I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that most professional services execs have noticed it’s easier to get premium rates for your services from some clients than others. Have you ever stopped to think about what the good guys have in common?

Beyond the right demographics – things like number of employees, annual revenue, industry, and type of ownership, it’s often the people who have heard of you elsewhere, the ones who are already familiar with your consultants or your work, who are most willing to pay what you’re worth. They feel like they already know you.

And you’re not just imagining that. Third party research has shown that buyers are willing to pay more – up to 13X more – for what Hinge Marketing calls Visible Experts (Source), those highly visible rock stars whose reputations for being experts are widely known.

Why visible expertise commands a premium

To a buyer of professional services, vendor selection is fraught with risk. Pick the wrong legal, accounting or consulting firm, and losing money may be the least of the decision makers’ problems. It makes sense, then, that expertise and reputation are at the top of the list of selection criteria (Source).

Years ago in the tech industry, as new suppliers piled into the market place, there was an often repeated saying that “no one ever got fired for buying IBM”. While IBM may have cost more – substantially more – than other solutions, its reputation for expertise, its record of success and its visibility among buyers made it the safer option.

IBM no longer enjoys that position, but the saying sums up a motivation and decision-making style of buyers that holds still true today. If you have a reputation for excellence and everybody knows your name, price – while not insignificant – is also not a big deal. In fact, buyers actually expect to pay more.

Where does social media come into the story?

Visible expertise is not a new concept to professional services firms. Subject matter experts have been publishing articles, writing books and flying cross country or around the world for speaking opportunities as a best practice for years.

What’s new is the availability and importance of social media as a means of getting in front of potential new clients and those who influence them. Over the past few years, social media in general – and LinkedIn in particular – have joined more conventional avenues as a means of finding and then evaluating experts. You can also use social media to foster your reputation among influencers.

4 Steps to incorporate social media

Step 1: Set your social media strategy

As with any other business program, good social media participation starts with a strategy. Who do you want to reach; what do they care about; where can you find them? If you already have a strategy in place for promoting your business or your expertise offline, you’ll want to integrate your social media efforts with it carefully to ensure messages and branding are aligned.

This is a good time to set your objectives, identify metrics and figure out how you’re going to measure your effectiveness. If you skip this step, you might struggle to determine ROI six months from now.

While other social networks have something to contribute to your visibility, LinkedIn currently ranks far above other social media in terms of importance to B2B buyers and this is the place to focus your efforts initially.

Step #2: Polish your LinkedIn profile

Most LinkedIn personal profiles fall into one of two categories: they are either woefully incomplete or they are nothing more than online resumes. If your profile is simply a listing of employers and titles, yours falls into the first category. If you used the LinkedIn profile wizard to create a profile, yours falls into the second category.

(Read more about what’s wrong with most profiles here.)

Your profile is your chance to showcase your expertise and present yourself in a way that is more appealing to potential buyers, partners and influencers than it is to recruiters. Use the Summary section to emphasize important aspects of your past and current work – results you deliver and how you got where you are.

(Read more about what should be in your profile here.)

Step #3: Develop your personal network

Your personal network – defined by LinkedIn as your connections plus their connections and their connections – is your top source of access and visibility on LinkedIn. You can see and communicate freely with your direct (1st degree) connections, and whatever you publish, like, share or comment on will appear in their LinkedIn news feed. You can see, send connection invitations and communicate via InMail to your connections’ connections (2nd degree). You can also see your 3rd degree connections while access to them depends on your membership package.

The reverse is also true. Whomever you see can see you. The larger your relevant network, the broader your exposure. The key word there is “relevant”. It does you no good to build a large network of people who are not related to your goals. And if you choose to make your connections visible to others, you’ll be judged, as the saying goes, by the company you keep.

(Read more about LinkedIn network strategy here.)

Step #4: Post, publish and participate on LinkedIn

Once you’ve created an expert’s profile and are strategically building your network, you can use this base to build more awareness and familiarity and expand your reputation. LinkedIn offers multiple ways to do this.

When you post a status update on your profile, that update will appear on the LinkedIn homepage (or news feed) of all your connections – a good way to stay front and center. As your connections like, share or comment on the update, your second and third degree connections also see the update, and your exposure begins to expand.

The LinkedIn publishing platform – aka Pulse – is the place to publish your best articles. The headline will be shown to 1st degree connections, followers and others whom the LinkedIn algorithm determines might be interested. Your articles can also be found through keyword search – search engines and on LinkedIn.

(Click here to read more about how and what to post on the LinkedIn publishing platform.)

Participation on LinkedIn is critical. You can further your reputation for expertise by answering questions and offering helpful comments on other members’ articles and updates and in LinkedIn groups. Be sure to respond to relevant comments made on your posts.

Beyond LinkedIn

For any business providing complex professional services, LinkedIn is a place you simply have to be. But what about the others?

Over the past year or so, Twitter has begun to emerge as a strong contender for driving good traffic to a website and for getting on the radar of high level influencers in particular. Once your LinkedIn program is established, this is the next place to try.

Google +, Facebook, YouTube, SlideShare and many others all have SEO value in that they help make it easier to find you on search engines (the #1 way buyers now search for experts). YouTube and SlideShare are great places to post your videos and presentations respectively, which increases your visibility; but neither are the types of networks where you’ll actually interact with your audience very often.

And yes Facebook has the most traffic, but few of users will be among your target audiences and even fewer will be in the business frame of mind when they’re using Facebook.  Auto-post your blog articles here and you’ll be fine.

Let’s recap

  1. Professional services buyers are willing to pay more for those who come highly recommended by people they respect and whose expertise is highly visible.
  2. In the past, speaking engagements, conferences, articles in relevant publications and books were the most common ways buyers found experts. Today that list is headed by online sources – search engines and social media (Source).
  3. By improving your presence and increasing your visibility on social media you can attract the types of clients who are not only willing but expect to pay more.

Want a free assessment of your current social media presence and some ideas of how to make it stronger? Click here to request a social business assessment for your firm now.