Last week I wrote about not getting discouraged when your social media campaign doesn’t generate leads right away. Today I’m going to dig deeper into the reasons why.

Before we continue, however, please know that the foundation of my business is to help others with a proven product or service generate leads through building credibility and trust. If a business doesn’t have a proven product or service, this process is far more complex with plenty of additional elements. When a business has already established itself as viable, finding success online is just a matter of time (though there are always exceptions).

If a business with a viable product or service comes to me looking to generate leads online, there are specific questions I will ask (in a specific order) to determine where we start the project and how long it will take. With every “yes” answer, the timeline for generating leads gets shorter.

1. Do you have an online audience?

If yes, move on to question two.

If no, you will — without a doubt — be looking at months before you are generating leads online. Building an online audience isn’t a simple process because there are so many factors involved. Here are a few questions highlighting those factors:

  • On which social media platform(s) does your audience spend the most time? Which makes the most sense for you to try and engage them?
  • What are the best ways to attract your audience to your page or profile?
  • Are there specific segments of your target audience we should focus on in the online space? In other words, does only a portion of your overall audience actually spend time on social media?

Some brands can build online audiences at lightning speed. Others build them at a slow crawl. It depends on what is being sold and the personality of the target audience (yes, entire groups of people have a “personality”).

Sometimes the platform to focus on is obvious. Other times, I will select two or three to test and see which moves the fastest. Then we put all of our strategy eggs into that basket.

2. Is your online audience engaged?

If yes, move on to question three.

If no, this may be an extremely difficult hurdle to clear, because it could take your online marketing strategy back to square one. Why? Because a huge online audience — even tens of thousands of followers — is useless if it’s made up of the wrong people.

Even if your audience is made up of the right people, we still have a problem if they aren’t engaged. What does it mean to be engaged? An engaged audience cares about the content you’re putting out. They like, retweet, share, comment and/or click through to what you publish. An engaged audience means you have individuals that care about you and your brand.

This is online lead generation gold.

If you don’t have an engaged audience, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be generating leads right away. Determining the best way to engage an audience — and then making it happen — takes time and testing.

Here’s why:

  • Each social media platform engages its users in a different way. The same person may follow you on Twitter and Facebook, but only engage with your brand on Twitter. This is because each platform is appealing for different reasons – Twitter tends to be a networking tool or news blotter; Facebook is more about developing content your followers can identify with.
  • You may have to overcome platform obstacles to reach your audience. If your audience spends the most time on Facebook, you will have to get through that platform’s lack of organic reach (and probably leverage paid ads). If your audience spends time on Twitter or Instagram, you may have to increase your followers to give yourself more credibility.
  • You must determine how your audience wants your content. Maybe your audience prefers Instagram videos to photos. Maybe they like it when you hold Q&As on Facebook LIVE. This can be one of the more difficult variables to nail down because it can take weeks to determine whether a particular type of content is going to stick.
  • You have to find the right formula. I oversee all communications for a high profile nonprofit that requires a regular switch in the tone of social media content. The nonprofit raises funds and awareness for a type of pediatric brain tumor that has a zero percent survival rate. If we only posted heavy, emotional content, we would burn out our audience. We rotate between research statistics, emotional stories, and lighthearted videos of the family to keep things fresh.

3. Will your engaged audience buy immediately?

If yes, celebrate (yay!) and then move on to question four.

If no, let the content planning begin. I typically work with businesses or professionals that do not have an audience that will buy immediately, primarily because I work with service-based businesses. Typically, there is an interim step in there, such as entering an email address for follow-up or reaching out for a demonstration of your service.

This process of moving an audience from followers to buyers will look different for each business. I caution you not to compare yourself to another business and think, “That’s how I need to be doing it.” It all comes down to who you are and who your audience is. As you’ve learned from the first two questions, audiences are complex!

There are a number of ways your audience may move from follower to buyer:

  • Signing up for an email list. This is the method shouted from the rooftops as the “standard” for lead generation — building an email list. While I recognize the power of an email list, it may not be your primary method of lead generation. I, for one, have a very personal way of generating leads that doesn’t include collecting email addresses. I tend to make personal reach-outs and connect with individuals online to generate interest. This is a skill not everyone has.
  • Requesting a free trial. Some businesses have such great success that they offer a free trial knowing they will convert a certain percentage who opt in. If this is the case, generating online leads tends to be fairly easy … people respond to results.
  • Engaging with your content. If you are an expert in your field, putting out high quality content will build your credibility with your audience. You may include a call to action within that content that includes a free trial or discount toward your services … or you may just have such a high level of expertise that you know individuals will reach out after reading or watching your content.
  • Building a relationship with you. As I said before, I generate leads through engaging with people online. You may have that same ability and, therefore, reach out to potential leads through a service such as LinkedIn Sales Navigator. If this is the case, your content will act as a support in that process.

4. How do you maintain your process?

Congratulations! If you’re answering this question, it means you’re generating leads … now it’s just a matter of maintenance!

This typically includes regular content, social media posts, and emails to your list (if you have one). Depending on your funnel, you may have social media ads in place. The key is to keep everything going so you are always in front of your audience … you don’t want them to forget about you!

I hope this has helped you understand why generating leads on social media is frequently a 3-6 month process. It all depends on where you are in terms of your online audience and then how long it takes to get them to buy.

And always keep in mind … no two businesses are alike!