Monday, August 9, 2010

5 best practice tips: use social media to engage, not enrage followers

Everyone should understand a few “best practice” guidelines so that they can maximize their brand awareness and establish a positive online presence.With all the social media sites that are available now, and as a growing number of people discover and use them, the result may be the tendency to share too much information, too frequently, or annoy followers with excessive self-promotion.

What is effective communication via social media, and specifically, what is the right level to engage others without driving them away? How frequently should one send out updates, post new messages, or update their status / profile? For many, these answers may depend on what the goals are – growing a network for business building, sharing information / industry updates / late-breaking news, or building a wide network to help with a job search.

No matter what the intent for using a social media site, sharing something of value or "free" will serve one well and begin building a positive brand for an individual. Blasting out numerous updates too often, or trying to "sell" someone, may label you as a self-promoter who shares “anything and everything”, and even run the risk of being viewed as a “spammer”. 

You want to "engage", not "enrage" followers.There are many social media sites that could be reviewed, but LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook remain the most widely used, so I will focus on them. Given their huge following, and with users numbering in the millions, I coined the phrase social media "power trio" to refer to these popular sites in a previous article, 3 sites to help in your job search: the social media 'power trio'.
  1. Use the social media “power trio” – LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook wisely
Here are ways to help, not hurt your personal brand, with these sites.

  • Profile updates - keep this current, update it every time you update your resume. Also update when you add new files, SlideShare presentations, book recommendations, or a new website.
  • Twitter - add your Twitter ID so connections can find & "follow" you on Twitter.
  • Link or News - share items that have value; something your connections might want to share with others. Some examples of content that will add value / pique the interest others: recommendations to great articles, blogs from industry leaders, useful links, tools, tips, late-breaking news, and upcoming events, something funny, thought-provoking, or unusual.
Best practice tip -
Do NOT post status updates describing a laundry list of all your daily / weekly meetings. Focus on sharing content that has value for others, and don't post too many updates. A good rule of thumb is post status (Link or News) updates at least every week or two, and avoid excessive daily updates, remember - it's "quality", not "quantity" that matters.

  • What’s happening? - Twitter's status update window is probably best used for sharing and gathering valuable content - links, tools, tips, news, views, recommendations, quotes, interesting or humorous posts from others. This is really a great site to wisely use the 140 characters to recommend the work of others or share your own content with a brief headline and link to a blog, website, or recent article. (Think 80/20 rule - promote others 80% of the time; only 20% personal or The thirds rule - 1/3 = industry related; 1/3 = about your field/company; 1/3 = about YOU).
  • #hash tags - add the # tag to categorize important posts, breaking news, etc. so that they are captured and can be retrieved by you and others later.
  • Lists - adding the Twitter ID of others to lists you create is a great way to validate that their tweets are valuable and worth sharing. The number of times a person's ID appears in a similar list throughout
    the 'twitterverse' is a strong indicator of how well their posts mirror their brand. List examples: social-media-marketing, job-career-experts, personal-branding.
    • If your Twitter ID is not appearing in the lists that support your brand objective, it may be time to take a closer look at your tweets and the signals they are giving off. Maybe a change of content or tone to deliver the right message is in order.
Best practice tip -

Think BEFORE you send - ask yourself "so what?" "Thinking "so what" at the end of a message is a good test to pre-qualify whether the message may have value (for someone other than you). Are you tweeting something that your followers will want to share with their connections? 

A message that shares information about a great new social media tool, career networking event, or late-breaking news probably passes this test. What one had for breakfast or sharing boring, mundane, daily details, adds little value, and does NOT pass the test.

  • Profile / Info - keep Work and Education, Contact Information current with career experience, accomplishments, current websites, or blogs.
  • Groups - join groups in your industry, field of expertise, and those that match your likes and interests
  • Profile / Info/ Likes and Interests / Pages - "Like" pages that support your business or career goals, hobbies, music interests, civic clubs / organizations, etc.
  • Create your own page to promote a new business, website, or blog, and share something of value - information, links, industry news, articles, "free" downloads with friends and followers.
  • Networked Blogs - follow blogs of industry leaders, friends, similar business interests; submit you own blog for others to follow 
  • SlideShare - share your latest PowerPoint presentations
  • My LinkedIn Profile - be sure to add your LinkedIn URL so that others can find & view your profile information on LinkedIn.
  • Photos - share business-related, interesting, fun, or unusual photos here.
    • A word of CAUTION: To maintain your personal brand, and ensure your online presence is not compromised, DO NOT post risque, controversial, or wild-party weekend / vacation pictures here. REMOVE any pictures that may damage your brand. This is especially true for job seekers and
      those in career transition. Most employers these days are very aware of social media sites, and will check all of them to verify that a person is a good candidate for a position at their firm. Any
      non-professional photos that present one in a bad light can be a 'deal-breaker' and cost one a job opportunity.
2. Send out high value messages to build your brand

"Do your messages add value? Would others want to share them?

Facebook asks, "What's on your mind?"; Twitter asks, "What’s happening?"; LinkedIn has a "Share an idea, article, question or update" window. The problem is too many people take this literally and often post messages describing their day-to-day mundane activities. Most people don't really want or need to know about one's daily routine.

Think "what are you focused on?" What value message can you post that others may want to read and share with others?" - From Examiner article, Best practices tip: post high value messages to build your brand 

"Share really useful links, news related to your field, things that are really funny or inspirational, or inside information about your business or blog. The key is to make sure almost every message is something that people will want to share with their friends. 

Here’s something that many people who use social media don’t understand: if you send out too many messages, people might stop following you or might even block you, because you’re flooding their inbox." The secret is to try to make every message you send, or at least a high percentage of them, high-impact messages. Limit yourself to high-impact messages to reduce the time you spend communicating."

- From 'Focus on sending out high impact messages' article by Leo Babauta, May 14th, 2009

Protect your brand - send out messages that add value. Learn to be selective - “less” is “more” 

  1. Resist the need to "follow" or "friend" everyone who sends you an invite.
Everyone using social media sites will surely get Facebook "friend" requests, LinkedIn "connection" requests, and will most likely get new "followers" on Twitter.Learn to be selective - "quality” is better than “quantity” when it comes to
connecting. If you get a request from someone you don't know, share nothing in common with them, and they were NOT suggested to you by a friend - why would you connect with them? In the case of Twitter, you do not need to "auto-follow" someone back.
Best practice tip -
Decide if there is any risk involved BEFORE you accept a "friend" request or "connect" with them. View their profile in advance and see if you have any common interests, business or otherwise, that might be mutually beneficial to both of you. On Twitter, check out the websites of any new "followers", and also view a sample of their tweets. If you like what
you see - follow them back, otherwise NOT following them poses no real threat; you can always "block" someone from following you later. Connecting with someone you are not familiar with could lead to receiving "spam" or "buy my stuff" type messages. 

  1. Avoid any "negative" or "controversial" messages at all costs
Social media sites can prove very beneficial for optimizing online presence, personal branding, building relationships, and growing a wide network to promote a business or help with a job search. 

Reminder: anything negative you share on the Internet is "permanent" and never goes away. Be very cautious of the content and tone of messages you send out; you cannot assume the person you sent the message to will not share it with others.A really negative comment can come back to "bite you" and permanently hurt your brand. Likewise,
avoid any highly controversial subject matter, "sensitive" political issues, personal attacks, or inflammatory remarks in your messages or comments. 

Take the "high" road, keep it "professional", or you may lose friends / followers. Remember: people did not connect with you, only to have you message them with your political commentary, or inappropriate remarks. 

5. Learn, Listen, Engage, Share, Build, Grow
I originally shared the six points listed here in my online marketing article, 6 social media marketing tips for e-Commerce. The concepts seem applicable for any online marketing plan, and are worth repeating as "best practice" recommendations for effective brand building with social media.
  • Learn - about social media, how to leverage it for information gathering, branding, and marketing.
  • Listen - to what others are saying about your company / product / industry.
  • Engage - your connections and customers frequently, recommend them, follow their conversations, offer your help and services, and be a “problem solver” for them.
  • Share - something of value to your social community – discounts, giveaways, downloads, memberships, e-books, or other “free” offerings.
    * You have to give in order to get.
    * Build your brand as someone who shares valuable content.
    * Look for opportunities to share articles, sites, links, and breaking news.
    * Support industry leaders by recommending their work, and sharing links to their websites.
Best practice tip: don't just connect with someone in order to sell them something.
  • Build - relationships and maintain them with frequent follow ups, updates, and phone calls. 
* Leverage social media as a catalyst to build “online” connections to get “offline” meetings.
  • Grow - a strong, dynamic social media presence to expand your business network, and cast a wide net to reach more potential followers / customers.
Click here to view the Examiner article.

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