Branding or boring? Social media and your career

knickerblocker glory

Not about work. One of the photos I’ve posted on Twitter.

A friend asked me recently for tips on using Twitter to “build their brand”. It’s a question that often comes up. I like to talk it through with people to dig out what they are trying to achieve, but there are some basic principles that always apply.

When you’re using social media for “personal branding”, there are three aspects to think about: your professional image, your networking activity and your personal style. The first step is to ask yourself some questions. How do you want to be seen? Who do you want to meet? And how much of yourself do you want to disclose?

That balance between privacy and professionalism is probably the hardest question (I’ll come back to the others later). As in real life, you can choose the level of personal information you want to give away. But if you only talk about work you’ll come across as a very dull person. After all, even in your workplace you are likely to have conversations about music, television and cake as well as business.

Don’t think of Twitter as a job interview: it’s more like a water cooler conversation. A bit of generosity – sharing something about yourself – will make you more friends.

The best personal Twitter accounts are those that concentrate on a small number of subjects, consistent with what’s in their biography, and that keep a balance between the personal and the professional.

Publisher Suzanne Collier, for example, has thousands of followers because she is an expert in book publishing careers. She promotes her own work, shares interesting industry news and takes a stand on employment issues. She also tweets about football, music and migraines – things that appear to be important in her personal life – giving a sense of who she is as an individual.

Among the Twitter friends who I also know in real life are a data analyst who likes running, a web developer and environmentalist, and a designer who is also a music promoter. Nothing dull about them.

So, choose the areas of your life you are happy to talk about and mix these up with posts about your work. You may be surprised at the new friends you meet – and who knows, that person who’s also interested in running may one day be your new colleague.

Here are some do’s and don’ts for showing your personality online.

Don’t

  • Tweet about things that don’t connect with your bio. When people follow you, they want to know what to expect.
  • Tweet when drunk – unless you have an anonymous account that you keep separate from your work one (in which case, don’t get them mixed up).
  • Be scared of being unique.

Do

  • Have a good photo that looks like you in real life.
  • Be consistent. Choose one or two non-work aspects of your personality that you are willing to share. Mention them in your bio. Stick largely to those.
  • Use hashtags to help you find people with similar interests.
  • Be flexible. As things develop and you make new friends, some of this may change: that’s OK.
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