Most exponents of social media tend to focus on its uniqueness, its difference from all that has come before.

But not so, says John Jantsch in a super post over on the Duct Tape Marketing blog.  In fact, he suggests that social media is simply marketing business-as-usual, by other technological means;  so while the devices may seem foreign, the fundamentals of making it pay are the same.  As John puts it…

“Marketing is about building trust, and these days any effective conversion approach is steeped in building trust through engagement.  This is true of selling, advertising, lead generation, and customer service – and it’s certainly true when it comes to … using social media platforms.  The trick, (as with) all good inbound marketing, is to create value and a reason for someone that might encounter your business to want to know more.”

You can indeed accomplish lead generation/conversion via social channels;  just be aware that it will take longer (as trust is established) than the conventional wham-bam of PPC ad plus website landing-page hit.  To that end, John provides a seven-step program for creating what he christens a “social media conversion system”:

Be strategic about content creation. You’ll need to create content appropriate for social media outposts such as Facebook, YouTube, Slideshare, Flickr or other social media communities.  This doesn’t need to be all new;  you should be able to re-purpose much of it from website or other material.  Also, place ads on Facebook or LinkedIn so as to drive attention to your content, offer or other call to action.

Build unique landing pages for each community:  one for Twitter, one for Facebook, etc.  The differences among them may be subtle, but this is a key part of personalizing engagement.  You could do this manually, but using a landing page service will help you track and measure results from lots of pages.

Match the message to the content and vehicle. At minimum, you want the visitor who followed a Twitter link to know that (s)he’s indeed in the right place.  You might, for example, use widgets that place a live Twitter stream or Facebook Fan box on the page to help orient visitors from those sources.  The main point, though, is building a personalized page that matches some element of how the visitor got there.

Create a “Learn more” call to action.
The real point of engagement on your landing pages is to gain permission to share still more information.  The usual means of doing this is to offer valuable info in exchange for an email address.  You can also offer following you on other social media platforms.

Test, test, test. Landing page design and conversion has always been part science, so you’ll need to test every element:  headline, call to action button, message, offer, etc.  John’s post identifies some resources that can help automate A/B testing.

Encourage sharing. Now that you’re playing in the social space, make sure people can tweet that they just got your awesome info or that they “Like” your landing page.  WordPress and most of the landing page services offer tools that make this easier.  Without having to literally go viral, this is the key to the multiplier effect that happens as your gospel is spread – for free! – through the social networks of the newly anointed.

Personalize your follow-up. Once you’re obtained a prospect’s permission, you can amp up the personalization by using a service to add in lots of social media data about your landing page visitors.  It can integrate with email and landing page services to create customized follow-up based on the email address and social media graph of each person that signs up for your free information.

Returning to the question posed in our title above:  you can indeed use social media as a lead generation/conversion vehicle …even automate much of it.  As John sums up:

“While set-up of this system may take a bit of work in the beginning, once you have all the moving parts automated, you can focus on content creation while using social media sites as both an inbound and outbound lead generation and conversion platform.”