(This article, originally published online in 2009, is excerpted from Ray’s recent book Digital Disruption & Transformation: Lessons from History)
As the name implies, social media is about people – not just your customers, but also you and your colleagues. As such, it’s as much a personal branding tool as a corporate branding one.
When you set up a Twitter account to build relationships and (gently) talk about your company /product/service/event, you’re also building your own profile. If you’re writing for your corporate blog, you and your company are in a symbiotic relationship that benefits bothof you; if you broadcast your company connections on your Facebook account or are the admin for a Facebook fan page, you’re blending your corporate and personal image on several levels (which is why a lot of people choose not to do it).
The most obvious social media tool where this blending occurs is LinkedIn. LinkedIn has variously been dubbed an online resume, an online contact list and Facebook for business people. The idea of forming networks to advance business aims online is a powerful one, and hundreds of millions of people in hundreds of industries in more than 200 countries have bought into the concept.
Unlike most businesses, LinkedIn has experienced enormous growth during the global financial crisis as redundant or worried individuals join to extend their reach in the search for possible employment opportunities.
It’s also being used by more and more businesses as they encourage their senior employees to sign up (following the lead of junior employees who’ve already registered) and connect with potential customers (as well as potential future employers – such is the double-edged sword of social media).
The top social media experts use LinkedIn as a key component of building their personal/corporate brand online.
Chris Brogan, who has built a vicarious interest into a career as a strategist and commentator on social media and whose blog is ranked in the top 10 of the Advertising Age Power 150, says that the most important thing to remember when putting together your LinkedIn profile is to think about who’s going to be reading your profile.
“The first horror show I see when reading other people’s LinkedIn profiles is that they’re written completely dry, as if robots are the only thingthat will read them. Though one should write with (search) robots in mind, this is still a human network, so write as if you want someone to actually read your profile.”
He goes on to say that, “Make sure that when people read your job description, they are thinking about how to put you to work on their issues. I state my company’s primary functions in the first sentence of my current role, so that people can see what I’m bringing to the table alongside my own personal skills. Thus, my job description states what I’m doing, but also what I can do.”
Connecting – stay local, or go big?
LinkedIn’s official position on building your network is that you should only connect with people you know well personally. Chris Brogan says, “You’re welcome to take their opinion on that. I’ve chosen to accept with anyone who connects with me, and I’ve only had to drop one person ever for abusing that connection.
“In my view, expanding my network means that you will find the person you need by searching through my network, and that I, at least in theory, can help you get to the person you need for your business efforts.
“Your mileage may vary. I will do it my way, as most folks who connect with me eventually come calling to reach someone else that I’ve added, and I feel good every time I can be helpful.”
Guy Kawasaki, a former Apple executive who has also built a successful career as a social media pundit (132,000 followers on Twitter (editor’s note: 10 years later this was more than 1.5 million) and a top-rating blog), agrees, writing that, “By adding connections, you increase the likelihood that people will see your profile first when they’re searching for someone to hire or do business with. In addition to appearing at the top of search results, people would much rather work with people who their friends know and trust.”
So how do you conduct conversations online? It’s not really different from doing it face-to-face.
“If you know how to network, you know how to social network,” Lori Gama, owner of DaGama Web Studio recently told a US newspaper.
She said the online realm is all about creating relationships and the “help thy neighbor” mentality. Gama believes up to 90% of the time spent interacting on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn should be “dedicated to helping and listening to others”, leaving only 10 percent for shameless self-promotion. She said others “will appreciate the help that was offered in the past and even help with the promotion side.”
Someone else who has taken the idea of using LinkedIn to help others and elevated it to an art form is Chuck Hester, communications director at email marketing services company iContact, based in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Chuck, interviewed for a recent podcast, has, like Lori Gama, taken the ‘social’ in social media and attached it to the word ‘good’. A natural networker in the face-to-face world, he uses LinkedIn to help people without immediate thought of gain and encourages people to ‘pay it forward’ and help others rather than reciprocating to the person who helped them.
As Chuck explains, “I live the pay it forward lifestyle – if you are helped, don’t help that person, instead pay it forward to someone else in need. The blessing will come back to you!”
On LinkedIn, the blessings have come back to Chuck in the form of 9,000 connections, he’s now published a book about the philosophy: Linking in to Pay it Forward: Changing the value proposition in social media.
According to Chuck, it’s important to make sure you use tools like LinkedIn to meet people face-to-face wherever possible, or, as he puts it, “put the social back into social media”.
He’s used his network to set up dinners in every city he visits (including a recent visit to Sydney) and has set up the LinkedIn Live Raleigh networking event, drawing on his 1,500 LinkedIn connections in a city of less than a million people (it’s like having 1,500 connections in Adelaide) to run networking events regularly attended by more than 350 professionals.
His advice for businesses coming to grips with social media tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter is to “remember that it’s not about the tool, it’s about the person behind the tool – social media is about talking one to one.”
His top tips:
- Spend time understanding what the different tools are, what they look like. Just hang out in these communities and watch what goes on for a couple of weeks before jumping in.
- Be transparent.” You can’t sell yourself, you need to be very subtle about that aspect.”
- Be helpful. “You need to come into social media saying ‘How am I going to help you?’, as opposed to ‘How can you help me?’.
- Don’t push any agendas. This may sound counterproductive to conducting business through social media, but as Chuck points out, “The social media highway is littered with the bodies of companies who have tried to sell through social media and have failed miserably in the process.”
It’s not rocket science, but it’s based on good old-fashioned politeness and embracing the true meaning of the word ‘community’. In the long run, it will improve your business through relationship-building, but just as importantly, it’s also a great way to help make the world a better place.
Especially in these tough times, that’s got to help you sleep better at night.