With the popularity of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networking sites, how can you leverage the features you get and connections you can make through them? Before you start using the many features that are unique to each site such as the LinkedIn email that let's you send messages through your connections to people they know or the ability to add your resume to your Facebook profile, you need to step back and think about what you are trying to achieve.
Here are some basic best practices for building your brand on any of the popular social networking sites.
1. Establish a brand personality. You cannot build your brand until you know what your brand represents. Who are you and what do you do? But that's not all of what makes your brand unique. What do you stand for? What is your personality? What is your tone and attitude? These are called "brand attributes." Are you known for being nose-to-the-grindstone or are you playful even in a professional setting? A lot of the qualities you'll want to project in social networks should be based on who you are trying to reach and what you are trying to achieve. Getting people to hire you as a technical writer requires a different approach than hiring you as a graphic designer, for example.
2. Be consistent. When you are trying to build a brand, consistency is key. You want to make sure your profiles on various networks are consistent. This doesn't mean word-for-word identical because each site may allow you to include different types of information. But the overall impression you are trying to make and information you want to share should have consistency. Visual images should also be consistent. The more you are consistent, the more recognizable and memorable you become to others.
3. Use great images. No matter what kinds of images you plan on using on your social network profiles, make sure they are clear and in keeping with your brand personality. If you work with images, make sure they are representative of the quality you want to demonstrate to others. But even the personal photo you select can make either a good first impression or a bad one when people peruse your profile.
4. Share good information. As you are interacting in social networks, you have the ability to broadcast information or share status updates with at least your connections or friends or in some cases – like Twitter – with the general public. Whatever you put out there, make sure it is in keeping with the professional image you want to project. Keep in mind that even a private profile on a social network such as Twitter or Facebook is not entirely private. Anyone within your circle of friends, for example, could potentially share or republish something you've posted online. Keeping a balance between personal and professional social networking is a challenge and many people have difficulty drawing appropriate lines. Depending on your industry and the clients you have or are seeking, what you do personally on social networks could make or break your reputation.
5. Make connections. Social networks by nature are about connecting with others. To make social networks work well for you as a freelancer, you need to not only make connections with people who you actually know but also look to network with either their connections or other people with whom you'd like to network for potential project work. Always be upfront as to why you are asking to connect with someone who you don't know, even if they are a friend of a friend. Not every connection will turn into work, however, you never know which connections will so always be respectful and kind to all of your connections.
Regardless of the kind of work you're seeking, social networks can be powerful tools for making the right contacts to the right jobs. Knowing how to properly leverage these networks for professional interactions means you have to strike a thoughtful balance between personal and professional while always keeping an eye toward your brand and the image you want to project.
Aliza Sherman is a social marketing innovator, Web pioneer, author, speaker, blogger and podcaster – and she’s speaking at the Creative Freelancer Conference. Through her agency Conversify, Aliza Sherman offers strategic social marketing consulting to companies and organizations.