Like it or loathe it, social media is now an integral part of doing business. For many professionals, it’s an annoying development that takes time away from billable hours. For others, it presents an opportunity to attract new business while retaining existing clients.
From a business perspective, social media refers to digital platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, where members gather together in ‘communities’ sharing common interests. Should you participate in a social media community?
During my involvement with social media, which includes ten years on LinkedIn, I’ve developed some basic questions to guide my journey and that of my clients in this environment.
First, what is the social media strategy for your business? What do you ultimately hope to gain from it? If you cannot answer those questions, do not proceed. Generally, a business person uses a social media platform to make them better known to the market in the hope that more work will come their way. The execution of that can be static or dynamic. In the former are LinkedIn pages which are a basic CV of an individual’s career and little else. It’s like a business listing but a waste of a useful promotional resource.
And in the latter, are well thought out social media pages for professionals with slick photographs, well-crafted content and so on. They include articles and videos that tell the community that you are a dynamic individual. If you look at the LinkedIn pages of Neil Brennan, a director of business advisory at William Buck, and those of Mark Calvetti, the director of corporate advisory services at the same firm, both have uploaded articles on their pages. The themes of these articles reflect the industry sectors in which their clients operate, and aim to encourage inter-action, which is the primary difference from a static page that only seeks to provide one-way information.
As I said before, social media is about creating communities with something in common. And individuals within communities engage with each other. So the second question you need to ask yourself once you conclude that social media makes strategic sense is ‘Will you invest the time keeping your page current?’ That is a broad question but a positive answer implies that you will keep abreast of new features on the social media platform. (Did you know that LinkedIn now allows ‘tagging’ like Facebook. A useful marketing tool but a story for another time.) It also means you will have compelling content and your career details are current and in step with other web sites that carry information on yourself.
Compelling content needs to reflect the “authentic you” because your social media community depends on engagement which reinforces their view that you are trustworthy, as well as knowledgeable, in your field. If your content is marketing collateral that is transaction-based, members will eventually tire of reading your veiled advertising. How they perceive you will influence whether or not they trust the content you created, or posted from another source.
A third question is ‘What social media platform does my market prefer to use?’ While I have been referring mainly to LinkedIn – because it is an easily identifiable business environment – professionals and businesses do not necessarily restrict themselves to just one social media platform. Shaun Carnes is the small business owner of LNS Computers which is based in Goulburn, an inland city about 200 kilometres south east of Sydney. He notes that “the further you get away from Sydney, the greater use small businesses make of Facebook”.
Because many small businesses depend on attracting customers from their local areas, Facebook allows them to tap into existing communities as well as setting up their own. While Facebook enables business to business and business to consumer engagement, the fluid nature of social media is creating social media that meets the needs of local businesses which the better-known sites do not. The emergence of meetup.com, for example, provides local businesses with a simple and low cost way of meeting other business owners.
Undoubtedly new social media sites will emerge, while existing ones will continue to evolve. Social media platforms are constantly evolving and changing their features. While it can be worthwhile using the services of someone who is savvy with the particular social media you are considering – they can monitor and add consistent content – you still need to ensure that your participation meets your goals. And if not, you need to make the decision about whether to continue with it, or make adjustments.
The message, if you decide to utilise them, is to have a clear strategy about where they fit into your business objectives. Moreover, as it is all about personal branding, you also have a key role in ensuring the success of this strategy.