Taking a break from sending tweets and updating my LinkedIn profile, I organized a panel of social media experts to participate in Harvard Business School’s 20th Annual Dynamic Women in Business Conference last Saturday. Entitled “Beyond the Buzz,” the panel focused on how students and professionals can use social media most effectively to promote their personal and professional brands. Each offered some targeted advice:
Whether you like it or not, you have a social media presence, so it is in your best interest to control it. At a minimum, make sure your Facebook, LinkedIn, and other online profiles are professional and flattering because they will be viewed (and judged) by potential employers and colleagues. This is even more important if you are pursuing a career in a media-related field. When a friend recently interviewed at a news publication, her interviewer looked her up and began following her on twitter in the middle of the interview. Participating in social media is not an option; it is a necessity if you are in the business of networking – which you are by definition if attending business school.
By promoting “The Happiness Project” on her popular blog, author Gretchen Rubin garnered massive pre-sale orders, contributing to top spots on best-seller lists around the world. Rubin credits her success to methodically building her brand presence online through consistent six-day-a-week blogging, frequent tweets, and monthly videos. She stresses that you need to build a relationship and trust with your audience so that when you ask them for help – such as buying your book – they do it. The same is true for a job search; gradually building your online network now will give you the credibility you need later.
Katherine Tasheff, who has held a variety of digital media positions and currently works in book publishing, argues that the importance of a trusting relationship in social media makes authenticity even more important. Tasheff claims that the easiest way to sabotage your brand is to be disingenuous; your audience is smart and can “smell” dishonesty from miles away. To avoid this, Katherine recommends not differentiating between your “real” and online self and committing to being “as authentic using social media as in real life.” Furthermore, she notes, since the average Internet user in the U.S. spends over thirteen hours per week online, perpetuating a “fake” self online is a significant – and poor – investment.
Have a strong voice:
Social media is inherently different from other forms of traditional marketing: people come looking for you. For this reason, it is particularly important to have a strong voice. Alexandra Samuel started her business in 2005 after readers of her blog reached out to her, struck by her then novel conviction that companies must have web 2.0 websites to survive; readers asked her to implement social media strategies for their businesses. Given the breadth of social media, a strong voice is needed if you want to stand out. At the same time, do not pull a Kenneth Cole – the designer currently is embroiled in a PR nightmare following his recent tweet: “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at http://bit.ly/KCairo.”
Never stop learning and experimenting:
To conclude the panel, each panelist gave some practical real-world tips for social media success. Here are my favorites:
- End each blog entry with a question
- Ensure tweets are at least 10 characters under the limit so others can retweet
- Remember that a strong voice attracts, so don’t be discouraged when it also repels
- Research what’s out there so you don’t end up launching an idea or site that’s redundant
- Never miss an opportunity to broaden your network – online or off
What is your number one piece of advice for using social media?