As social media has become an increasingly prevalent part of our society, its benefits for businesses are apparent. For independent consultants, social media can be a valuable tool for both networking and for marketing. As with any business tool, its success relies on knowing how to use it. Below are some dos and don’ts we suggest following to help you realize the potential that social media can offer to you and your consultancy.
As an independent consultant, there are many instances – personal branding and in-person networking, for instance – in which you and your consultancy are one and the same. On social media networks, however, keeping personal and professional content separate can ensure followers only get information they care about, while you maintain the professionalism that is appropriate.
When using one account for both personal and professional communication, keep in mind that anything you post may reflect on your consultancy’s image. If you are highly active on social media for personal uses, you may want to consider setting up separate accounts for your consultancy on networks like Facebook and Twitter, particularly if you intend on sharing photos meant for friends or family, discussing personal beliefs, or posting a great deal on topics related to your private life.
If someone follows your consultancy 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 one time – will clog up your followers’ news feeds or timelines, and is a good way to drive people away. Limit social media posts to a pace approproaite to the channel, spaced well apart. This gives your content the attention (and "breathing room") it deserves.
For some fast-moving channels, like Twitter, this may mean multiple tweets per day. For other platforms, like LinkedIn, this may mean only 2-3 updates per week.
Try following one of these professionals and taking a tip from their playbook on how often they use social media to promote their business.
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 consultancy’s social media presence and encourage them to follow you. You can do this by adding links on your consultancy’s website, business cards, email signature, and even in other online marketing material.
Of course, the main goal of your social media presence is to promote your consultancy, either by marketing directly to potential clients or by building contacts for your professional network. However, social media is not like other marketing tactics; social media is about building relationships, and a message that is too sales-focused is not likely to be well received. That’s not to say blatant 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 products, services, or brands, 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 must 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 of traditional marketing. Don’t hesitate to initiate conversations with others, and do quickly respond to comments or questions others direct at you about your consultancy, your services, or even general questions about your industry. Those who you spark conversations with now may turn into a valuable network contact or even your next big client. Always be sure to stay relevant (to your industry, expertise, audience, etc.) and active.