Designer Daniel McNutt recently posted on Twitter, “Jeff, you were social networking before it had its catchy name.”
And I realized that he’s right: I’ve been using social interaction tools for self-promotion for quite a long time. I found my way online more than a decade ago with my first website, newsgroups and forums such as the HOW Forum . I used those outlets to promote my firm and to share my design and business expertise. About five years later, I was dragged kicking and screaming into the then-new blogosphere. To my surprise, bLog-oMotives (my first attempt at blogging) proved to be a great outlet for communicating ideas and promoting my work. I created a separate blog to promote my book Identity Crisis! From there, I made over my fairly stagnant business website with a blogfolio format (as you’d guess, part blog and part portfolio of my work), which was more flexible for me and more search engine-friendly.
Social networking is the latest tool for online marketing, one that I’ve embraced, like many other creative pros. LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, Naymz, Plaxo, Twitter, Squidoo and Ning—it almost sounds like the name of a law firm. Instead, by adding “.com” to each term, you’ll find just a few of the growing number of social networking sources available to spread your name, work and brand out into cyberspace.
And that’s precisely the point of using social networks as self-promotion tools: They can grow your universe of business prospects, draw traffic back to your website or blog and help you develop a broad reputation as an expert. “These sites all help get your name out there,” says Paul Kline, a photographer who runs a studio bearing his name in Washington, DC. “Websites, search engines and direct mail are all important, but social networking sites are more personal, and in some cases more effective.”
Getting Started in Social Media
Social networking success depends on initiating interaction, engaging an audience, sharing information, making the impersonal personal and inviting feedback. It also demands that you offer easy access to an already established web presence (either your website or blog). Your online audience will want additional information about you and your expertise before deciding to be your friend, follower or contact. Without that link, you lose credibility, and the perceived value of your tweets, posts and comments may lessen.
Nashville, TN-based children’s illustrator Holli Conger built that foundation first. “I’ve always had an online portfolio and website,” she says. “When I first started out, I participated on a lot of forums. I would usually read more than I commented or posted. Then I moved on to blogging, which opened me up to other illustrators who were more on my level career-wise.” Justin Ahrens, principal of Geneva, IL-based design firm Rule29, had a similar introductory experience to internet marketing. “Early on, we primarily utilized our website; it basically just showcased our work, contact information and news highlights.”
MySpace and Facebook
When I joined MySpace several years ago, the network was primarily populated by teens, but I saw its promotional promise and I did land a couple of projects. But I’ve found myself returning to MySpace less and less frequently as my business goals have outgrown the site’s audience and abilities. Frankly, it’s OK to move on if a social network isn’t serving your needs.
When I joined Facebook, my strategy was to create a personal profile with a business slant. Increasingly, though, Facebook is attracting “grown-up” users and has added new tools that enable a more professional presence on the network. I’ve set my Facebook profile up so that it automatically feeds my latest blog posts, and I contribute targeted, business-specific updates and post galleries of appropriate photos and graphic images. And I’ve created a page for Jeff Fisher LogoMotives that exclusively spotlights my business.
LinkedIn was built from the ground up as a business networking tool; unfortunately, the site’s early iteration was clunky, difficult to navigate and, let’s face it, boring. Now, however, LinkedIn has perhaps taken cues from Facebook: It’s a friendlier environment for making professional contacts, with easier navigation. The addition of industry-specific groups and discussions created a venue of true social interaction. The groups also make it easier to find and connect with people of similar interests and experience.
Looking at who your contacts are connected to expands your exposure to potential clients, as Conger discovered. “LinkedIn led to a pretty lucrative design/illustration contract that feeds me work monthly,” she says. “I found the company through another contact and noticed in their profile that they were hiring in-house positions. I e-mailed to see if they’d be interested in working with me on a freelance basis. They said yes and they’ve been one of the best clients I’ve ever had.”
My fear of a Twitter addiction kept me from participating early on; after just a month of tweeting, traffic to my blogfolio and blogs doubled. I’ve found Twitter to be an invaluable business resource. While casual Twitter users post their whereabouts and what they ate for breakfast, I opt for more professional tweets. I add links to blog posts or articles I think others may find interesting. I share design competition and book submission deadlines. I retweet, or re-post, messages I feel may be of interest to those following my posts. Occasionally I toss in a personal note or response to someone.
Using Social Media Strategically
In my involvement with these sites, I see a lot of designers, writers, illustrators and photographers networking only with other creative types. Selectively interacting with just your peers isn’t the best tactic for finding potential clients. So I encourage creative professionals to also seek out networking opportunities on sites frequented by business folks, like StartupNation.com or Biznik.com.
The social networking sites of traditional print media also provide great opportunities to rub cyber elbows with business professionals. Magazine websites such as FastCompany.com, Entrepreneur.com and GoodMagazine.com provide a connection to the business community—including the ability to create online profiles, participate in discussions and post articles or blogs. Being active in these online conversations demonstrates your expertise to a new niche.
I’ve discovered that there’s little difference between my individual personality and that of my business. Conger advocates using caution in establishing the online attitude for your business, as well. “I think it’s important to show your personality, but I’ve chosen to have a more professional appearance on the internet as a whole,” she says. “Everything is searchable, and what you say could come back to haunt you.”
This blending of personal and professional worlds may be one hurdle keeping you from tapping social media as a professional tool. Another may be time. Just as you can be strategic about representing your brand online, you can be thoughtful about how you manage all these networks. You can repurpose content across media; a blog post might also appear in your newsletter and, in short form, on Twitter. Applications like Ping.fm can synchronize your blog with your social media accounts, so a new post is automatically broadcast to other outlets—a huge time-saver. And tools like TweetDeck let you monitor and post to Twitter and Facebook simultaneously.
When it comes to social networking, it’s possible to successfully mix business with pleasure. “Make time for social networking,” Ahrens concludes. “It’s a ton of fun—and more important, you never know whether or not a valuable new business connection is just around the corner.”
Designer/author Jeff Fisher, the engineer of creative identity for Jeff Fisher LogoMotives, provides links to his blogfolio and blogs at JFisherLogoMotives.com.
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