2954658325_24afb04069_bDo you like to speak publicly or just type publicly? Perhaps a new or slightly different role is in your future. Looking at one Twitter Chat calendaring service, I counted a 170 tweet chats tomorrow.  On my business calendar on any given day, I have at least 2 social networking events, each running an hour.  Podcasts, Chats, Google Hangouts, LinkedIn Groups and blogs are all avenues that I have to pay attention to. Sounds like a pretty full day, but as a marketer for a small business, I can only afford to spend so much time joining conversations. But maybe that’s a strategy to be reconsidered.

In the initial tech boom, there was a role in many organizations called an evangelist. This person in this role would create a contextually relevant presentation and submit the presentation for speaking opportunities at events and on webinars.  Putting the time and energy into this practice enabled individuals to become credible authorities on specific subjects. Depending on the size of the organization, there was often an internal speakers bureau that was dedicated to undertaking this task for multiple executives. This is a tactic that was one of the earliest forms of the world we now know as Influencer Marketing.  So how does the traditional evangelist role translate into the digital world and what benefits could it possibly have?

The rise of digital and specifically social channels has allowed more people to share information broadly. If on average there are 170 Twitter chats each day, that means there are 170 hosts and often guests sharing knowledge not to mention that chat participants—and that’s just on one social network.

The persona of the digital evangelist is complex: the person has to be a dynamic, subject matter expert, comfortable in verbal (sometimes video) and written communication. They have to be press and analyst friendly, customer-facing and be able to reprioritize needs on the fly. In a perfect world, many people in your company would fit this profile—and partake in these activities—but there may be benefits to focusing on a single person who can cascade information down to the rest of your social employees.  This could be a strategy that you could take advantage of in an employee advocacy platform, but that’s just one benefit.

Here’s what today’s marketing influencers have to say about the value of evangelizing in digital communities:

  • Bryan Kramer, CEO of PureMatter and Author of Shareology
    “I average about 2-3 tweet chats a week these days. With more time I can average 4-5 chats. Twitter chats are the best way to connect with people more quickly, grow your social presence and create or sustain people in different industries around a common topic with reach that is more widespread than any other network.”
  • Ivana Taylor, Publisher, DIYMarketers.com and book editor for Small Business Trends
    “Your role as the marketer is to create a space where relevant conversations can happen around specific topics — not your product or service per se.  Your goal is to find an influencer for whom your brand is a natural and easy fit and one that matches your philosophy of doing business.  Once you find that person, you’ll be amazed by the asset that they are to your brand and your marketing.”
  • Jay Baer, President, Convince and Convert and Author, Youtility
    With the decline of blog comments as a viable interaction mechanism in many places, connecting with colleagues and collaborators in social networks has become even more important. It is without question one of the most important things I do each day.
  • Matt Heinz, President, Heinz Marketing
    Building your reputation online requires a combination of quantity and quality.  Impressions matter, but the more valuable those impressions are, the greater velocity your thought leadership will achieve.  Engaging with people who tweet about a topic of interest to you isn’t worthwhile unless you’re adding value to the conversation, adding something new that helps the recipient.Commenting on blog posts is a fantastic way to drive more inbound links, create more awareness and get more people discovering your content.  But you must be intentional about providing value in each of those responses.  How are you advancing the conversation?  How are you bringing a unique perspective or opinion to the thread? The bar is high, but the results are worth it.
But what about businesses? How does having an individual spend time in social channels or even creating vehicles for social conversations add value?
  • Bart Casabona, Director of Social Media, Pitney Bowes
    Twitter chats spark meaningful dialogue on trending business topics.  They connect Pitney Bowes with companies and professionals in dozens of countries.  Each of our #PowerofPrecisionChats have generated thousands of topic posts and engagements, and delivered rich perspectives, insights and solutions.  These are powerful experiences that help create a deeper appreciation for the Pitney Bowes brand as we enable commerce globally. Not all twitter chats are created equally, and the value of the experience has everything to do with the advance preparation, richness of the topic and quality of the guests and audience participating and following the conversation.  So, I couldn’t imagine hosting more than one twitter chat a week, which truly created impact.
  • Michelle Killebrew, Program Director, Digital Marketing Transformation, IBM Cloud
    As marketers, we know that customers are now in control of the conversation, so the best way to engage with them is by meeting them where they are and providing them value. Social conversations allow us to do just that, especially by creating 1:1 and 1:many interactions with people who will help your personal or corporate brand.  By evangelising in channels where your audience is already having conversation, you are gaining permission, establishing trust, building relationships, and extending your network of prospective customers.  Not only that, the community is likely to give you great ideas and feedback about your products &/or services (added bonus!).
  • Ursula Ringham, Director, Digital Marketing, SAP
    People want to feel they are part of a community. They want to buy a product based on experiences or recommendations from others. Companies need to embrace business evangelists (employees or customers) to spread their product messages across social networks. By having a strong social presence, people will listen and buy products based on personal endorsements. And if you don’t have this mindset, your competition is already one step ahead of you.

Even from my own experiences here at Little Bird, getting involved in conversations in any digital channel allows you to grow your network and gain valuable insights about the market and user preferences. But there are some definite ways you can bomb. Here are five things to consider that can help you to stand out in the conversation.

  1. Have a strategy. Know what your goals are for spending time evangelizing. Driving more company followers. Positioning a new idea? Seeding a marketing campaign? All of the above? If you don’t have a strategy and goals, you’ll never know if your results are working.

  2. Talk about value and provide useful tips. Bring your best practice content to the conversation. I always learn a combination of practical advice and strategy in good social conversations. Keep conversations two sided. Don’t just preach at people.

  3. Don’t pitch your product unless prompted. People do recognize that I work for a brand. I say so in all my social profiles. I let them prompt me for information about my company and our product. And at least in 1 out of 4 efforts that happens. Also about 40% of the people who follow me also follow my company.

  4. Be a subject matter expert. Understand the network that surrounds the guests and the content they’ve most recently engaged. Knowing how to put things in context is critical for effective engagement across social networks.  When you can see how other people fit in that network and understand the content that is important to them, you can have high value conversations that ultimately pay off for you and your business.

  1. Consistency and quality are key. More importantly don’t try to do everything. Test the channels that work best for your personal communications style and that are the best match for your company. For example: I get invited to SEMRushChat. I know a just enough about SEM and SEO to provide a little value to this conversation but I’m not an expert by any means.  That doesn’t mean the information isn’t valuable. It’s just hard for me to contribute. #InfluencerChat and #H2HChat? I try to attend every one of these events that I can and I always learn something.

There is a ton of opportunity happening in digital conversations. It might be time for your business to reconsider having a full time brand evangelist.  Research shows that buyers are looking for decision support in social channels.  Having a dedicated person to answer that need  may be just the bump that your brand needs.

This article was originally posted on the Little Bird blog, here.