Nurturing Cold Social Leads is a Lot Like Online Dating

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I hate to admit it, but I know a lot about online dating. I have lived it, analyzed it, written articles about it, and even done a tongue-in-cheek Ignite presentation on the subject in front of a sold-out crowd of 800 people. I never imagined that my depth of experience in the world of online dating would actually prove useful in my current career as a digital and social media marketer, but it has.

Social Increases Your Reach

Social media has done for businesses what online dating did for singles. It has allowed us to increase our reach beyond the known leads and brand fans in our current network, and reach into their networks of friends and colleagues.

Your known leads, prospects and customers are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a huge network of untapped potential below the waterline, and word-of-mouth marketing on social networks will extend your reach into that space.

For example, let’s look at a customer named Cathy. She already owns your product, whatever that may be, and she’s a vocal brand advocate on social media.When your company shares an update on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn she always re-shares your content to her network of friends and colleagues.

Cathy’s network of people may or may not know your brand, but they trust Cathy’s judgment, so if she shares something interesting they might just click through and land on your website. What you do from this point on is very important.


Assume I Don’t Know You

Would you put up an online dating profile with an amazing photo of yourself, but no information about who you are in your actual profile? No, you wouldn’t. Take a look at some of the content you promote through email marketing and social media channels right now. Do you assume the person viewing that content has an established relationship with your brand or at the very least some brand familiarity? If so, it’s time for a paradigm shift.

If you want to engage a cold lead that was referred from a social network you’ll have to begin at the very beginning. Assume I know nothing about your brand or products. I just clicked through because my friend Cathy shared an interesting piece of your content. Now it’s up to you to show me something real.

Tell Me Who You Are

Let’s say you sell load balancers to the IT crowd, and you just finished a benchmarking study that shows your load balancers can handle three times as much traffic, at twice the speed, of the nearest competitor. You have created a fun video that compares your load balancers to Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world. That video sits on your YouTube channel and on a landing page on your own website.


You share the link to that video out on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and our social media influencer Cathy immediately shares it out to all of her networks. Now imagine if 100 people in her network click through to watch the video. And assume that none of them have ever heard of your brand.

This is your chance to give people introductory grounding information so they understand who you are and what you do – quickly. Make sure someone who clicks through to your landing page to watch the video can find the answers to these questions when they hit the page:

  1. What is the name of this company? (in case I didn’t catch it in the video)
  2. What does your logo look like?
  3. What business problem of mine do you solve?
  4. How can I learn more about your company and products?
  5. How can I contact a real human being for more info?

When I click through to an online dating profile I expect to see some information about the person in the photo. The same is true for your video. The video grabs people’s attention because it’s clever and entertaining, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Make it easy for people to find out more information about the company behind the clever video.

Soft-Touch Nurture for Social Leads

Imagine you just received an email from a complete stranger on an online dating site, and that message contained a lot of personal details about your life with a marriage proposal at the end. Wouldn’t that creep you out? That’s how it feels when you dump a cold lead into an aggressive nurture track on first touch.

We are getting really good at tracking online behavior these days, but that doesn’t mean we should act on everything we track. There’s nothing worse than giving up your email address to download a piece of content and receiving an automated email before the download is even finished. It screams automation and depersonalization.

Treat the first touch like a first date. I don’t know if I’m interested in you yet, so don’t assume you’re getting a second date.

Do not dump cold leads collected from social referrals into your regular marketing nurture track.

They will be confused, overwhelmed, and unsubscribe before you even have a chance to introduce yourself. Create a separate nurture track for cold leads from social. If the lead came in through a survey, send them an email the next time you have a survey. Start with neutral content like industry reports, links to surveys, videos, and quizzes before moving onto anything in your standard nurture track.

Scoring Social Leads

In the world of online dating people score each other without even thinking about it. You do this dance of winks and emails, maybe a phone call, before you would even consider meeting each other in person. Scoring leads from social referrals works the same way. Think of it as a blind date with a potential prospect. The score starts at zero, and you work your way up from there.

Create a separate scoring model just for social referral leads. Give points for engagement with neutral content, and don’t move a social referral lead into a regular nurture track and scoring model until they’ve reached a certain level of familiarity with your brand and displayed some degree of engagement.

Trust is Key

In 2013, the Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising Survey polled more than 29,000 people across 58 countries to measure sentiment in advertising formats and messages. Eighty four percent of global respondents said a recommendation from family and friends was the most trustworthy source. Only 69 percent of respondents trusted information on a branded website. (Trust in Advertising Report, Nielsen 2013) The bottom line is that people trust messages from their friends and colleagues more than messages from brands.

Remember the example above. Your customer Cathy trusts you. She already has a relationship with your brand and your products. I trust Cathy, but I don’t trust you yet. You have to earn that.

Nurturing social referral leads can be a slow process. Many of the leads you acquire from social referrals will never become customers. That’s okay, because it’s a numbers game. Somewhere in the vast network of people below the waterline of that iceberg you will find some of your best customers. You just haven’t met them yet.

Social Media Marketing Toolkit