Social media is all the rage. We’ll bet that not a week (or perhaps even a day) goes by when you’re not having a colleague connect with you on Linkedln, receiving a friend request on Facebook, or hearing about Twitter on TV. What is social media? The all-knowing Wikipedia defines social media as “Internet-based tools for sharing and discussing information among human beings.” That’s not a bad definition. We’d simplify it and say that social media is about people connecting, interacting, and sharing online.
Why should you care about social media? The answer is the same as why you should care about Google-because it provides a great way to reach and engage potential customers. As is the case with Google, more of your potential customers hang out at the social media watering holes, so this is where you need to hang out, too, if you want to engage with them.
You can find a variety of social media sit s on the Web today. These include social networking (such as Facebook and LinkedIn), social news sites (Digg and Reddit), and social bookmarking/discovery sites (Delicious and StumbleUpon). Each has its different uses, but most share the ability to create a user profile, connect to others on the site, and interact and share information with the network’s community of people.
Creating an Effective Online Profile
Let’s look at one aspect that’s common to most of these sites: the user profile. A profile often consists of your username, avatar image, bio/summary, and web links. As you start building a social media presence, it’s helpful to spend a little bit of time thinking about how you approach building your personal brand in social media.
PICKING A USERNAME
For many of the social media sites (e.g., LinkedIn and Facebook), you don’t invent a new username for yourself-you access the site as yourself. In fact, creating a fictitious person or a persona is in violation of the terms of service of these sites and is likely to get you kicked off. But, not all sites operate this way. Sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, and Twitter allow you to create any username you want. Based on your goals, different approaches to a username might make sense. If you’re reading this book, we’ll assume that you’re a business person trying to expand marketing reach for a product or service. In that case, we have several tips for usernames:
1. Wherever possible, use your real name for your username.
2. Make your username simple and clean. Stay away from usernames that play clever games, e.g., using the number “3” as a backwards letter “E.”
3. Don’t include numerals in your username. Not only is this reminiscent of a bygone era (“Hi, I’m ]ohn4382 on AOL!”), there’s a chance that people will think your account is a bit spammy.
4. Pick a name that’s available on all or most of the major social sites so that you can have a consistent name across as many sites as possible. If you have a common name, this may be difficult, but try your best. The goal is to build your online brand so people start recognizing you.
PICKING AN ONLINE AVATAR/PROFILE IMAGE
In addition to your username, all of the social media sites allow you to upload a small image associated with your account. This image shows up with your profile, and often is attached to comments and other contributions you make on the site. Pick a nice photo of yourself and make sure it’s the right dimensions when you upload it. Try a couple of variations. If you lack the technical skills to resize and retouch photos, get a friend or family member to help. The profile image is an important part of your online identity and it’s not that hard to get it right. Use the same image across all of your social media profiles. If you’re setting up social media accounts for your business, your avatar image should be some variation of your logo. Think of your profile image as part of your overall brand (because it is). Try for something that is distinctive and memorable. Be consistent.
Social media sites usually let you tell the world about yourself with a short, one-or two-sentence description. Don’t skip this step! Many people in social media will read your bio to determine if they’re interested in hearing what you have to say. A missing bio rarely instills confidence and people are likely to just skip by you, so it pays to spend the time to write a brief but compelling bio. When writing your bio, we advise focusing on the people with whom you’re interested in connecting. Though some of them may care that you’re a dog-lover or wine expert, they’re more likely interested in knowing your area of business expertise and what they can expect to gain from being connected with you. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with instilling some personality in your bio, just be interesting and relevant.
Social media sites often allow you to enter one or more links to websites where people can learn more about you or your company. Common approaches include linking to your blog (if you have one) or to your business website. Unfortunately, these links generate little (if any) SEO value. They’re usually no-follow links (which don’t pass Search Engine Optimization credit). However, they can still generate traffic to your desired website, so you should take advantage of them.