How to generate leads from 4 top social networks

The largest platforms in social media continue to make it easier for brands to generate leads.

Most users turn to social media sites for entertainment and information, but for digital marketers social engagements represent a dynamic way to generate leads. Fostering leads, or potential customers, in social media is not as clear-cut or obvious as email, TV or print marketing, but there is enough history and background now to follow and replicate what is already working.

When done well and with noticeable authenticity, the likes, follows, retweets, shares and other forms of lead generation in the social age will follow in kind. The funnel, or path to get from initial contact to sale, is still nebulous but that just means it might take a little more creativity to achieve your goals.

Here's five ways marketers are generating leads on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn:

Facebook -- Social Media's Giant

  • Competitions and Contests: People love a competition or contest that gives them a chance to win something aspirational. They also happen to be one of the most effective means to increase page likes and generate leads. Determine what information would be most valuable to your business and plan your contest accordingly. Make sure to choose a prize that will appeal to your target audience and try to keep it simple because too many questions may turn people off completely. Stick to the basics if your company decides it mostly wants email addresses, location, gender and age group. Don't ask for more information than necessary and be sure to get permission to contact your contest participants in the future.
  • Offers: Facebook's Offers product enables brands to create an offer from their page or the ads creation tool. Facebook encourages advertisers to make substantial discounts in their offers and use engaging images to increase their chances for success. Once your business creates an offer, it's best to set a reasonable expiration date that gives people enough time to claim an offer and even share it with their friends on Facebook. Offers can also be further promoted by creating an ad and pinning the offer to the top of your page. Offers can help your business collect valuable information about potential customers and influencers.
  • Customers Become Brand Ambassadors: Facebook can expand word-of-mouth marketing in a social context. Encourage your existing customers to be active on your page, ask questions, thank them for participating and provide relevant content they can share with others. Leverage activity on Facebook to foster greater endorsement of what your business does and what it stands for.

[Related: Progressive Offers its Take on Facebook's Video Ads]

  • Calls to Action: Don't mistake Facebook for a purely marketing platform when actual sales might be closer than you think. A good call to action can pay off in spades. Find the right mix of lead-generating content and overall engagement without drowning your audience in sales posts. Calls to action can be included in posts, images and any other update you share. Engagement is great, but be sure to also let your fans and followers know how they can buy products or services from your company.
  • Special Codes: Few things are cooler than knowing a secret password that opens doors to savings, special offers or events. Whisper codes are especially useful for brick-and-mortar retailers who want to drive customers into their stores. When shared on Facebook, these simple phrases or code words can be repeated in store to unlock a discount or special offer. Of course, when other customers overhear these whisper codes they'll want to get in on the action too and create some buzz in the store.

Twitter -- Public Conversations in Real Time

  • Lead Generation Card: Twitter has built lead generation into Twitter Cards, which can be expanded to show rich media or useful tools without leaving the platform. Users can express implicit interest in your brand by sharing their email address without filling out a cumbersome form. Upon expanding your tweet in the form of a Twitter Card, users will see a detailed description of your offer and a call to action. Usernames and email address are already prepopulated within the card, so users can share this information directly with your business in a single click or tap.
  • Hitch a Ride on Events Hashtags: Whether it's an industry event tailored to a specific audience or an event with massive appeal like the World Cup, there's always an official hashtag to organize conversations around what's happening in real time. Marketers can use these hashtags in paid or organic fashion to share perspectives and join the conversation. Here's what Arby's said when Pharrell wore a hat that looked like their logo at the Grammys:

Hey @Pharrell, can we have our hat back? #GRAMMYs

[Related: How to Make the Most of Your New Twitter Profile]

  • Ask Questions: The best conversations are a two-way street, so don't forget to ask for input and feedback whenever possible. Ask your followers to share their biggest challenges or ideas and share those tweets to see how your followers might respond. If there's a specific topic of interest among your followers, plan and host a Twitter chat to encourage more commentary and ideas from experts in the field.
  • Promoted Tweets: Your business can gain wider distribution on Twitter by paying to promote tweets that will be seen by nonfollowers. Promoted tweets can be targeted by gender, geography, language, interests, keywords, tailored audiences and television. These tweets become native ads that can appear in timelines, relevant search results, Twitter's official desktop and mobile clients and some third-party clients like HootSuite.
  • Promoted Accounts: Your brand can also attract more followers by purchasing a promoted account ad, which carry a follow button and appear on the side of the page, the discover tab or in stream. Almost three in four Twitter users say they're more likely to make a future purchase from brands they follow or engage with on Twitter. Promoted accounts can help your business reach more relevant followers and build a community of advocates.

Instagram -- The Visual Appeal

To attract and influence prospective leads on Instagram, marketers have to focus on creating and sharing images that are visually appealing. Videos have a place on Instagram too, but don't overdo it. Snapshots of one-of-a-kind moments are what drove the platform to prominence in the first place. Embrace the legacy of the photograph and let viewers imaginations run wild with the story you're trying to tell.

  • Showcase Your Products or Services: This one's easier and more natural for fashion or travel brands, for example, but don't let that keep you from getting creative. Showcase the creation of your product and the packaging process. Think of Instagram as a platform and highly trafficked area to show off your actual products or services. Inform your potential customers by creating and sharing interesting pictures about your company.
  • Share Efforts in Corporate Social Responsibility: Your company's social outreach and commitment to causes of interest and need reflect the human side of your business. Take and share photos of your employees engaging in corporate social responsibility initiatives. Showcase the accomplishments your company is engaging in for the good of the community. Let potential customers see what motivates your employees to give back.
  • Share Team Photos: Take advantage of your group or team activities by capturing photos that can be shared on Instagram. Photos that demonstrate team unity and teamwork can go a long way toward elevating your brand image. Show off your talent by introducing your staff to potential customers and influencers. Putting a human face on your brand can also make it more accessible to your followers.

[Related: Instagram's Clutter-Free Environment Inviting for Advertisers (But it Won't Last)]

  • Engage, Follow and Like Other Brands: It may not feel natural for a brand to communicate with other brands on Instagram, but doing so indicates the level to which you're trying to create a community of interested followers. Likes, comments and follows on other brands will increase your exposure among new potential leads. Boosting your company's interaction with other brands on Instagram can increase the overall voice and value of your brand.
  • Create Personal Hashtags: Instagram users love to use hashtags, sometimes to the point of absolute hilarity. Don't let your brand get carried away by using arbitrary phrases that might be humorous or entertaining though. Creating a personalized hashtag or series of hashtags can make your brand more visible through search and even generate new leads if it inspires others to use these hashtags to interact more with your company.

LinkedIn -- the Professional Social Network

  • Don't Be Shy, Introduce Yourself: LinkedIn is all about making connections -- new and old. Making connections with people you've already met in person is just the beginning. Most people like doing favors for others, so don't hesitate to ask one of those contacts to introduce you to someone they know. Introductions on LinkedIn can be like a snowball effect. The more people you know, the more people want to know and be associated with you.
  • Collect Leads: Similar to other platforms, LinkedIn's ads can be used to generate leads by asking users to share their information and agree to be contacted in the future. The optional feature for LinkedIn's ad product will be displayed on a bar above your landing page once a user clicks on your ad. LinkedIn will notify when a new lead comes in, enabling your business to respond with a personalized message at its discretion.
  • Participate in Group Discussions: There's a group for almost anything on LinkedIn these days, so be sure to seek out those most relevant to your brand. LinkedIn groups give your business an opportunity to provide expert opinions and analysis to users who crave knowledge. Become a go-to source in your field by participating in discussions and forging new relationships.

[Related: How to Improve Your Job Search With LinkedIn's Mobile App]

  • Publish Articles: Elevate the exposure and value of your brand by publishing articles and asking for feedback among your connections. A single article could drive hundreds of comments and potential leads among people who are already interested and invested in your industry.
  • Write Recommendations: Don't just way for someone to recommend you, take the initiative and devote a few minute to write and share recommendations for your customers and most important contacts. Once these recommendations show up on their profile, it will demonstrate the extent to which you and your network collaborate. Recommendations can also go a long way toward ultimately receiving a favor or equally glowing recommendation or referral in return.

This story, "How to generate leads from 4 top social networks" was originally published by CIO.

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