Social Media for GovCons—Missing the Conversations that Matter?

This week’s blog comes from Bruce Milligan, president of 2nd Stage Marketing, LLC, and former senior vice president of marketing for Citizant, Inc. I’m honored Bruce graciously agreed to offer his priceless insights into the value of social media to those of us in the government contracting world.

social media engagement
Image used with permission by Market Connections, Inc.

Leaders in government contractor firms are notoriously absent from social media. Especially during the current COVID-19 crisis and the social unrest over police brutality and endemic racism, business leaders of all kinds are wondering whether they should engage or stay silent.

While there are valid motivations for both approaches during such strenuous times, govcon leaders must learn to engage on social media platforms so they don’t miss important conversations and connections—especially during a time when “connecting” looks so different.

Many senior leaders of govcon companies didn’t grow up with social media and don’t know how to use these tools. When you talk with government and industry leaders, no one else seems to use Twitter, so we assume social media has no role in building our business.

The truth is that hundreds of millions of Americans are engaged in social media every day in conversations that matter to our businesses. By our silence or absence, we’re missing opportunities to establish thought leadership, influence future procurements, find new partners, engage with our current employees, and attract future employees.

What wouldn’t you do to engage with your key prospects?

Business developers and capture managers in govcon firms go to extraordinary lengths in the real world to get the attention of their decision-makers and influencers. For example, let’s say you just learned your highest-priority prospect—who won’t take a meeting or phone call—engages with industry only on Thursday nights at a bar that’s three hours from your office.

How often would you show up at that bar to establish a relationship, learn what they know, and tell them about your company’s relevant expertise? You’d probably show up at least a couple of times a month for these conversations that matter, despite the distance and what could be an inconvenience.

If you work in BD, Capture, partner management, solutioning, or any other market-facing role, you can use social media to build authentic relationships with prospects, customers, and partners—and be part of the conversations that matter. You don’t even have to leave your desk or couch!If you work in BD, Capture, partner management, solutioning, or any other market-facing role, you can use social media to build authentic relationships with prospects, customers, and partners. Click To Tweet 

Conference cutbacks, retirements, and COVID-19 make social media more relevant

Congress passed the Government Spending Accountability Act of 2012 in the wake of the Great Recession, subsequent drops in government tax revenue, and several conference scandals. This legislation required all executive agencies—including the DoD— to trim conference and travel spending. They had to cut their conference budgets by 30% in 2013 alone, and the trend has continued since then.

Also, the government IT workforce is getting older, meaning many feds will soon retire. Some have lost their passion for public service, disillusioned by political leaders, changing missions, and shrinking budgets. Their replacements are younger and often come from tech industries that rely on LinkedIn groups, Google Hangouts, Reddit forums, WhatsApp, Twitter conversations, and open Slack channels.

And now COVID-19 has closed many government and business offices to non-essential personnel. Social distancing and fear of infection have practically eliminated in-person meetings. Govcon leaders simply must find ways to harness social media to gain entry into the conversations that matter with their customers.

According to the Market Connections 2019 Federal Media & Marketing Study—before the COVID-19 crisis—half of all feds used social media daily. One-quarter checked social media during lunch. Click To Tweet The top social media site for feds is Facebook, followed by LinkedIn, with Instagram and Twitter tied for third. You can bet social media usage is much higher now that we’re all working from home.

Image used with permission by Market Connections, Inc.

Move beyond publishing to engaging on social media

Many govcon leaders think social media usage takes time away from their “real job.” They think social media is Corp Comm’s job, limited mostly to posting a LinkedIn article from the CEO, sharing links to news releases, retweeting interesting articles, and building an “owned” audience for the company’s announcements. Because they have limited time, they may feel that engaging in social media conversations would require too much attention and all they can do is post, share, and like articles.

These leaders are quickly realizing that having conversations with prospects and customers on social media increasingly is their real job. At my former employer, a $30M IT services contractor, our corporate leadership and BD teams were not comfortable hanging out on Google or Slack, following hashtag conversations on Twitter, or checking LinkedIn Groups a couple of times each day. Now I see them much more engaged in social and collaborative media. COVID-19 has forced them to change their habits and learn new tools.

Keep in mind, these conversations were already happening on social media prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The best time to engage fully on social media was last year—it’s too late to influence today’s procurements or build relationships with the employees you need right now. The second best time to engage online in conversations that matter is today.

Now more than ever, government IT leaders are having real, important conversations on social media. They are talking with someone online. If that someone is not you or your team, then that person almost certainly works for a current or future competitor.

If you’re not engaged on social media, you are likely missing opportunities to shape upcoming procurements or learn your customers’ true hot buttons. Your lack of knowledge and insight puts you at a competitive disadvantage. Your win rates will likely fall. Your customers may deem you to be irrelevant or stuck irredeemably in the past.

Rather than leaving social media to Corp Comm, we as leaders must engage on social media several times a day. We should be active on our own accounts to share relevant insights, respond to posts from our connections, participate in relevant LinkedIn groups, and maybe even learn how to use group messages on Twitter or start/join Slack channels.

With each passing day, more of your prospects, customers, and partners are accessible somewhere online. Given social distancing, social media platforms are perhaps the only way you can engage with them substantively. You should learn their online hangouts, just like you used to learn their office address or phone number.

In this new work-from-home environment, govcon IT leaders face an existential question: How long do you think you can afford to stay disengaged from your market on social media and remain in business?


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bruce milliganBRUCE MILLIGAN Bruce has more than thirty years of marketing experience with entrepreneurial, technology-focused companies of all sizes in a variety of industries. He currently serves as president of 2nd Stage Marketing, LLC, which provides counsel and marketing leadership to emerging tech and government contracting firms. He previously served for twelve years as Sr. Vice President of Marketing for Citizant, Inc., which provided IT and business transformation solutions to the federal government. Bruce is an expert writer, public relations leader, and content marketing strategist.