Five years ago, I had an interesting conversation with a cartoon designer about the challenges of promoting a service in an information-saturated market. At that time, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and a host of other social networking apps were gaining immense, exponential popularity. I recall asking this designer about his opinion of effectively marketing your business using social media when it seems as though “everybody’s talking, but nobody’s listening.” He assured me that I should not expend too much energy mulling over this because, in his words, “this social media thing will fade away just like the CB radio did back in the ’70s.”
Well, it’s 2013 now and…
Social media is still here! Not only is it still here it is still soaring in its utility, open-source friendliness and community building initiatives.
My personal “aha moment” with social media promotion began when another colleague shared a video with me (ironically, via Twitter) displaying various global demographic data and the linear relationship between social media and market penetration. Though the video is considered old at the time of this publication (and there have been several upgrades/editions since its origination), I thought it’d still be good to share:
As a person who always preaches that the “numbers don’t lie,” I found it difficult, if not impossible, to ignore the persuasive story told by the statistics in this video.
From that moment I decided that though I had a few social networking profiles out there in cyberspace, I needed to learn more about each app. More importantly, I needed to link what seemed to be sporadic, fragmented tidbits of information into a cohesive process that could be measured, tweaked for optimal performance, and repeated as a system for building my personal brand. I’m a firm believer that people must believe in you as a brand first before they will come to trust whatever it is you are trying to sell.
Now that I’ve figured out a process that works for me, I want to share it with you. Hopefully you will find inspiration to customize this process to better fit your own promotional needs.
21 Steps for Creating a Process to Build Your Personal Brand Using Social Media
Let’s start by taking a look at the diagram below. Each social media task or event is shown as a paperclip that, when linked together, forms a chain to represent a continuous, looping process. As you find that certain activities yield better results than others, you can conceptually remove that “bad” paperclip from the chain and insert a new one that generates a better return on your time investment. You can download this diagram by clicking on the image. Each event is described as a step beneath the diagram.
1.Determine your subject matter expertise. We all have one and when building your online presence, it is important to be singular in your focus or at least promote aspects of yourself that tie in nicely together. For example, it is probably much easier for people to see the connection of you as a Carpenter, Architect and Interior Designer than it is if you simultaneously promoted yourself as a Qin Dynasty Expert, Financial Planner and Horticulturalist. Even though these titles may all be true, it can send mixed messages to potential customers or employers who are trying to quickly determine if your product or services fit their needs. Pick one professional theme and stick with it.
2. Research industry trends and hot topics relevant to your expertise. There’s no shortage of blogs, news sites, videos, wikis, etc. where you can keep your finger on the pulse of the goings-on in your industry. Using tools like Google Alerts and StumbleUpon can greatly streamline these efforts as they find the relevant content for you.
3. Subscribe to RSS Feeds of sites containing useful and relevant information. As you find websites that you believe will usually have content of interest to you, consider subscribing to the site. Just look for the RSS icon (if one exists) on the website of your choice and subscribe.
4. Choose a specific topic to write/talk about. Make sure this is a topic where you can clearly reveal your selected area of expertise (see step #1). Search Engine Optimization (SEO) only works on content or actual text. The problem with using photos, videos, and flash-built websites only is that they lack actual content (text). As you will see later in this post, if you rely solely on visual social networking sites, it is imperative that you take advantage of the rare opportunities to provide content such as in the title of the visual aid and the tags used to describe it.
5. Use SEO tools (i.e., Google Analytics, Wordle.com) to review search patterns/trends. There are many free (and paid) tools that allow you to determine which keywords to use throughout your content. For example, once you find a site via Google Alerts (see step #2) that offers information you find interesting, you can copy some of that information and paste it into a tool like Wordle. Wordle converts that content into a word cloud where the words that carry the most weight. This serves as a clue to the content that you should consider using in your online messages.
6. Develop tagging strategy (including hashtags) for your message. Tags are your best friends when it comes to posting content on the web. Tags are those strategic keywords that you think people are likely to type into a search engine that will allow them to come across your post, blog, video, tweet, etc. It is critical to include these tags throughout the body of your content.
7. Write tag/keyword-rich content and upload to Blog and/or Website. Remember, search engines love new content and having a blog and/or website where content is updated regularly (at the very least weekly) is a great way to organically increase SEO. Once your content is ready, figure out how to write catchy headlines that describe your content. Keep the headline to 120-140 characters so that it can easily be shared via Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other social networking sites where there is usually a message character limit.
8. Automate linkage of all social media profiles (where appropriate). Thankfully, many social networking sites and other web-based apps make cross-referencing and back-linking super easy. For example, you can link your SlideShare account to your LinkedIn account. Every time you post new content to SlideShare, it will automatically post on your LinkedIn profile. More sophisticated tools such as HootSuite and SocialOomph allow you to update several social networking sites simultaneously at the click of a button. You will find automated linkage to be an invaluable time-saving tool.
9. Secure smaller URL link (i.e. Bit.ly) to spread & track your message via steps #10 – 18. Two sites that allow you to create a shortlink are: Bit.ly and Tinyurl. his is also the point where you want to find out the best way to communicate with your audience. Whereas some of your target market may love receiving and sharing information via Facebook, others may not have a Facebook profile at all but instead may be very active on Skype and Twitter.
10. Blog, Website, Wiki (written education) – website and/or radio show. You can also embed your podcast, presentation, or video to enhance your content (see steps #12, 16 and 17).
11. Electronic Newsletter (via Email from computer or PDA). When using an email campaign, many social media experts recommend using a headline accompanied with no more than two – three sentences to give a snapshot of what an article has to offer. It is usually followed by the words, “Read More,” “Click Here,” or “Learn More,” which serves as a prompt that, when clicked, guides the reader to the actual site where the full article you wrote (see step #10) can be read in its entirety.
12. Podcast (audio education). You may also decide to add an audio component to your content. Companies like PodOmatic offer a free platform for you to share your audio content. You can add a little bit of content, but people who are at work can listen at their disposal. If your podcasts really take off, you might even consider creating your own radio show on a site like BlogTalkRadio.com.
13. Facebook (friends & fans). Share your latest content (using the combination headline and short link – see step #9) as a post on your Facebook page and encourage friends and fans to share with their networks.
14. Twitter (followers). Use the same logic as in step #13 to share content with your followers, the primary difference being the use of your designated hashtags (if applicable) – see step #6. You can also do a search in twitter on your hashtag to see who else in the Twitterverse also used the same hashtag – this could be a new source of followers.
15. LinkedIn (professional connections). Use the same logic as in step #13 to share content with your connections. Additionally, you can determine whether you want to send a link to your content to specific connections you have in LinkedIn. Another way to share your content via LinkedIn is to use features such as Groups where you can find ways to participate in conversations and perhaps add extra value by providing that shortlink to your content.
16. SlideShare (visual education). The beauty of SlideShare is that you can upload your content as a word document or pdf. However, the majority of the content shared is powerpoint presentations. SlideShare has a really cool transcription tool that will take the content or text from your presentation and convert it to text, thereby supercharging the ability for your content to be found through organic searching. Once you’ve uploaded your content, you can then begin sharing it by embedding it into your blog and/or clicking on the Facebook, Google Plus, LinkedIn and Twitter buttons provided.
17. YouTube (audio/visual education). Video is an incredibly persuasive form of promotion especially since so many people believe what they see. One catch to video is to have the absolute best title (headline) and tags for your video so that they can come up in the top ten during a search. Otherwise, the better way is to embed a YouTube video into your website or blog where you have the added benefit of actual content to accompany the video.
18. Skype (Instant Messaging). You may be wondering how on Earth can you share content via Skype. Well, there are two major ways. First, you can provide an update that includes a shortlink to your content in the “Tell Your Friends What You’re Up To” section. Your entire network on Skype will then see your picture, name and update in their dashboard the next time each of them logs into Skype. Second, you can type the shortlink to your content using the instant messaging feature of Skype to one or several of your connections who also happen to be online at the same time as you.
19. In 30 days, measure # of clicks and/or views as well as % ↑ in site and profile traffic. Just about every social networking site (even Bit.ly and Tinyurl) provide analytical data on your profile. Most of these sites however offer this data for a minimal fee or at the very least a free 30-day trial. In choosing the best social media app, you should also consider looking at the demographic, sociographic and geographic data of their users and determine whether or not that matches your target audience. Ultimately, the social media apps you choose will depend on which has the most “stickiness” with your audience. For example, a photographer would probably have far better luck networking via YouTube, Flickr and Instagram as opposed to merely talking about photography on a radio show. If you sell a baby product you might find that you can create a huge fan base on Facebook, but Twitter may not work at all.
20. Measure ROI (prospects & buyers vs. total visits). Your time is precious and as an entrepreneur you know the importance of spending the majority of your professional time on matters that yield the greatest return. It is important that you track not only the number of visits/views/hits/pings to/of your content, but to also determine how and if it is translating into money in your company’s coffers. Ask all new customers how they found out about your company and determine what, if any, role your social media activity plays in your sales process.
21. Optimize tagging strategy & message delivery based on ROI results. As with any process, once it is place it must constantly be improved upon. That means looking at various social networking sites, tags, content, messages, etc. as “controls” that need to be adjusted according to the data you’ve collected from step #20. You will need to quickly figure out what is working and what isn’t. Some controls might need to be adjusted and some may need to be turned off altogether and replaced.
Following this process may seem really daunting at first – especially if you are completely new to social networking. If that is the case, I highly recommend taking advantage of the scores of free webinars, workshops and seminars that are offered by social media consultants throughout the world. Like large companies, some entrepreneurs and individuals pay others to take on their social media networking. For entrepreneurs I suggest that you at least learn the basics of some of the core social networking sites so that you can know what to reasonably expect should you decide to enlist the services of a social media management consultant.
For those of you who want to keep social networking activities in-house, there are some very important ground rules that you should follow/keep in mind to create and maintain a professional online image:
VERY IMPORTANT – find out the potential legal consequences of using social media in your profession. I once wrote recommendations for both my patent attorney and financial planner on LinkedIn. They both immediately thanked me for the gesture, but mentioned that they could not post the information on their profiles.
Before posting anything online, always ask yourself, “would I say this if I were in a room full of people?” “Do I want the world to know I said x, did x, am at a certain place or endorsed x?”
Be active. Social media is NOT static. Don’t create profiles that you will not regularly update.
Make sure any profile you complete is 100% complete. A complete profile assures the likelihood that you or your content will be found. This is an integral feature in how the search algorithms of all of these sites are configured.
Remember, quality over quantity. Do what feels most comfortable to you. Some people inundate others with information and they end up getting completely tuned out whereas others may rarely share information and run the risk of being forgotten completely. Watching your ROI and other metrics will tell you the optimal frequency at which you should share information online.
Learn the proper use of each social site. They ARE NOT created equal. While Twitter followers expect to receive multiple updates from you perhaps in a given day; the same is not necessarily true of LinkedIn. This is especially important to keep in mind if you plan to use a tool like HootSuite.
Never hard sell or come across as desperate in your messages. Yes, as entrepreneurs, we want people to buy our services and products, but you have to give valuable information in order to expect the reward of a potential new customer.
Always find out your target market’s preferred way of receiving information. Some people may prefer email, some may still like phone calls, others by text messages and so forth.
Test any new social media site for at least 90 days before deleting a profile.
Patience is a virtue and the fact that social networking sites change constantly can be frustrating. Just when you get used to certain features and learn how to use the app or site, it changes!
Be genuine in all your communications! People can sniff out phonies quickly and have little tolerance for them. The last thing you want is a cyber-argument for all the world to see!
Last but not least, think before you type! Whatever is put on the internet or in any form of electronic communications is FOREVER!
Now it’s your turn. Try out the steps of this process and see what works and what you can customize to better accomodate your promotional efforts.
Alicia Butler Pierre is the author of Behind the Façade, the world’s first published book on business infrastructure and host of the weekly Business Infrastructure podcast, which ranks in the world’s top 2%. She’s an adjunct instructor of advanced lean principles at Purdue University and operations management at Nichols. A chemical engineer turned entrepreneur, she’s advised, designed, and optimized processes for organizations including Coca-Cola, Shell Oil, The Library of Congress, and The Home Depot.