audience is.
If you want to get their attention and nurture a relationship, show them you’re listening to them. Curate and share their content to build a relationship. They will, over time, share yours and open their networks to you.
Tim Hughes quotes feedback on social selling professional received: “I’m able to build my knowledge by having you in my news feed.”
If trust is the currency, that’s the gold standard. But you must build daily habits to earn that trust. Let’s look at that next.
9. Make it stick: build daily social selling habits
For social selling to be effective, it needs to be a continuous activity. As we’ve seen, new content is published daily, effective social sellers need to keep pace with it through regular curation and sharing habits.
Here are three ways to develop sustainable social selling habits, powered by effective curation. You can share them with others, but they must start with you.
Find the trigger: hook seeking to an existing habit
Ask anyone who’s been to the gym five times in January and never again: developing new habits and getting them to stick is hard.
The key is starting small and keeping it simple.
One technique is to hook new habits to something you already do every day, doing it either with or immediately after the existing habit.
Or, after I get my seat on the train, I will read one new article from my filtered briefing on “big data” and share it with one person who I know will find it useful.
Make sense: 30 seconds for every article
We’d recommend that you try to add value to every article you think is worth sharing to the audiences you’re sharing it with.
Again, it’s up to you to find a sustainable level of habit and commitment. This can be a 30-second activity per article. Nobody is expecting (or wanting) you to write a full review or summary.
Just flag the key points, why it’s relevant, or ask a question to kickstart a discussion. Complete the sentence: “I’m sharing this with you because…” and you’re on the way to adding value and building authority.
Share at least once a day, in the right places
Before you build authority, you must build visibility. That means being present and active every day in the social networks where your audience gets their insights.
Sharing takes seconds to do, so again it’s a good habit to anchor to another one. You may be the type of person who shares as soon as you read something, in which case you can seek, sense and share in one go.
Or, you could decide to share at scheduled times during the day, or on a schedule that works for your audience.
Once you start sharing valuable content, your audience will come to expect it on a regular basis. So whatever sharing habit you choose, make it simple and easy to stick to.
10. Keep it fresh: get feedback and refine
Let’s remind us what we are doing. You’re doing this to help keep your prospects and clients engaged. Add value through the content and insights we bring.
So, you need to know if it is working for them.
Ask for feedback
Ask people: Is the type of content I share useful? What do you want to see more of? What do you want less of?
Look at the data
If you’re managing a sales team, you need to know how active your team is on social networks, and what’s converting.
Many curation tools and platforms including Anders Pink track the quantity and frequency of articles read, commented on, shared and voted on.
Be data-driven. The true metric is “attention currency.” How much of your time did your prospect “buy” by engaging with your social activity and content? If they’re buying your time, that’s a step towards buying your product or services.
Keep your sources fresh
As we’ve seen, the quality of your curated content will depend on the sources you choose. Efficient filtering makes it easier to cover a wider range of sources. But these don’t stand still. New experts emerge and existing sites may change their focus and be less relevant.
Check for echo chamber effect
As part of a monthly review, check for diversity in your network of sources. If you’re seeing too much of the same points of view or the same voices, you may be stepping into an echo chamber, where people are amplifying the same opinions. Bring in diverse sources to keep your network and your viewpoints fresh.
Know where you are going to get results
If you start social selling without a plan and a destination, who knows where you’ll end up. Probably you won’t end up in a good place. Follow these steps for social selling and content curation to point yourself in the right direction and start getting results.
This blog article is courtesy of guest blogger Stephen Walsh has more than 20 years of experience helping sales, marketing, and learning teams grow through content curation, continuous learning, and social selling. He co-founded Kineo, an e-learning company and led its sales and marketing growing the business to $20m before selling it in 2012. He’s a co-founder of BuzzSumo, recently sold to Brandwatch, and Anders Pink, a new content curation tool for social selling. Stephen is a regular blogger and speaker on content curation, social selling, and lifelong learning. He’s the co-author of the book Sharing is Selling: How Content Curation Will Make You a Smarter Seller. Follow him on Twitter (@stephentwalsh) and follow his company, Anders Pink, on Twitter (@anderspink).