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Who’s talking to your clients?

With 2011 in the rear view mirror, it’s time to take stock and look ahead. If your company has been sitting on the sidelines unconvinced of the need for a social media strategy, then 2012 brings you the gift of clarity. The answer, of course, is: Yes, you need one. Your customers, your sales force and even your investors demand it. And if that doesn’t convince you, just watch your competition.  So, for all you laggards and wallflowers, let’s talk about getting social.

We understand if you’ve been a bit hesitant about diving into what appears to be an uncontrollable, unpredictable world. But this is no longer an early adopter situation. The fat part of the bell curve is here and if you’re not in, you’re out in the cold. But other than just jumping on another bandwagon, what are the compelling business reasons to get on board?

Forrester Research recently summed it all up neatly. What they discovered is that across all social media there are relatively few voices shaping the discussion. Typically, it’s about 20% of the audience that starts discussions. Then, once the topic is set, another 20% actually get engaged. The bulk of the online population stays in the shadows, happy to soak it all in behind the anonymity of their monitors.

That’s in general. But when you look specifically at many industries — take financial services, for example — the power to influence opinions is concentrated in even fewer hands. According to Forrester, when it comes to discussions about financial topics, the initial content is created by only 15% of the audience. And it gets worse: Those who jump in and discuss those topics comprise only 10% of the audience. That’s less than half of other industries.

If you’re in the financial services business, or another straggling industry, it’s high time you made sure your voice is heard. You can talk about FINRA regulatory issues being a challenge, but they are no longer a barrier and the complexity of your business is no excuse either.

Consider for a moment the work IQ recently did for iShares designed to help make exchange traded funds (ETFs) more comprehensible. This stuff is so complex financial professionals barely understand it, let alone consumers. But social media means meeting people where they are and talking to them in a contextually relevant way. That’s where this video does an excellent job, and as a result has quickly found a following — so much so that iShares even launched a contest around it on Facebook. Wait a minute, a Facebook contest about ETFs?

So here’s your moment of clarity to start the New Year: Who knows more about your business, you or the emboldened faceless few? Isn’t it time you were part of the conversation, so you can influence the perceptions of your customers, your sales force and your investors? If knowledge and thought leadership are key competitive differentiators in your industry, as is the case in most industries with complex value propositions, your company needs its point of view to be heard where the conversations are taking place.

Right now it’s not too late for industries like financial services that have waited on the sidelines. Yes, the audience is ahead of you, but the trail has been well-blazed, which means you can leverage considerable experience to craft an intelligent, informed entry into the social media world.

But before you jump in it’s important to remember that social media is not a strategy in and of itself. It is rather a communications channel and an opportunity to be heard. Certainly what you say and how you say it is always the “secret sauce” in the mix, but more on that another time.

Tony Quin is CEO of digital agency IQ.

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