What social media can offer us as consultants …

At first glance social media might seem to be a bit of a productivity black hole.

Oh, don’t worry – I’ve heard a great deal of reasons and excuses of why it should be avoided.

At best, naysayers are happy to proffer it with a huxleyan warning that it is a cesspool of activity in which people can amuse themselves to death whilst being constrained into an electronic prison where we are targeted by vendors whilst fed a false sense of personal freedom. In fact, the worst thing I have seen it called is an electronic feeding ground for emotionally crippled, narcissistic pariahs.

Yet, to my mind, I think that the accessibility of immediate, transparent, global, (practically) free (as in speech, not beer) communication is one of the most breathtaking information advances since the telephone.

However, the use of social media can be done in any number of ways. Even if you decide you do not  wish to “participate” it is quite acceptable to utilise the beast like a lamprey and simply feed along the sides using social media aggregators (such as Flipboard, Pulse, Zite or Float – amongst others) to provide you with an easily consumable and oft customised access to a range of information.

However, my point is not to offer you a way to avoid it, but to convince you of the potential of social media.

In short, it helps us to become better consultants. How? The “top three” for me are:

  • Facilitating open communication
  • Enhancing information discovery
  • Provides spaces to discuss ideas, ask questions and share information and links.

In short, it gives us access to information that we can tap into, often faster than we can type a query into Google with interaction with SMEs  … but it also offers us the chance to develop our skills in regards to the way we listen to,  and interact with potential customers.

In a very real way, social media is very much like a set of parties. For example:

  • LinkedIn is your traditional business function. Lots of people shaking hands, swapping details, talking about what they are working on and who’s wheeling and dealing with who.
  • Facebook is your informal friends and family get together. Everything gets talked about, sometimes fights start. Most times it’s just about keeping in touch.
  • Twitter is a BBQ. Lots of conversations are happening at the same time. Little groups are hanging around and throwing out tidbits. You can jump in and out of them as you please.

Each network has its own unique “feeling” and its important to be aware of the underlying atmosphere. Especially if you later think about utilising those services to spread a message, either on behalf of your company or for your own brand exercise. However, for now, let us simply discuss being a participant.

Just like going to any social event, having a good social media presence is basically the same as being a good guest.

However, how about being a great guest? Who are the people you always want to invite to a party? Usually, they are those who:

  • Engage with their audience
  • Provide space for others to interact
  • Listen to the conversation
  • Share selflessly

In short, they build relationships, and people want to seek them out at future parties. In short, the online medium is no different.

Except perhaps that you can now be in the office, on public transport or even at home … the focus is now on the conversation, and not how you look, smell, or if you are wearing pants.

In the same way, our roles as consultants relies on these same skills when meeting with our clients. We can only build long lasting relationships if we make an effort to understand them, be good listeners and continuously (re)engage with them.

Just as in the “real world” there is potential for miscommunication and misunderstanding. In fact, due to the inability to convey certain nuances (especially sarcasm, irony, wryness and dry humour) the ability to misconstrue (and in turn be misconstrued) runs higher.  So, there is an offering: learning to deal with and navigate around language. Consider it an ever changing and evolving course in dealing with ambiguity, bad spelling and grammatical hurdles.

If we consider our roles as thought and solution leaders, then being a voice in social media can offer us the ability to train those skills to build relationships, share selflessly, listen to the conversation and engage with an ever changing audience.

The people we are being asked to engage with, to lead, are not just machines wanting inputs and the churn of completed objectives – they are people with lives, dreams, aspirations, and problems. If we are to engage with them, then surely we must understand that this is a part of them? How much time have we spent building that knowledge?

If I think about the one minute salesman, I recall a basic tenement that was espoused – build the rlationship, and in so doing, you can understand what is truly driving the client.

To put it in the parlance of TOGAF – what are the concerns of the stakeholders?

We are going to go out into the world – amongst our colleagues, our customers and even competitors – and what will make us sought after amongst them? Will it be the rhetoric? The eloquent speeches? The cries to battle? Our charismatic personality?

They are looking for someone that they can trust. Someone with whom a relationship can be forged. Someone who will listen to them. Someone whom they can seek advice and insight from.

It’s what we’d be looking for, right?

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