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Twitter is all the rage, but can you actually use it to drive sales? What about Facebook, LinkedIn or blogging? Social networking seems like the right place to build a lead generation program right now. These sites offer up huge audiences of engaged users, and make it relatively easy to setup targeted groups and encourage participation. It seems like a no brainer, but it's not. Many business-to-business lead gen campaigns based on social networking are failing.

Here's the secret, age matters. Your audience just might not be ready to be marketed to via social networking. They could simply be too old.

Take a moment and profile your customers. On a piece of paper identify the key decision-makers you target in the sales cycle. This could be CEO, President, CFO or VP of HR. Beside each of the titles, write down their average age of the people in these positions. Next, profile the users of your products and services by writing down their titles and average age.

Depending on what you sell, I suspect you will see a gap. For example in the software industry the decision-makers, the senior people inside organizations, tend to be 35 to 50. While the users, which could be administrative staff or mid-level managers, are typically 22 to 35. These groups are at least a generation apart, which has a direct impact on the types of technology they use in their day-to-day lives.

The Age Gap: Digital Immigrants Versus Digital Natives
The plus 35 crowd, people born before 1974, are Digital Immigrants. They didn't grow up interacting with friends and family through the internet. Rather, they connected on the phone, in person or maybe by letter. If they wanted to plan a Friday night out, everyone called each other to coordinate plans.

As technology exploded in the late 90's and 2000's, the Digital Immigrants embraced the new tools. E-mail replaced the fax. BlackBerries gave access to e-mail and the Internet anywhere, anytime. Google made it easy to find information in a matter of seconds. With each breakthrough, Digital Immigrants figured out how they could use the technology to make their lives more efficient.

The under 35 crowd, Digital Natives, have approached technology from a totally different perspective. Digital Immigrants may look at Facebook, Google and e-mail like tools, but not Digital Natives. I asked my associate Fawzia, who is 26 and definitely a Digital Native, how she would describe her use of social media. She said, "It's a necessity. It's what you do. You might use the phone, but we text and social network. That's how we talk to each other. It's like breathing!" The Digital Natives can't imagine communicating without these tools. They are completely ingrained into their social connections, their community and how they learn.

When to use Social Networking for Lead Generation
The differing approach to technology between the Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives has a direct impact on your lead generation strategy. It is crucial to profile the demographics of your users and decision-makers so that you know which media platforms to use in marketing.

When targeting the Digital Immigrants, social media is not the best approach for lead generation. Sure you may get a few leads from social networking, but not nearly as much as you could through traditional media. Digital Immigrants use technology as a tool to support their buying decisions. As a result, they use Google to find vendors, websites to evaluate companies and human interaction to make buying decisions. Social networking is not used in the buying decision, because it is not a tool for evaluating products or services.

As you understand the habits of the Digital Immigrants, you can tune your marketing programs to fit their needs. Some of the obvious programs are search engine optimization, because they use Google to discover their options. Public relations are effective, because they use newspapers and magazines as a primary source of information. Public events are also powerful, because Digital Immigrants truly value being able to see the white's of their vendor's eyes.

If your audience is Digital Natives, you have a lot more marketing options. In a business-to-business environment there are not many Digital Natives in the decision-making roles, they tend to be users. Users are still important to the overall marketing strategy, because having access to them provides an influential group for up-selling and cross-selling.

For example Salesforce.com created IdeaExchange to engage the Digital Natives, and capture their input for product innovation. The IdeaExchange is an interactive, social networking site where users can post ideas and comments to help Salesforce.com get better. The platform builds on the habits of the Digital Natives, and offers incredible market intelligence for Salesforce.com to plan future versions and products.

Beyond product development, building an engaged user community offers tangible benefits for sales. The ongoing interactions the users have in the online community help to build a relationship with the company, and reinforce its brand. More importantly, the interactions keep the users in the know. They have a better understanding of the company, its products and its upcoming products and innovations. This knowledge helps them to advocate on behalf of the product inside the company, and even drive additional purchases. Essentially, the users start the sales process from the inside out.

Driving Leads Today
By profiling your customers, and understanding their technology habits, you can tune your marketing programs. Social media is definitely the way of the future, but it still may be too early for your customers. If you find your decision makers and users are Digital Immigrants, then focus your marketing on traditional media. Social networking may generate some traffic, but not as much as you could through public relations, search engine optimization and email marketing.

Social media is definitely the way of the future. The Digital Natives may not be sitting in the key decision-making roles yet, but they will be in the next five years. As they move up the ladder they will pull their technology habits with them, and the use of social media in business decisions will become far more prevalent.

About the Author:

Jeremy Miller is a Partner with LEAPJob. LEAPJob is a sales and marketing recruiting firm in Toronto, Canada.
©Jeremy Miller, 2009.  Reproduced with permission.



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