I’ve talked previously about establishing outposts for The Critical Classroom. But what does one do before that point? This post is written for a friend who has been not quite ready to take the leap into the social web for business but knows that they should/can. I thought I’d write it down for other folks who may be in a similar position ….

Go on. Take a leap. You know you want to…

Are you an artist or consultant working on your own? Or a small business owner running your business? Well there are all manner of experts giving you, the emerging small business owner and professional, expert social media advice. There’s so much advice out there that can be quite confusing, particularly when mixed with information and opinion offered by traditional mainstream media.

If you’re starting out in business, here, in my most humble opinion are the absolute basics that don’t cost a fortune and shouldn’t take weeks and weeks out of your business to get started and keep going.

Before you start
Before you start you need to think about what you want to achieve. The social web can be used for business, recreation and leisure, as well as education and social change. It can be used to increase your professional profile so you are seen as an expert in your field, as well as to drive and increase sales in your business. What do you want or need it for? Have this foremost in your mind. I’m assuming that you’re reading this post because you’re interested in social media for business.

In my own case, I use the social web for both personal (it’s fun) as well as professional (it’s business). As a result I have in the past few months created different profiles for the different parts of me. This wasn’t always the case. I used to follow the model where I would see my @leesawatego account as professional as well as personal with the intention of creating a professional brand. However, over the past few years I’ve diverged from this and late last year I separated different streams for different purposes. Honestly – it is the best decision I could have made.

How to get started? 
1) Start a blog
It doesn’t need to be slick. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on it either. Just start a blog. There are lots of free spaces where you can experiment (including Blogger, WordPress, Posterous etc). Creating a blog allows you to develop a homebase that contains all your essential information – your CV, a professional looking image, your contact details, other social media links, as well as is a place for you to store your ideas to share with the world. Once you’ve created the structure of your blog you can get away with visiting it once a week (make sure you receive emails if people comment on your posts).

Topics you might like to blog about:

  • provide advice to your customers about how they can get better value for money from you and your service or from others in your industry,
  • news about a new product or event you attended or business network you’re involved in,
  • an interesting development or issue in business, including Indigenous business.

Your intention with your blog is to develop yourself as a professional who has valid ideas to share. (Remember: blog posts don’t have to be long-winded essays [like this one!], they can be a simple image with a relevant caption)

Note: A free blog (like Blogger) is fine if you’re a small/micro business like me. It won’t suit every busines type. Some of you will have to use custom made sites. Listen to your website-pro about what you should have (and make sure you pay them), but do ask her/him to include a blog into your package.

2) Sign up for a Twitter account
You don’t need to worry about trying to become a power-twitter user. Your intention here is to demonstrate that you are willing to engage with your peers and your customers. Tweet out links to websites that you think will help your customers achieve what they want/need (become indispensable to them). For example, if you’re a carpet cleaner, tweet out a few tips about how to best prepare for carpet. Support other businesses out there even if they looks like they may be your competitor. Use conversational language – it’s not a business letter – it’s Twitter – it should be fun, informative and engaging. Include a few personal tweets too – pics of coffee seem to be popular with many tweeps (!) or comment on the weather. Most importantly engage with other people. Be real, be human, be you.

Make sure your profile contains

  • an image of you
  • a link to your business website or your professional blog
  • a few words about you and your business
  • your location (by city).

You can now link your professional Twitter stream to your blog’s sidebar. 

3) Sign up with LinkedIn
To me LinkedIn is a like a phone directory for professionals. There are plenty of LinkedIn experts who talk about using LinkedIn to generate sales and business. That’s not been my experience. For me, LinkedIn is about networking with my peers – whether they’re my suppliers, my customers or my competitors. I’ve started using Groups too – to share contacts and information. Try to fill in as much detail as possible in the CV section. And if you’re going to link your Twitter feed into LinkedIn (my @iscariotmedia Twitter feed is fed to LinkedIn only) make sure it’s your professional twitter account, not your personal one (if you have two). Join a few groups. There is an Indigenous Australian Professionals Group on LinkedIn that shares information and connections.

I should make the point here that I personally limit the number of connections I have on LinkedIn to people that I have actually met (online or face-to-face). Unlike Twitter, where connections can be instantaneous, to me, LinkedIn should be more significant. I have a number of connections pending and when I meet these folk, I’ll be sure to connect. But til then, there’s Twitter. (Update: this is no longer the case. For me, LinkedIn is much less exclusive than it was, and it is now fairly open in a similar vein to Twitter. 

4) Sign up with Google+
If you don’t have one yet, get a Google account under your personal name so that you can get a Google Plus profile. Make sure you complete as much information as possible in the profile so that people know who you are and know whether to connect with you or not.

5) To Facebook or not to Facebook?
A blog, Twitter and LinkedIn are pretty much the essential elements of a minimalist social presence for the business professional. Facebook can be included here but not necessarily. Many people have Facebook profiles that have family members, friends, old school mates etc. You don’t necessarily want to be friending all your work collegues and customers. You would instead create a Facebook Page which is a public page (as public as the gated community of Facebook can get). I’ve found limited use for a Facebook page for Iscariot Media, however I do have a fairly active Facebook page for The Critical Classroom (one of my products). 

In the end it’s up to you and what you need!
Having said all of the above, your social media strategy, whether it’s for your professional brand or your business, will depend on you as an individual, your goals and objectives. One of the best ways to work out what you want is to yarn with people who are already doing it and Twitter is a great place to do this. The second thing you can do is to watch and listen. A couple of people who instantly come to mind to follow, watch and learn from are –

  • Cat Matson: a Brisbane based business owner, professional speaker and consultant. Highly recommend her posts and videos about marketing and branding.
  • Amber Naslund: a US based strategiest. Its was Amber’s personal and business blogs that inspired me to think it was possible to separate (though they’re more conjoined than separate) my business/personal streams.
  • Chris Brogan: to me is the essential no-brainer in terms of personal professional branding. His writes every day about life, business, marketing – the lot. He shares consistenctly on Brogan Media, Twitter and Google Plus. You can read Personal branding for the business professional by Chris that talks about the stuff in this post in much more details. Make sure you subscribe to his YouTube channel  and watch the old videos of his presentations that make complete sense about marketing and branding (oh and buy his books).
  • Anita Heiss: is a Koori author who has most effectively nailed branding and social media. Anita is tireless in the way that she presents her professional brand (her ideas, her words and her image) across different platforms including a static website, her blog, LinkedIn, her Facebook page, and Twitter. Anita has been effective in her use of video, even shooting a pilot talk show! Her appearances across Australia and internationally in diverse communities are shared to her audience – they feel as if they are part of her journey.

I follow so many more people who are great examples of how to create a professional brand and they’re all different. See my retweets and my list of followers follows (people I follow, not who follow me) to know who I think is deadly.

My key advice is start with your blog – get it set up and write a few posts, then move onto Twitter, tweet for a week or so and then really start to connect once you’ve found your voice. Then create a LinkedIn account and start completing your profile. Finally connect to Google+ and you’ll be off and running.

You don’t need to spend hours and hours each week doing this stuff. Your average smartphone you can do much of this work on the run throughout your business day. Your business will thank you for it.

I hope this quick summary has helped. Would love to hear how other folks are thinking …

Cheers, Leesa

Try these also: Other social media spaces that I’ve find useful so far include –  Instagram (on my iPhone), Foursquare, and Flickr.

There is also @inguides for Indigenous businesses. Now that you have a website or blog, you can list there to increase your presence in your market.

Image credit: My kids jumping off Babinda Creek bridge in wanyurr majay country in Far North Queensland.

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