Q: With the economy as ugly as it is, I’m looking for the most cost-effective branding channels possible. Are social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter worth the time and effort?
A: As with most things, it depends. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social connectivity Websites have the power to reach millions of people and allow others to find you for basically nothing. You simply set up your account, create your profile, and start inviting other members to link to you or become your “friends.” In the case of Twitter, the “micro-blogging” service where members can send quickie “This is what I’m up to” messages to friends and subscribers, you can create running feed of your activities. Sounds like a great way to reach out, make new contacts and market yourself for free, right?
Well, not in every case. If you’re in a so-called “prestige” profession like law, medicine or mental health, it can seem frivolous or even downright unprofessional for you to be promoting yourself via sites like Facebook. Our social contract dictates that doctors, psychologists, CPAs, lawyers, and the like are supposed to be “serious,” and therefore going viral online could do you more harm than good.
On the other hand, if you’re in a profession that’s identified with creativity (graphic design, architecture, writing, contracting) or personal communication (realtor, consultant, entrepreneur), then self-promotion via social networking may be perfect for you.
In sum, if your Personal Brand will be enhanced by being seen as personable, approachable, tech-savvy, and even cool, then social networking can be a huge asset. Just remember that, as positive as all of those attributes sound, depending on what you're selling they're not always what potential customers or clients are looking for.
Keep in mind also that there are also different networks for different kinds of brands. Facebook, Twitter, Friendster, and the like are mostly youth-oriented, so they’re better for someone either in a creative, hip line of work or for someone who's part of the under-30 cohort. On the other hand, networks such as LinkedIn and Ryze are targeted more at more experienced professionals who are expressly interested in making business connections. This makes them more of a resource for people who want to be perceived as “Let’s talk deal,” rather than “Hey, check me out.”
Basically, social networking might be right for you, but you need to do some homework. If you’re comfortable showing up for work in khakis, jeans, or a Che t-shirt, think Facebook and Twitter. If you wouldn’t think of going to work without a suit on, think LinkedIn.
And no matter what you do, make sure there’s nothing on any social network from years ago that could come back to embarrass you and harm your brand. Police your online brand relentlessly. Those pix of you in an adult diaper at a New Year’s Eve party 15 years ago may have been funny then (they're probably still funny now), but they’re probably not going to amuse someone whose divorce you’re handling.
Peter Montoya and Tim Vandehey are the authors of The Brand Called You, the definitive guide to personal branding, published by McGraw-Hill. The book can be purchased here.
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