Building and managing your social media brand

This blog posting evolved out of an assignment we received, to share with colleagues at OCLC Research how to build and maintain a social media brand. While there’s nothing on this list that is particularly original, we both thought that the advice we came up with for colleagues was also worth sharing with a larger audience. Some of you may be consumers of social media, but not already actively blogging, Tweeting, or Tumbling. Others of you are hardened experts and we hope you will share your wisdom in the comments below!

Your online brand is the reputation you establish over time by providing useful and appreciated value to others. Establishing your brand and maintaining requires commitment, since constant activity is better than episodic participation. Also, it is much easier to damage your online brand than it is to build it, so participate thoughtfully and with grace.

  • Determine what your online “handle” (nickname) will be and use it everywhere. The more consistent you can be with the use of your chosen handle the more likely your potential audience will recognize that it represents you in a variety of contexts (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, etc.). Register the domain name as well, in case you ever want to have your own web site.
  • Select the fora in which you will participate (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc.). You should participate in sites and services where the audience you wish to reach can already be found. For example, if no one you know hangs out on Google+, then skip it. Don’t forget mailing lists, which can still be an important venue for participating with a given community.
  • Participate consistently. Participating in online forums should be a regular part of your professional life if you are trying to build and maintain an online brand. Being a consistently contributing member of a community is the most important method to build your reputation.
  • Contribute real value. Your contributions should carry value for those who will likely see it. For example, if you are trying to establish a reputation for insightful commentary about libraries you may wish to avoid commenting a lot about politics or what you had for dinner. This can vary a bit by venue, with some being more formal than others, but always consider the impression you are trying to make within a given venue.
  • Say why. If you’re linking to something, say why your readers should click through to it. Be a good citizen and give as much context as possible, even with character limits.
  • Do not post when impaired (e.g., angry, drunk, depressed, etc.). What seems like a good idea at the time may not be. If you must, write it up but don’t post it until you’ve slept on it.
  • Consider reposting key items at opposite times of day (to make your impact felt in the broadest set of timezones possible).
  • Use the option to schedule posts when appropriate. Most social software clients have methods to schedule a post hitting a particular service at a particular day and/or time. This can be used, for example, to keep up an online presence during a vacation or to repost in a different timezone.
  • Keep in mind that nothing on the Internet can be considered private. Nothing. Whatever you write can show up in places you don’t expect, so be nice. Always. This doesn’t mean you should not forcefully argue your point, just be respectful about it.
  • Post appropriately for the venue. Twitter, for example, is a friendly venue for humor and personal comments. LinkedIn groups, however, are likely not.
  • Avoid “tweet bombing”. If you only check your social media account once a day, don’t make the mistake of posting or tweeting a lot during that one session. If people see many posts coming from you during a short period, it becomes more annoying than helpful. Rather, use the scheduling feature that your client software may (should) have to space out your posts or shares over time.
  • Be a good (and reciprocal) citizen. Everyone loves to have their links and wisdom shared. If you share something you got from someone else, give credit where credit is due. A name check at the right time will go a long way towards establishing good relationships.
  • Be in the flow. At conferences, you can leverage the conference stream both to keep up with what is happening in parallel sessions but also to boost your own signal. People who don’t normally follow you will follow a conference stream — if you are active in the stream, you will pick up new followers and also find some new people to follow yourself.
  • Periodically review your online presence. Are you participating in the right forums? Are there new venues you should add to your repertoire? Others that you can withdraw from? Keep in mind that your assessment of a given venue may change over time. I initially thought Twitter was only really useful at conferences, but later assessments changed my mind.
  • Use services such as Klout.com, Feedburner, etc. to assess, not obsess. That is, services that rate the impact of your social media presence can be useful to get feedback on your impact, but do not become obsessed with increasing your score. Remember that your overall professional brand also includes other important factors, such as the articles you publish and the presentations you give.
  • Don’t worry about turning your back: Once you’re engaged, it can be hard to step away from the stream, but it will be okay. Anything really important will come back around again.
  • Be yourself (within limits!). Although social media is durable, there is no reason to hide who you are. In fact, expressing your personality let’s people know that you are not just someone who works for a particular organization, but a person with passions, interests, and (hopefully) a sense of humor.

With time and consistent performance, your online reputation can be a strong complement to your overall professional reputation. By establishing a strong and valued online presence you can increase the demand for your work in other venues, such as presentations at professional conferences or invited articles for professional journals. Without such a presence in an era dominated by electronic communication, you may run the risk of damaging an otherwise stellar professional reputation.

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3 Comments

  1. I found these suggestions to be extremely helpful. Do you have any guidelines for whether a personal site with blog is still seen as useful or whether Facebook or Google+ can substitute for this type of medium?

    • Hi Roger! What a great question. I could write a whole blog post (and perhaps I shall!) on why the blog is still relevant. Many people seem to think that blogs have been replaced with short form social media, a la Twitter, Google+, etc. But what the world still wants is content. So you might be able to build a social media brand by virtue of linking to cute cat Vines or clever articles, at some point you need to build your idea identity. We might write articles and books, or give talks at conferences — those are part of our ideas identity we can point to, but they are, relatively speaking, few and far between. A blog is a perfect place to give voice to ideas that are still works in progress, or to comment on other’s work. Far from being dead, I think the blog is more relevant than ever — it used to be that you would start a blog and hope someone would read it. Now, with Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of communication, you can more quickly draw attention and build an audience for a blog (with the caveat that you regularly delivery content on that medium). I might be wrong, but I have a hard time seeing Twitter or Facebook subbing in for those longer form expression of ideas. Particularly Twitter. Those Facebook Notes were a thing for a while but seem to have disappeared. Google Plus still seems like a wasteland, although I find Google Hangouts to be very useful. I’m curious to see what Roy thinks.

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