aimClear’s demographic research product includes social media influencers from a number of channels ranking from Facebook and YouTube to forums.  We then challenge Community Managers to take these “friend leads” and convert them to organic friends over 3-5 days, at a “cost per friend lead” calculated from how much time the friend-conversion takes.  This post samples techniques to identify and qualify friend-leads, influencers and several holistic tactics proven to convert those leads to friends.

1-Research & Target the Right Friends
When it comes to social media friend, we believe that quality, influence, loyalty and relevance overall outweigh quantity. There are tons of ways to locate cool people and vet their levels of influence. Mashable’s presence on Facebook reveals that their fans engage surrounding particular topics. Head over to Mashable’s Facebook page. Choose any blog post. Click where FB indicates that people “like” that post.

Take note of topic-specific Facebook users as target friends.

This approach works for many mainstream publications that feature extremely specific articles. Leverage this method to identify and locate a variety of users who are interested in highly-focused topics. These are your ideal social targets!

Let’s check out the New York Times, and use it as a means to target those so passionate about climate change that they “like” the article.

There are many other Facebook privacy leaks we can exploit for friend targeting.  That terminology may sound ruthless, but once we have the targets, we practice holistic methods for getting to know users, over time, by honest and mutually-beneficial methods.

For identifying target friends on Twitter, one directory we like is Start with suggestions in the search box at the top. Let’s say we’re looking for friends who are into “landscaping.” It’s easy to see the relative distribution of users in relation to keyword permutations.

wefollow SERPs are comprised of Twitter users who self-identify (self-tag) with individual keywords.  The default SERPs are sorted by most influential according to the wefollow algorithm.  There’s also the option to sort by most followers.

Drill into individual users for more detail, wefollow rankings, and other self-tagged keywords. (This is a great way to stem segments and brainstorm.)

2- Demonstrate Interest & Familiarity On First Approach
It is impossible to overestimate the social benefits of taking time to understand a user’s predilections and interests. The person in the screencap below friended me on Facebook. I don’t know her in real life. When I went to check out her profile, I saw my own Facebook Ranking Factors blog post near the top of her wall. I usually don’t friend in FB outside my most immediate circle, but this time I did. It seemed she was truly interested in my work. That or a brilliant tactician.

Anecdotally, this technique has improved Facebook friend-lead to friend-conversions rate for Community Managers up to 30%.  There are many ways to demonstrate familiarity and real interest in a friend-target. It’s nearly always worth taking the time to do so.

Think about your own activities. Actually be the person someone with similar interests would want to hang out with.  Recommend terrific and relevant content to them. Listen to what they say, soak up feedback (and respond to it!), offer value without asking for anything in return. Dude, you can’t make friends if nobody likes you.

3- Answer With Questions
Years ago I had the pleasure of working with an accomplished Wisconsin Public Radio journalist.  We were collaborating on a documentary video, which involved a lot of interviews. He routinely replied to his interviewees’ answers with more questions, getting them to spill their guts in far more intimate ways than one would guess.  This was not an isolated phenomenon… most people, social creatures that they are, seem to enjoy when others probe thoughtfully.

Listen to what potential friends talk about. Ask them clarifying questions and take note of how they share themselves. We have recommended this tactic to many Community Managers and watched them shine.  The best way to create engagement is to actually be engaged in how you interact with others.

4- Automate Your Content Research
Don’t let the term “automate” shake you up. Most marketers know all about Google alerts and leverage it for keyword-driven reputation monitoring. These same alerts also represent a really cool application for social media. Use alerts to automate research for what your target friends are interested and where they’re hanging out.

Say, for instance, the topic you’re curious about is “baseball statistics.”  Set up Google alerts for permutations of this topic such as “baseball memorabilia,” “baseball history,” “baseball autographs” and the like. Use the alert email’s subject syntax to automatically route the alerts to a dedicated mailbox in outlook or Google Apps’.  Now you’re totally up to speed on a daily basis of every newly-indexed instance of those keywords in news, blogs and most places where Google crawls content.  From your steady stream of daily content, do a quick review of what’s cool and dish it out to those baseball-lovin’ users.

Often, this method (especially when the Google alerts are set up “as-they-happen”) can help you be the first to bring fresh content to the community.  Depending on the desired level of sophistication, consider setting up a dashboard to aggregate feeds from other neat places. One way to be perceived as a contributing authority in any interest segment is to actually be an authority. Keep totally current with content. Make the research job easier with automation.

5- Ask For Nothing in Return
Poll the audience on Twitter (or any social channel, really). Odds are most people do not appreciate being bombarded with sales pitches on first-touch. There’s little more frustrating than 24/7 self-promotional tweets and @mention spam from brands blind to the art of holistic befriending. We learned long ago that businesses who use Twitter as a “bullhorn” don’t get very far. On the flip side of the coin, you can’t put a price on a brand that reaches out to users simply for the sake of saying, “Howdy!” and, “How can we help?”

If the goal is to make more quality, influential and loyal social media friends, then treat them like friends. That means expressing genuine attentiveness to not only mutual interests, but overall well-being. Share content with friends without asking for retweets… don’t be afraid to casually chat without a hidden agenda or link to your webpage up your sleeve.

6- Add Real Value on Rebroadcast
There are an assortment of telltale indicators a brand flat-out doesn’t get social media. One is a Facebook wall with nothing but one-sided status updates. Another is a Twitter stream overflowing with monotonous, unmodified retweets. All that shows is you know how to click the “RT” button.

Take the time to show you actually read the source you’re rebroadcasting by adding brief, thoughtful editorial. Reshape the message appended by the preceding sharer so it incorporates your personal voice. Put a unique spin on the content’s emphasis. Just make sure you give credit where credit is due (ex: via @[username of initial sharer]).

7- Leverage Each Channel’s Tagging Vernacular For Visibility
In Twitter, users can find content that suits their interests by monitoring “#[keyword]” (known as hashtags) and “@[username]” (indicating specific users). Social news sites like digg and sphinn require those posting content to choose from their preset category grids. Tagging, sharing and bookmarking sites like delicious and YouTube employ classic tagging syntax, where you can type pretty much anything and everything. Some sites are hybrid.

Tagging and categorization schemes are all about helping users find and keep track of content. Self-tagging by categories and keywords that apply to your brand can also help boost visibility as a relevant player in that social space. Use categories, tags and hashtags as springboards into keyword-focused conversations. Drill into topics and content tags to uncover a well of community members interested in the same things you are. Drill deeper into specific, highly-active users– check out their other social profiles, find out who their friends are, how active they are, what else they like to contribute…

Consult cross-channel personas. If you’re targeting a user found on Digg, look them up on Twitter. Learn more about them. Then, engage benevolently.

There are myriad approaches to holistic befriending via social media channels. From targeting the right friends to conveying a sense of familiarity and interest from the get-go, expanding conversations with thoughtful questions to reaching out without selling, automating research, enhancing rebroadcasts with insightful editorials, and staying savvy with multi-channel tagging systems– we find these seven tactics, tested and proven effective, represent a pretty sweet starting point for community managers eager to make social media friends that actually matter.

  • Victoria Rickert

    More relevant information on how to use social media and do it right. Everything you wrote sounds good and proper, sophisticated, likin’ it, thanks.

  • Todd

    This is a fine idea for Proctor and Gamble or Coke but a terrible idea for service oriented or B to B businesses. Who needs a bunch of friends you barely know? You need relationships, not bits and bytes of electronic games of tag!

    • Marty Weintraub

      @Todd: Thanks for the response. I beg to differ though. In my personal life I’ve sought out those who are interested in the same things I am. For instance I love to Canoe in the BWCA, Minnesota. I’ve found guides, camping mates and outfitters from seeking out others who have the same passion I have. Don’t you like to get to know new people, who share the same passions in life that you do?

  • Marty Weintraub

    @Todd: Oh, and also, we’ve met people who became our vendors and clients. This technique works extremely well in b2b space. b2b, b2c, whatever, it’s nearly always a good idea to bond with, get to know and friend those of like mind.