Many of us use social networks in our daily lives, but don’t quite know how to best fit these mediums into professional and business-related activities. We’ve covered these topics extensively in our bestselling book The Business Etiquette Bible – a complete guide to leading and communicating in the high-tech age. To help you in your efforts to make the most of such tools, following, you’ll find a breakdown of five major networks, including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+, each with a summary, pros and cons, and insider tips to help make your experiences on them both safe and fulfilling.
The largest professional social network, LinkedIn focuses on connecting you with co-workers, employers, and colleagues. It also allows you to create a virtual résumé and tear sheet of testimonials that can be shared with potential employers, and reach out to potential peers and mentors.
- Great way to stay connected with colleagues and/or source testimonials even after a job ends
- Avoids the personal, mundane information plaguing other sites in favor of strictly professional communications
- Can connect you to new job opportunities and individuals through mutual introductions
- Users don’t always update their profile, so information may not be current, or relevant to present jobs and skill sets
- You may find yourself fielding inappropriate or unwanted requests for connections, introductions, or recommendations from third parties, known or otherwise
- Extended site features and connection options require a paid annual professional membership fee
- Use a real-life headshot of yourself as your profile photo, not cartoon avatars, product shots or random images: It’s imperative to convey a professional image.
- Only ask for testimonials from people that you’ve intimately worked with in the past.
- Be honest when providing your online résumé, as former and present colleagues are likely on LinkedIn, too. Likewise, multiple copies of one’s résumé may readily be available online – be careful that these documents don’t contradict.
- When attempting to connect with strangers, at a bare minimum, fill out the contact section and explain who you are and why you’d like to sync up with them.
- Give connected colleagues a heads-up to confirm their approval before introducing or connecting them to another person in your network.
- Reaching out to pitch contacts via LinkedIn and/or blasting out promotional or news announcements through the service en masse is frowned upon – as a general rule, any such outreach should be made through alternate channels, e.g. direct work email addresses.
When Is the Best Time to Connect On LinkedIn?
“I think any time is appropriate to connect on LinkedIn. If you’re looking to connect with someone you don’t know, but want to get to know professionally, make your agenda known when you first make initial contact. Don’t send the generic “I’d like to add you to my network” email, but instead clarify who you are, why you’re reaching out and why you think it’s important to connect.”
-Jeana Lee Tahnk, www.jeanatahnk.com, Tech Writer and PR Consultant
Enjoyed by hundreds of millions of users, Facebook allows you to share thoughts (in the form of text posts called status updates), pictures, and video with other real-life individuals connected to the service (called friends). Note that while Facebook posts can be limited to certain groups, the majority of interactions are public, and highly visible. Facebook’s widespread popularity, near ubiquity on set-top and mobile devices, and visibly social nature, as well as easy comment and response system, make it popular with businesses looking to quickly engage sizable communities.
- Free and easy to use, and accessible from many major high-tech devices
- Extremely popular – many people, business and brands you’ll know are on it, and may be amenable to using the service to connect
- Fast and simple sharing of text and multimedia content with others
- Ever-changing set of privacy settings and features, which may prove challenging to keep up with
- Some may find it difficult and time-consuming to share content specifically curated to be safe for professional consumption with specific groups or subsets of friends
- Posting frequency must be carefully considered: Tempting as it may be to constantly promote, users’ news feeds and notifications can get quickly become clogged, leading to negative responses and reactions.
- Be careful “Liking” a negative or controversial status update, as it may alienate people and, depending on their status, even offend the person who posted it. Note that doing so may also cause viewers to take it as a sign of your tacit approval or endorsement.
- Realize that there may be consequences to linking Twitter to your Facebook account, as it may spam others’ feeds by repeatedly posting throughout the day.
- Add a personalized and professional note when you ask to be someone’s friend on Facebook explaining who you are and why you want to be friends, unless you happen to know the person well in real life.
- Do not feel obligated to friend someone back, especially individuals you don’t know, since that may give them access to personal information about you.
- Adjust your settings so you have control over who posts on your wall, tags you in pictures and – via status updates or other methods – can reveal where you are located.
- Always log or sign out of your Facebook account when done using it – especially on shared devices.
Personal Versus Professional Usage:
- If you plan on using Facebook to promote yourself professionally, you may want to have two accounts – one with your actual name for professional purposes and one with a personal nickname for just friends and family, especially if your friends and family members may post things that your employer, employees or clients might object to.
- Note that contacts may use the service primarily for personal purposes, and not take kindly to business postings: Having a separate business account or page in addition to your personal account is often advisable, and can be a highly effective way to promote your business that offers great exposure and opportunities to attract new customers or clients.
- Make sure you understand privacy settings so that you have control over who sees timeline posts, tags, photos and other postings.
- You may wish to assign one key social media-savvy person to be responsible for business accounts, whose responsibilities include curating and editing content to ensure that all posts and links are consistent and clearly representative of your business, branding and corporate image.
Twitter is a social or ‘micro-blogging’ network that lets you share short statements (called “tweets”) in the form of text updates that clock in at 140 characters or less. As with Facebook, you can follow people on Twitter and be followed by others, allowing users to track your activity and status updates. Interesting tweets can also be shared (retweeted) with your own friends and followers. Many businesses and global corporations use Twitter as a way to share news or deals, or spark interest in varied topics and announcements, as its ease of use and availability on a myriad of devices make it a simple and efficient way for information and dialogue to spread.
- Free of charge, Twitter offers a handy way to exchange short messages, deals or news updates suitable for brief browsing sessions and accessible from most major high-tech devices
- Fast way to find out what’s trending in the world at large, and share information or interesting tidbits at record speed.
- Lets you quickly connect with and follow the activity of colleagues, friends and strangers alike
- Even private information can be easily shared by strangers in seconds, and impulse-driven nature may lead to unwise posts and responses
- Rapid post and response system can lead to high incidence rates, and communications cycles take place at a much more accelerated pace than corporations are typically used to
- Short nature of messages doesn’t lend itself well to deep conversations or conveying emotional nuance, and clarity, depth and subtle details are often sacrificed for brevity’s sake
- When in doubt about balancing informational and promotional efforts, use the 80-20 rule of thumb: Use your tweets to promote interesting information and content others have created 80 percent of the time, then 20 percent to promote yourself or your business professionally.
- With regard to interpersonal communications, while you cannot directly retweet tweets from private accounts, it’s important to avoid copying and pasting them, too, as private tweets have been made classified for a reason.
- It is not required for you to follow people, businesses or brands who have chosen to follow you (although doing so in return can be seen as a polite gesture). However, it is important to acknowledge them when they reply to or retweet one of your public messages: Online dialogue works two ways.
- Think before you post: Is the item you’re planning to share of interest and relevant to those who follow you? And how can you phrase or present it in such a way to offer them maximum value while minimizing self-promotional overtones?
- Be careful not only what you post, but also when posting links to pictures, videos, and websites that may be unsuitable for viewing at work.
- As noted in the book Damon Brown’s Simple Guide to Twitter, retweeting a post gives the impression that you agree with it, as no additional context is provided – be careful what you or your business inadvertently endorse.
- Given Twitter’s constant connectivity and often rapid-response nature, always pause and reconsider posts before you tweet – once publicly made, statements cannot be taken back.
Personal Versus Professional Usage:
- If you plan on using Twitter to promote yourself or your business professionally, you may wish to have two accounts – one with your actual or trade name for professional purposes, and one with a personal nickname for just friends and family to keep the personal and professional separate.
- Create a dedicated business account can be a great way to promote your brand, separate personal from professional opinions, and provide great exposure, helping you attract or maintain customers and clients by providing content with a professional bent that personal contacts may be less inclined to enjoy receiving notices about or links to.
- As with postings on other social networks, you may wish to assign one key social media-savvy person to be responsible for business accounts, whose responsibilities include curating and editing content to ensure that all posts and links are consistent and clearly representative of your business’ online image and branding.
This visually stunning social network allows you to post gorgeous photos, pictures, recipes, articles and more online. Essentially a virtual pinboard on which ideas and artwork can be shared, it presents a highly graphical way to share business or personal interests, and create catalogue-style product presentations. The platform works best for companies or professionals looking to showcase striking and visually-inclined information, e.g. a snapshot of new offerings, career portfolios and retrospectives, or photos from recent meetings and events.
- Great way to stay connected with colleagues and customers, especially if your business or brand is easily communicable through visual mediums
- Provides a wonderful way to promote anything (products, events, showroom demos, etc.) that lends itself well to photography
- Offers a great opportunity to create value for customers and connect with a broader audience, who can quickly view and enjoy information shared
- Maintaining audience interest may require more frequent updates, sharing and upkeep than on other social networks
- Less effective for visually nondescript items or promotions that cannot be easily communicated at a glance
- Through growing by leaps and bounds in popularity, enjoys less of a following, and less ubiquity, than Facebook or Twitter
- Tempting as it may be to share offbeat or unique photos, remember to use only images that best represent yourself or your business in a manner that suits your professional personality. It’s imperative to convey a professional image that’s in line with your image and brand.
- Always promote colleagues’ and employees’ work where appropriate, and be gracious about shining the spotlight on peers’, partners’ and third parties as well – a lesson equally applicable to other social networks as well.
- Look for ways to create value with viewers: Rather than simply posting shots of your bakery’s latest creations, for example, you might also share seasonal recipes, photos highlighting loyal customers, or images illustrating how donations that shoppers make on-location are used to help members of the local community.
Newer than the other social networks, Google+ adopts an approach similar to Facebook’s, but offers the option to divide contacts into circles – unique groups whose access to specific information you can control. Essentially, users can individually segment groups by relation, topic or category (e.g. colleagues, golfing buddies, personal friends, etc.), then comment on statuses and share items amongst specific circles to control the flow of information. Because it allows for greater control of information flow, it also presents the opportunity to maintain better separation of personal and professional topics.
- Easy to post multimedia from all Google services, including YouTube, to your profile and share with contacts, and enjoy high-quality group chat options
- The +1 system and supporting buttons lets you quickly and easily share interesting items from all across the web, including business news or articles and expert insights
- Friends can be subdivided into private circles (work, school, personal acquaintances, family, etc.) so you can control whom content is shared with, and to what extent
- May be less widely utilized by contacts and acquaintances than other social networks mentioned here
- Despite precautions, it’s still easy to unintentionally share private or unwanted information with the wrong circle
- Still working to differentiate itself from rivals, and may be seen as less intuitive for beginners than visually-oriented competitors such as Pinterest
- As with Facebook, use caution when approving (giving a +1) to a negative or controversial status update – this may be seen as an endorsement of its contents.
- Carefully craft your circles so you’ll share notes only with appropriate parties – this allows you to avoid inadvertently sharing data with unreceptive or inappropriate audiences.
- As of Winter 2012, Google ties your actions together across all its services, so be aware that it can now track your activities from Google+ to YouTube to Google Maps.
- Do not automatically reciprocate adding a contact to your circle until you are sure that you know them or want to be connected to them – and then be careful which circle you add them to.
- For your protection, when not in use, log out of your Google+ account on your phone just as you would on your home or laptop computer.
For more on how to make social networks work for your business, don’t miss The Business Etiquette Bible!