Wednesday June 01, 2016

Riding the social wave

How to position yourself for social media success

Young woman surfboarding at summer resort

Today’s tech-based society means most of us have a digital footprint. Making that presence meaningful, and more than just a tick-box, incidental, accidental thing can bring significant benefits to you and your business.

Jim Claussen, founder of the Executive Social Academy which helps managers and business leaders thrive in the digital economy, identifies engaging in social media as key to say, securing a senior position:

“…being findable, being intentional about what you are known for, and being intentional about building and nurturing a robust digital network is the most effective way to attract opportunity, build advocates and create the serendipitous interactions that will lead to a next career role.”

Only connect

Social media success is about much more than knowing your way around various technologies and channels: publishing on LinkedIn, blogging and tweeting. It boils down to building relationships – fulfilling that human need to connect. And it’s expressed in how you engage with whatever platforms best reach your target audiences; from interacting with peers in your particular marketplace or sector to attracting the attention of the media and influencers.

How to stand out

If you’re taking an active role curating content, sharing, commenting and conversing, you’re enhancing your credibility within the networks you’re cultivating. If you’re helping shape the debate and leading conversations, your networks are doing some of that work for you – you’re gaining a reputation for being someone worth listening to – on your way to becoming what’s known as a thought leader.

“Grow into social”

Attaining this degree of social (media) standing doesn’t happen overnight. Unless you’re already leveraging a significant amount of celebrity capital you can’t expect to burst onto the scene fully fledged. You need to do your research, identify your audiences and issues. You need to give before you can expect to receive: engaging with, amplifying and supporting others. And you need to recognise that it takes time to build your social profile and gain traction within your network.

For Claussen the key is making that first step, putting yourself out there:

“Don’t go into social, grow into social. Start small, start simple, and build momentum.”

Know yourself, know your purpose

If you start with being clear about your purpose, why you’re on social media, something more than the default “because I should be,” you’ll find that that momentum, its benefits and the sheer feel-good factor that comes from being part of a community, will build faster.

Distilling that purpose starts with knowing yourself. And conversely, recognising that it’s not all about you. It’s about creating something that’s often referred to as a personal brand, something that will bring the greatest benefits to you when you arrive at it via understanding how you help or serve others.

A good question to start with and to ask yourself repeatedly until you’ve dug deep into first principles thinking is “why?”

Elon Musk, in an interview with fellow entrepreneur, Kevin Rose, put it well:

“…it’s a kind of physics way of looking at the world. You boil things down to the most fundamental truths and say, “What are we sure is true?””

In defining yourself and the value you bring, you’re unlocking the power of your unique combination of experience, knowledge and perspective. Being clear about your “why” (Simon Sinek “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action”) reveals why anyone should care or listen. It leaps the electric distance between people, giving your content resonance and engaging hearts and minds.

Keep it real

Social media is great for allowing some of the real you to come through, to show people what it would be like meeting you and doing business with you in real life. A personal angle is particularly powerful because it’s real and relatable. In the same way that the personal can be political, there’s no paradox in the personal also being universal, although balancing this with being professionally appropriate is, of course, key. Paraphrasing Sherwin Nuland (American surgeon and writer, and author of “How We Die”):

“The more personal you are willing to be…about the details of your own life, the more universal you are…”

David Ogilvy, widely regarded as the ‘Father of Advertising’ concurs:

“…the best ads come from personal experience. Some of the good ones I have done have really come of the real experience of my life and somehow this has come over as true and valid and persuasive.”

Stay curious

In these days of being encouraged to narrow your focus on a particular niche so you can say you ‘own’ it, it may seem almost contrary to suggest that you should widen your scope in order to cultivate a more compelling perspective.

Staying curious, open to learning and discovery in your own marketplace and beyond, can play a significant part in enhancing your social profile. Reading widely; for example, trying classic literature or delving into a historical text can get you into the habit of making connections between past and present, fictional characters and market players. It builds context and background, and can make your contributions more noteworthy. The same applies to ‘newsjacking’ where you capitalise on a news story, presenting your angle on it. This employment law perspective on dress codes at work is an excellent example.

Remember to listen

Taking the time to broaden your knowledge and reveal connections between your outside pursuits and professional interests gets you into the habit of paying attention. You’re actively listening to your marketplace, its issues and your competitors. And as well as gaining competitive advantage, you’re also getting to the nub of what social media is: a conversation.

And talk back

In leaving space for others to have their say, in responding real-time, in supporting others, you’re recognising social media’s power as far more than an old skool broadcast media tool.

You’re making the most of the market-square conversation re-imagined for the 21st Century.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Executive Connections blog.

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