I am an employed and pretty well-connected Marketing Manager in the consumer packaged goods field, but I haven’t delved into social media at all. I know I need to get up to speed to stay competitive in my field. At this late date, how do I start to build an online persona and do whatever else one is supposed to do online? I am afraid that I’m at the tail end of ‘late adopters’ and hopelessly out of date.
Relax! It’s not difficult to begin building your online soapbox. Here are eight tips to get you going:
- LinkedIn.com is your first stop. This massive profile-and-connection site is the 800-lb. gorilla for business-oriented online networking. LinkedIn has over 50 million users, and it’s easy to see why – the site is a free billboard for every working person, a fantastic research tool and a powerful ‘introduction engine’ that makes it easy for you to connect your friends to your other friends. It’ll take you 45 minutes to an hour to get your LinkedIn profile up and running, and another hour or so to download your contacts (from Outlook, Gmail, etc.), pick which folks you’d like to invite to join your LinkedIn network, and create customized invitations (a must!) to send to them.
- It takes almost no time to set up a Twitter account, and read other folks’ tweets if you don’t want to send out your own. A ‘tweet’ is a quick, 140-character post that a Twitter member uses to let his or her friends and other followers know what s/he’s reading, or doing, or thinking about at any given time. A good start-up process for Twitter is to create an account, follow a few friends and opinion leaders in your industry, and then eventually, if you feel like it, to start tweeting yourself. Like LinkedIn, a Twitter membership is free.
- If you don’t already have one, craft a compelling email signature and attach it to each of your outgoing email messages. Since you’re working for someone else, your employer name and title will be in your signature, but your signature can also include the link to your LinkedIn profile (you can create a customized url with your name in it, a la http://www.linkedin.com/in/gaylsmith) and your Twitter account name as well, if you like.
- Join an online discussion community, or more than one, to grow your online soapbox and get used to sharing your ideas in an online-community setting. Yahoo!Groups hosts ten million online communities, so you’re sure to find at least one Yahoo!Group populated by people who share your interests. (My online community, Ask Liz Ryan, is a great source for business and career advice, at http://www.yahoogroups.com/group/asklizryan. If that one isn’t your cup of tea, there are nine million, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand others to choose from!)
- Leave comments on sites like Glassdoor.com (you could leave a comment below this story, in fact) in order to begin getting comfortable putting your thoughts concisely in writing. The ability to say what you want quickly and in a conversational way is a huge asset online! If you’d like to be reachable to other commenters or visitors to the site, leave your LinkedIn profile url (not your email address!) beneath your comment.
- Remember that your employer’s brand is attached to your own, so be careful of what you put in writing online. “I think the Cheesy-Oh’s Twitter campaign was provocative but missed its mark” is one thing; “The Marketing people at Cheesy-Oh’s must have rocks in their head” is something else entirely. As the Marketing Manager for your company, you’re speaking for yourself AND for the company, so keep in mind that discretion is the better part of valor.
- Back on LinkedIn, use LinkedIn Answers to ask and answer questions that’ll not only clue you in to what’s happening in your industry and function, but also put you in touch with smart people you should know. LinkedIn Groups is another great way to meet thought leaders and connect with them either on LinkedIn itself or in the three-D world, or both.
- What about starting a blog, and what about Facebook? Blogs are terrific for people who love to write and who can keep a blog updated with twice-or-thrice-weekly new posts. The rest of us may find a blog more trouble than it’s worth. Facebook is a fun and engaging social-networking tool, and becoming more of a business tool every day, especially for marketers looking to build community among users and fans of their products and services. For a beginner, our suggestion is to create a Facebook profile and make some connections, to get used to the site’s functions before launching a FB marketing campaign.
Don’t be afraid to put a toe in the water — but don’t feel obligated to make a splash in every social networking pond, either! Take our steps in order, one or two at a time, until you feel comfortable taking your social networking to the next level (by starting your own LinkedIn group or launching a Facebook fan page, for instance). You can exist online by dinnertime tonight, Gayl. There’s no time like now to get started!