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How Individuals Can Build a Robust Social Presence

  |  April 1, 2009   |  Comments

Tips for establishing professional visibility on the social Web and differentiating yourself from competitors.

As a marketer, you're likely coming to grips with social media's impact on your business. If you're also a parent, you're facing the same challenges at home as your kids increasingly express themselves on the social Web. But what about the potential of social media as it relates to you?

Let's focus on the processes that enable you to build your professional visibility on the social Web, and importantly to grow your own social presence.

Why You Need To Do This

As a professional -- whether independently employed, Fortune 500 senior manager, or work-at-home business-owner -- when you hand someone a business card you are, in effect, handing that person a set of search terms and inviting them to look you up. Your name, your company's name, your job title, and your city provide the basis to do just this. The first thing that a lot of people do when building a contacts list is to check out -- via the Web -- who you really are using the information you've handed them.

Consider that people will generally add you to their contacts list following one of three events:

  1. A dynamic, positive in-person meeting.

  2. Based on the strong referral of someone they trust.

  3. Following casual receipt of a business card at a conference, luncheon, or similar event.

It's that third case that you're most interested in. These are your weak connections that can become strong resources to help you build a strong, diverse personal network. Though you've briefly met in person and exchanged cards, there's a lot more to learn before adding someone to your network, or, being yourself added to someone else's.

My business card says, among other things, "Dave Evans" and "social media." Google those fours words and see what comes back.

When I meet anyone for the first time, as I'm handing over my business card, I suggest using Google to learn more about me and to see what other people have said about me. By doing this, I can avoid telling people what I think about me (the personal commercial), and instead point them toward what others have said (the existing social media that applies to me).

As a marketing professional involved in social media, I have to be able to do that. After all, would you hire a handyman whose own house was in disrepair?

The reason, then, for building your own social presence is simply this: more and more, the people you meet and would like to connect with are using the social Web to evaluate you in exactly the same way as consumers are using the social Web to evaluate your product or service.

One of my favorite quotes, posted to Twitter by social media analyst and consultant Nathan Gilliatt, speaks to this as eloquently as I've seen it put anywhere: "If someone is mentioned by name and described as a non-Internet user, then that could be the sum of their online reputation." Replace "Internet user" with "social Web participant" and you can see the issue for business professionals seeking to expand their network.

How to Build a Robust Social Presence

Get your basic data out there. For many professionals, the core of your social presence probably involves one or more of these: LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Each of these can be set up in less than five minutes and costs you nothing.

Before jumping in, a few tips are in order:

  • When creating your profile, be sure to include a nice photo, and follow the steps suggested at each site to complete as much of your profile as you can. When you're considering adding, following, or contacting someone, think about the impact of missing or otherwise insufficient information. Business networking should not feel like you're living in a mystery novel. None of us has time for that, so think about the people who are looking at you. Make it easy for them to understand who are and what you do.

  • Thoughtfully add people to your network. I overheard someone on a plane last week saying "I have over a thousand people in my personal network but have no idea who most of them are." If the people in your network lack credibility, what's that say about you? These are your "friends," right?

  • On LinkedIn, seek out recommendations, but only from people who are qualified to give them. Five hundred professional connections without a single recommendation sends an unfortunate message. Likewise, a recommendation that starts out "I've never actually worked with Dave, but..." is useless, and detracts from social capital and personal credibility.

  • Participate. Leverage your ability to add or become friends, to post, and to comment to your advantage. Talk about your business, about news that relates to you or your profession, about things that are of interest to your audience. Do not shill or spam.

  • Be careful with questions like "What are you doing right now?" This common question -- in the context of business -- is a thought-starter, not a literal interrogative. The best response is less along the lines of "eating a bagel" and more along the lines "thinking about the President's address on TV and what this means for my profession."

With the core of networks in place, the next step is to create some content that Google will index, and then link that to your profiles. You know where I'm going, right? Yes, exactly, your blog.

If you don't have one, it's time. As a professional, you have a point of view. There are events happening around you that you're thinking about. With a professional blog, you can link your thoughts with current events and give your colleagues, suppliers, and customers a whole new insight into who you are and why you're worth connecting with.

Again a few tips are in order:

  • If you're looking for a simple, 11-minute set up (I timed it), go to WordPress.com and click "Sign Up Now!"

  • When you set up your blog (or to make better use of one you already have), ensure that your blog links to your professional profiles across the Web and that your blog profile and "about" page are complete. WordPress has this feature built in.

  • Post with some predictable frequency. There is no right answer: daily, weekly -- do what makes sense for you and then do that regularly. RSS will ensure that your subscribers see new posts.

Putting it All Together

Start by creating a foundation using LinkedIn. This includes who you are, what you've done, and who can vouch for you.

Next, provide judicious visibility into the things you like using Facebook. Big insight here: "What happens in Vegas stays on Facebook." Keep that in mind as you undertake to build your professional social presence.

Also, use Twitter to generate conversations, find answers, and quickly and casually connect with your constituents around timely topics.

Then use your blog to go in-depth, showing the world what really keeps you up at night and your business passions. Post your white papers, industry articles, and similar documents, and then discuss them on your blog.

As applicable, check with legal, preferably first! However you do it, build a body of work that differentiates you from your competition and use this to drive the visibility of your core business network profiles.

The above may take you an hour or two to set up, and then another hour each week to maintain. It's well worth it: Follow these tips and you'll find yourself Googleicious in no time.


Dave Evans

Dave is the VP of social strategy at Lithium. Based in Austin, Dave is also the author of best-selling "Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day," as well as "Social Media Marketing: The Next Generation of Business Engagement." Dave is a regular columnist for ClickZ, a frequent keynoter, and leads social technology and measurement workshops with the American Marketing Association as well as Social Media Executive Seminars, a C-level business training provider.

Dave has worked in social technology consulting and development around the world: with India's Publicis|2020media and its clients including the Bengaluru International Airport, Intel, Dell, United Brands, and Pepsico and with Austin's FG SQUARED and GSD&M| IdeaCity and clients including PGi, Southwest Airlines, AARP, Wal-Mart, and the PGA TOUR. Dave serves on the advisory boards for social technology startups including Palo Alto-based Friend2Friend and Mountain View-based Netbase and iGoals.

Prior, Dave was a co-founder of social customer care technology provider Social Dynamx, a product manager with Progressive Insurance, and a systems analyst with NASA| Jet Propulsion Labs. Dave co-founded Digital Voodoo, a web technology consultancy, in 1994. Dave holds a BS in physics and mathematics from the State University of New York/ Brockport and has served on the Advisory Board for ad:tech and the Measurement and Metrics Council with WOMMA.

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