It's unnerving when I hear, "My company gets business from referrals, not our website. I don't care about online branding".
It's a shame that executives don't understand the effect online branding can have on their company's bottom line, especially when it comes to referrals and prospective clients.
Online branding is about far more than your brand website or your company's social media presence. Your online brand includes what your employees say online. It also includes things that you can't control, such as online reviews.
While professional service firms are not as susceptible as consumer product companies to the vagaries of online reviews, you can't discount the effects websites like Glassdoor or Yelp have on recruiting and business development efforts.
Today, we all turn to the web for research, regardless of what we're buying. We validate every purchase decision and referral online - you can't dismiss these modern buying habits when thinking about how potential buyers find and engage your organization.
Our research on referrals in professional services found that 80.8% of referrals check out your company by looking at your website - and 59.9% review your social media profiles.
If that doesn't make you reconsider the importance of your online branding, then here's another statistic - 51.9% of referrals rule out firms without talking to them.
Saying you don't get business from your website may mean you are leaving a lot of money on the table, you may have already missed out on prime opportunities because you never made it to the shortlist.
Here are three compelling benefits to investing in an online branding effort:
1. It will reinforce your position as the expert
The number one reason referrals don't get in touch with your brand is that the referral couldn't understand how your firm could help them.
2. It will attract prospective clients searching online
In today's marketplace, people search online first. They still let their "fingers do the walking", but the Internet replaced the phone book long ago. Even if someone's not looking for a provider just yet, they are looking for answers to very specific problems. If you show expertise in navigating these difficulties, you're well-placed to be their future service provider and not be forced to bid your services as a commodity.
3. It will help attract top talent
The best employees look online and shortlist the firms they'd prefer to work with. In professional services, your employees are your product, and mediocre hires won't cut it. Ignoring your online presence tells potential hires to not even bother, especially if you're trying to recruit Millennials.
So now that we've clarified the reasons, here are 5 steps to help you build your online presence:
Step 1: Develop a high-performance website
Your website is usually your first impression for prospective clients and employees, so you need to make it count. Your messaging should reflect what you can do for them, not what they can do for you. A website is the hub of your online presence as it unifies your online content, social media channels and offline efforts.
Step 2. Build your content funnel
Don't be like most of your competitors that just have show-and-tell, brochure websites listing their services. Rise above the pack with your own content - because clients are searching for insights, they'll stay engaged with those that inform them, and pay higher fees for your expertise.
Step 3. Engage customers through social media
Social media enables you to share your messaging and content with a wide audience, to connect with prospective clients, and to showcase your expertise. It also allows you to consistently stay in front of prospects and build relationships with them.
Step 4. Set up Google alerts
Monitor what others are saying about your business online via Google Alerts. This service is free, and it'll notify you each time someone mentions your company online. Don't forget to add misspellings of your company name, your executives' names, and names of your spokespeople too.
Step 5. Develop a social media policy
Put your firm's stance on social media in writing and share it will all of your employees and add it to your employee orientation. Include how employees should share your company's content, and what they shouldn't do as well. They represent your brand for better or worse - best ensure they have the knowledge to do it well.
You can't ignore your firm's online branding anymore, but the investment will pay for itself by increasing referrals, attracting new leads, and attracting top talent.