Use social media to avoid disrupting your prospect's day

Jason Fried is the founder of 37signals, the company behind Basecamp and other popular online collaboration tools. He recently gave a great talk at TED about why work doesn't actually happen at work, citing the tendency of M&M - Meetings & Managers - to disrupt productivity. It's full of quotable lines ("It's only a one-hour meeting if only one person's there. If ten people are there it's a ten-hour meeting."), really wild ideas (Casual Friday? Meet No-Talking Thursday), and great insights into why these interruptions make it so hard to get stuff done.

As I watched, it occurred to me that Manufacturer's Reps and Marketers are in danger of becoming the next M; when you visit a busy architect at a major firm, are they glad for the chance to take a break or slightly frustrated by the interruption to their day? Ideally they are happy to see you, because they have a good relationship with you and know you bring valuable information, but even a pleasant phone call can disrupt workflow. If prospects start to see you as a disruption, are you going to get that sale?

Of course not. So how do you avoid that?

One of Jason's recommendations is to use "passive" tools like email and IM (instant messaging) instead of meetings; the technology is still disruptive, but while face-to-face collaboration is an immediate distraction, email can be slotted into a slow part of your day. This is why social media, including email, is an important tool for manufacturers: it lets you continue building the relationship while fitting into their schedule.

Jason calls social media the modern version of a cigarette break; a couple decades ago no one had a problem with people stepping out for a smoke a few times a day, but now checking Facebook for 15 minutes is a productivity problem? Of course it's not. In fact, studies are finding that letting employees check social networking sites improves overall productivity.

This gives us an opportunity. A well-designed social media campaign can become part of your prospects' "brain candy" instead of - in addition to - building the relationship by providing education and top-quality technical information.

Here's a strong but simple example. SkimStone is a cementitious microtoping with strong decorative applicaitons. Their Facebook page hosts an active community where people post pictures of recent (amazing!) projects, comment on those pictures, ask technical questions, and discuss future projects they have in mind. In other words, it's exactly the kind of place a designer looking for a 15 minute "mental health break" would come to virtually hang out for a few minutes.

Then they share the page with their friends and coworkers, who also come check it out. Or find a great picture and send it around the office.

Without leaving your office, without disrupting your prospect's day, you just put your product in front of an entire office of designers with a personal recommendation from their friend saying, "This product is amazing!"

You can't buy publicity like that.