While consulting firms pioneered the practice of thought leadership marketing, they have been laggards in adopting social media for marketing purposes, according to a new study of 74 consulting firms, conducted last month by Bloom Group, BlissPR and the Association for Management Consulting Firms.
The survey also found that consulting firms expect to put significant time and dollars behind microsites, blogs, social networking sites and other social media over the next five years. Still, age-old thought leadership marketing activities like speeches, seminars and consultant-bylined articles are not likely to go away soon because consulting firms continue to rate them the most effective tools at generating market awareness and leads for their services.
As a percentage of their thought leadership marketing budget, consulting firms of all sizes expect to nearly double their investment in social media over the next five years, according to the study. Taking the lead from their clients, consulting firms see social media (together with other forms of digital marketing) as core and growing parts of the overall marketing mix.
Nonetheless, the survey found that three of the six most effective thought leadership marketing activities are still “offline” tools: seminars, presentations at external conferences, and consultants’ articles in external business publications. The other three are optimizing websites to be found easily in search engines, microsites or online communities featuring a firm’s content and firm-bylined articles in external online publications.
“The study shows that consulting firms are beginning to use social media to rethink the very marketing practice they pioneered years ago, what increasingly is referred to as thought leadership marketing,” says Bob Buday, president of Bloom Group. “Other industries beyond consulting—the financial services, IT, and other professional services sectors—now recognize the power of marketing that educates an audience on a complex issue.
“However, as a conservative industry, the consulting profession has been a late adopter of using social media to spread its ideas. The survey shows this is changing. The savviest marketers of consulting services are using social media to seed their firms’ ideas in the marketplace and get many more executives to read their articles and books, attend their seminars and conference presentations, and increasingly engage in dialog through blogs, educational microsites and online communities.”
Adds Cortney Rhoads Stapleton, head of the professional services group at BlissPR: “Consulting firms are arriving late to the party, but the study proves they are definitely arriving. One of the most interesting findings is that almost half of the firms surveyed develop content through their microsites. We believe microsites are ranked so high because they enable consulting firms to build a dedicated group of followers who are deeply interested in an issue. This kind of engagement allows consultants to develop, test, and disseminate their message to a targeted audience.”
Key findings of the study include:
· Consulting firms are quickly expanding their budgets for social media. While social media represented only an estimated 5 percent of the thought leadership marketing budget five years ago, spending has climbed rapidly in the last five years to an estimated 18 percent today. Five years from now, social media is projected to be about a third of that budget, about the same amount as consultancies will spend on offline and “traditional” online thought leadership marketing programs.
· Social media will increasingly complement traditional thought leadership marketing channels. The two most effective thought leadership marketing activities are still “offline”: seminars run by consultancies and speeches they give at conferences organized by other parties. But company microsites or online communities, a relatively new social media channel, are close behind, ranked third in effectiveness (tied with search engine optimization).
· Other social media tools are gaining on traditional techniques. For instance, company pages on social networking sites and participation in third-party social networks both already surpass white paper syndication sites – an old staple of content marketing – in effectiveness.
· Running out of content and determining how to use it as a marketing tool are the two biggest concerns about social media. The two biggest barriers to using social media in thought leadership campaigns are worries about regularly refreshing online content and determining how to best market it.
· The consulting firms with the most effective thought leadership marketing programs are much more likely to use research-based content, and they invest much more in social media than consulting firms with the least effective programs. The “leaders” of thought leadership marketing (consulting firms generating more than 30 leads per month) are more than twice as likely as the “laggards” (firms generating 10 or fewer leads per month) to develop research-based content. In addition, the leaders dedicate three times the proportion of their budgets to social media than do the laggards. However, the leaders still apportion more than three-quarters (77 percent) of their budgets to offline and traditional online marketing activities.