For independent professionals, social media is an incredibly valuable tool for both networking and marketing. As with any business tool, its success relies on knowing how to use it. Below are some do’s and don’ts we suggest following to help you realize the potential that social media can offer to you and your business.
As an independent professional, there are many instances, such as personal branding or in-person networking, in which you and your business are one and the same. On social media networks, however, keeping personal and professional content separate helps to ensure followers only get the information they care about while you maintain an appropriate level of professionalism.
When using one account for both personal and professional communication, keep in mind that anything you post may reflect on your business’s image. If you are highly active on social media for personal uses, you may want to consider setting up separate accounts for your business on networks like Facebook and Twitter, particularly if you intend on sharing photos meant for friends or family, discussing personal beliefs, or posting on topics related to your private life.
If someone follows your business on a social media network, it’s a good indication that they care about what you have to say. Even so, there are limits to how much they want to hear. Blasting out dozens of posts over the course of a day—or worse, all at once—will clog up your followers’ news feeds and is a good way to drive people away. Limit social media posts to a pace appropriate to the channel, spaced well apart. This gives your content the attention and breathing room it deserves.
For fast-moving channels like Twitter, this may mean multiple tweets per day. For other platforms like LinkedIn, this may mean 2-3 updates per week. It will take some trial and error to find the right balance for your business. Monitor levels of engagement and try different combinations of postings and timing to find what works best for your followers.
Social media is not a case of, “if you build it, they will come.” Let your professional network, colleagues, and current and potential clients know about your business’s social media presence and encourage them to follow you. You can do this by adding links on your professional website, business cards, or email signature.
Of course, the main goal of your social media presence is to promote your business, either by marketing directly to potential clients or by building contacts for your professional network. However, social media is not like other marketing tactics; it’s about building relationships. A message that is too sales-focused probably won’t be well received. That’s not to say sales or promotional content is prohibited, but it should not be the bulk your content.
Instead, follow the simple marketing rule of thumb: Know your audience. Focus on sharing content that your target audience will find valuable and interesting, such as helpful tips or links to articles related to their industry.
We like to follow the 4:1 rule. For every one tweet you send out pushing your own product, service, or brand, engage four times without direct promotion, be it by sharing valuable information about your industry, having a conversation, or re-tweeting someone else.
Not all social media networks are created equal; each one has unique benefits, and some may be more valuable to you than others. They key is to know not only who your target audience is, but also where on social media you can find them. For instance, independent consultants in more creative fields targeting a younger audience may find success on Twitter, Facebook, or, if your industry or line of work is visually driven, Instagram.
On the other hand, those who work in industries that are traditionally trying to reach corporate executives may choose to focus their efforts on a site like LinkedIn, which caters to business professionals. Of course, focusing on a particular network doesn’t mean you should ignore or abandon the others; in many cases, a presence on multiple social networks can mean reaching a wider or more diverse audience.
Though social media can be an excellent marketing tool, the rules of etiquette are more similar to those of networking than traditional marketing. Don’t hesitate to initiate conversations with others and be sure to quickly respond to comments or questions. Those who you spark conversations with now may turn into a valuable network contact or even your next big client.