Thanks to Harvard Business Review for inviting Michelle to share her tips on how to strengthen your professional presence on social media.
When it comes to your career, social media can be your friend and your enemy. On the one hand, research has found that looking at people’s career-related posts on social media can affect our perception and feelings about our own progress. Seeing friends, colleagues, and even strangers post stories about their successes can lead us to unhealthy comparisons, self-criticisms, and feelings of frustration.
On the other hand, while social media has its flaws, there are some clever ways in which it can boost our careers. When used strategically, it can help us find jobs, gain knowledge from a diverse range of people, strengthen our networks, and even make our work visible to the masses.
How do you reap the benefits? By developing a strong online presence. Based on research, observations, and my own experience, here’s how to get started.
Pick the platforms that work for your career
There are hundreds of social media platforms, and each has different offerings that may benefit you more or less depending on your current job and future career goals. Be selective about which ones you engage with and in what ways.
To help you decide where to spend your time, figure out what features are must-haves, nice-to-haves, or irrelevant for showcasing your skills and building a strong presence. This will largely depend on your industry or profession. For example, if you’re a photographer with the goal of growing your following, you’ll want to consider platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, Behance, and Vero Social — all of which are visual-first channels designed to help creators share their work with a large audience. Meanwhile, a platform like Twitter — designed for short, text-driven news or personal updates — may be more useful to a reporter aiming to share commentary on current events.
If you’re a project manager with the goal of securing a new job, a career-focused site like LinkedIn may be the best fit. With its strong job search and networking features, LinkedIn is a great place for you to find new opportunities, stay up to date with industry trends, and connect with recruiters and thought leaders in your field.
If you’re someone looking to develop yourself as an influencer or market your business to younger audiences, video-first platforms that target Gen Z and Millennial users like YouTube or TikTok may be the best place to showcase your personality or product.
While you don’t need to choose just one platform, trying to build a professional presence on too many at once can be a waste of valuable time — especially if the platform isn’t serving your career needs or goals. You’re better off using that time to strengthen your profile in the places that do.
Build and strengthen your presence
Remember, just being on a social media platform isn’t enough. How do you make sure you’re both visible and impactful? Focus on three things: connecting, creating, and consistency.
Make a conscious effort to expand your network and strengthen your visibility. Who knows you is as important as who you know.
Use your social profile as an online business card. Every time you meet someone who you want in your network, send them an invite on the social platform of your choice. Think of this invite as your virtual “business card,” or a way to keep in touch when job contact details change. In your message, remind them of your conversation and mention why you’re looking to stay connected.
For example, you could say, “Hi [name], It was great meeting you at the conference this weekend. I loved hearing about how you landed your current role and am very interested in exploring a career in the same industry. I’d like to stay connected on LinkedIn to learn more about your work through your posts.”
Keep this first message simple and undemanding. If you immediately spam them with requests for advice, or any other kind of asks, your request may come off as not genuine or purely transactional. The last thing you want is to become someone people ignore.
Make it a two-way street. Another failsafe way to connect with people is to follow them on their own social profiles. This will give you a chance to engage with their content, comment on their posts, and reach out with questions or offer insights directly related to their interests or work. Keep in mind that, like you, other people may have separate profiles for their “professional” and “personal” lives. To avoid being overly intrusive, try your best to identify and connect with people on their professional profiles.
For instance, suppose you’ve been following a graphic designer on Instagram whose work you admire. You could message them and say, “I loved your recent work on #breakthebias social campaign. It inspired me. If you have time in the next few weeks, I’d love to connect with you to better understand how I can help share your message with my colleagues and apply your ideas in the industry I work in. Would be available to chat over Zoom sometime next week or the following?” In this way, you’re asking them for something, but also offering something as well: to elevate their voice or share their work.
Remember, at all times , keep your tone personal and authentic. Your focus should be on developing trust and building a genuine relationship.
Just as brands and companies have a content media strategy for their products and services, you should too, for your professional social media profiles. When deciding how you want to present and post, consider the following:
What: What will be interesting or useful to the people in your network while simultaneously building awareness around who you are and what you do? Study the profiles and posts of people you admire — as well as people who are tapping into an audience you aim to engage — to gain some inspiration. Consider the nature and style of what they share, the frequency, and the format. Don’t copy their work, but use it to brainstorm your own unique content strategy.
For example, if you follow a couple of thought leaders on Twitter, ask yourself: How often do they post? What kind of content do they post? Which of their posts spark the most conversation and why? Which of their posts are most widely shared? Are they reacting to events in real time? Are they successful because they are offering a fresh perspective? Do they share videos, images, infographics, articles, or just their thoughts?
When curating your own content, take what you’ve learned into account — and experiment. You may even reshare the content of the creators or organizations who spark your interest and tag them as a source. But be selective. When you share content, make sure it’s from credible sites and outlets, and that your original content is thoughtful, insightful and useful. Your community will appreciate and thank you for increasing their knowledge.
When: When you’re first starting to build your social media presence, it can be useful to map out how often you will post on the platform, including which days and times of the week you will create content, as well as when you will log in to engage with other people in your network. Your plan doesn’t need to be complex or resource-intensive, but it should provide details on your objectives, what you will share, the format you will use, your key messages, and the frequency of when you will share.
Why: As you begin to post and engage with others regularly, you will naturally gain more visibility. But visibility alone isn’t enough to make an impact. For people to remember you, they need to see you as someone who shares thoughtful and valuable information or insights. Each time you go to post, ask yourself: Is this content helpful, relevant, and timely? How does sharing this relate to my professional goals? How does sharing this contribute to my community? Use your content to showcase your thoughts and perspectives so people can get to know you.
Ensure that what you share and how you comment and behave on professional social platforms align with your values and how you want people to think about you. Each time you share something, reflect and answer: Does this content align with my values and brand? Will I stand behind these comments if they’re challenged? Could sharing this content cause hurt or offense or potentially damage my reputation and my career?
Be consistent in your language and tone, your areas of interest, and how you respond to your community. Also, remember having dual social media personalities can create confusion about your presence and brand. If you want to have a different personal and professional presence across the same social platforms, consider the privacy settings you are using to control who sees what.
For example, if your open Instagram profile is filled with articles and comments that support a four-day workweek, and your LinkedIn profile focuses on sharing material that is anti-four-day working week, you’ll confuse and lose the trust of the audiences you’ve established on both platforms. So too, if your Twitter profile is packed with tweets that don’t align with the professional image you are putting out on LinkedIn.
Establishing a successful social media presence, which promotes and accelerates your career doesn’t happen by accident. It’s the result of deliberate focus, sustained effort and a well-considered approach.
So, whether you want to grow your network, find a new job, elevate your presence or progress your career then social media can be more friend than foe. But mastering how to use it and elevating its impact takes time, time that’s well worth the effort.