And here’s why.

Substantial damages paid by national newspaper, after online story version containing libelous statement went live. Proof that bloggers can – and will – fight for their reputations to be protected. I think it’s a stunning example, but won’t be the last.

There is a perception that if comments are posted online, rather than in print, they don’t hold the same weight or force – not so, of course, as this case has clearly highlighted. Content is powerful, irrespective of the medium on which it is conveyed.

Maybe that’s why Kwik Fit have maintained complete silence over this corporate reputation debacle throughout the whole of 2010.

This might be one of the trickiest questions to face businesses and individuals getting engaged with social media platforms – after all, although raising profile, increasing online awareness, and positive impacts on Search rankings all come as part of the deal inherently with social media engagement, some tangible ROI (such as an ideal client) via social media activity is a bonus we can all relate to.

Here’s how I look for an ideal client via social media:

It’s all about relevance, and thinking like your customer. Start by looking at which social media platforms you’re engaging on, sharing links, posting blogs, and ask if your ideal client is likely to be exposed to your offerings.

Make sure that you’re posting material which is relevant to them – their sector, niche, industry. Use relevant keywords for their business in your social media content, and connect with key players in their industry.

Observe the conversation, see what’s being discussed in your ideal client’s sector. Add value and expertise into the online comments, highlight how you can help – without selling – and point towards useful content across the web.

Give, give, give. Leave any agendas or hard sell out of the conversation, engage and add value. Consider, for example, connecting your ideal client with contacts in your network who might benefit their business. It’s likely, for example, that you will have at least one contact who could buy services and products from your ideal client. Connect them up, leverage your network.

Have a plan and stick to it. If you’re going to target, for example, IFAs then engage half a dozen with a view to converting one into a paying client.

Remember, the sales cycle via social media is longer than other marketing routes, but it usually provides a lower cost of sale and longer client retention, based on a more personal, trust-based business relationship.

One of the hardest things about finding an ideal client social media is the perception of having to let clients come to you. This is only a perception.

If you’re working your social media platforms with defined strategy, your inputs, comments and networking advice to your targets will draw them to you over time, leading to increased conversations, added value, and that wonderful question ‘So, what could you deliver for my business, then?’ which is the sweet spot of social media engagement for me.

Here are the key facts, in my experience, for finding ideal clients via social media:

  • Forget all traditional marketing thinking and techniques.
  • Don’t use sales-based language, and don’t ever write a proposal.
  • Observe, then engage.
  • Add value, help, network, use Search keywords in your content.
  • Work social media platforms with a defined strategy, not randomness.
  • If you’re looking for a quick win, re-think why you’re using social media.

A great example of finding an ideal client using social media, for me, happened like this:

I wanted to engage a medium-sized, secure, stable PR agency as part of my client base. PR agencies are exposed to clients who require expert consultancy, who listen to the agency’s advice and usually follow through with a purchase.

PR agencies are also ideally placed to utilise social media content services to their clients, thus keeping the cost-of-sale at a low point for me. I white label for the Agency. Simple.

So, how did it pan out?

I observed then engaged with a long-standing PR agency, with a solid client base, covering the entire UK. I offered inputs and advice, pointed the CEO to a few relevant articles, talked about the digital marketing agency I worked with in 2009 (and the £250,000 in social media services revenues I delivered to them via their existing client base within a 12-week period), and offered to provide further content to him.

Nothing pushy, no selling – just advocacy of a mutually-beneficial, profitable business relationship at some point in the future. Zero risk for him, and no lengthy, expensive buying-in of resources, skills, new specialised staff.

No brainer, really.

One of the Agency’s clients enquired about social media platforms a few weeks later. The CEO asked me to prepare materials on their behalf and white label a sale through – which happened within a fortnight.

Agency gains new revenues, at minimal cost, and I deliver the work, on virtually zero cost-of-sale. An ideal client, too, because they have in excess of 18 clients who could all be potential targets this year.

End result? Ideal client sourced and secured with paid work in place within nine weeks, via social media platforms. A definitive ROI from strategic activities.

So, the next time you wonder if social media engagement is really worth it, ask yourself- am I really working it, or just present without a purpose?

Happy trails.

If you thought that a bit of negative online PR didn’t hurt businesses, look at this outstanding article from Mathew McDougall regarding the ongoing BP oil spill. The corporate PR fallout is proving as damaging for the company (estimated at $14 billion to date) as the environmental impact on Mother Nature.

It raises the question for me – can a business afford not to monitor, measure and manage its own messages online?

In this age of constant online comment, blogs, tweets, customer forums, 24-7 News sites and the ever-increasing power of individual platforms – such as the recent impact of Nestle’s share values from the implosion of their Facebook Fan page – it seems more important than ever before for companies to address issues online as soon as they are raised.

We’ve seen the disastrous effects of non-positive action, denial, finger-pointing and the like in recent weeks here, too. That particular blog is costing Kwik Fit 100 customers per day, but in the absence of a responsible management team on board, one expects nothing more – or less, really.

So, my top tips to handling negative online PR? Well, three simple steps really:

* Be open and transparent in approaching the issues.

* When you’ve listened to the issues, listen some more.

* Do whatever it takes to put it right. Whatever it takes.

I am talking about the Kwik Fit deathtrap car blog post, of course.

The one which Kwik Fit management have been monitoring daily for months now, following their refusal/inability/arrogance to resolve the life-threatening issues around service at one of their UK branches – to resolve it publicly, professionally and promptly.

The only responses appear to be coming from Kwik Fit employees on Facebook – have a look here for yourself. Interesting stuff.

Next port of call here – let’s see if Kwik Fit management can ignore, evade and cover up from BBC Watchdog researchers.