The term ‘social media’ is somewhat misleading. Though web-based platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have greatly transformed the way humans interact with one another on an informal level, this technology also has many applications in the business world. Today, self-made professionals are using social media to find work, network with potential colleagues and market themselves to the World Wide Web.
Academia has also begun to take notice of this shift in marketing and customer service and has even begun offering courses in social media. Schools as prestigious as the University of Washington and top online programs in Utah still in their nascent stages have begun providing students with opportunity to take classes on these techniques and many graduates are able to begin careers in startups and large corporations with the intent to find and woo potential customers.
The first step toward self-marketing via social media is overcoming the idea that these sites are strictly recreational, says US News & World Report. LinkedIn, for example, claims 60 million users in more than 200 countries whose sole motive is to network and exchange ideas with other professionals. Other sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, are not always used in a professional context. However, they can also be used to seek out companies, organizations and peers. The trick is to separate the social from the professional. If one wishes to use social media for entrepreneurial reasons, he or she should create specific pages for this — and limit things like personal comments and photos that are unrelated to business.
As they begin to feel comfortable within the world of social media, Jay Palter of The Globe and Mail believes entrepreneurs should focus on brand development. Within the current ‘influence economy’, Facebook likes and re-tweets are valuable commodities. He urges entrepreneurs to pay less attention to site metrics, and focus more energy on curating high-quality site content. Mr. Palter also encourages self-starters to imbue professional content with personal touches – at least, to an appropriate degree. Thanks to Google+, online self-publishing, e-mail direct marketing and other technological advances, private businesses are able to effectively compete with corporate brands. Palter writes, “There’s increasing evidence coming from online influence measurement to suggest that personal brands actually exert more pull than established corporate brands in the social media space.”
Mark McGinnis of The 99 Percent, notes that the ultimate online goal of any self-made professional should be substantial traffic on their own official website. For this reason, social media activity should be treated as a supplemental tool – not a primary strategy. But he notes that professionals in a wide range of fields can take advantage of the current online craze. Independent musicians can upload MP3 files on MySpace and YouTube; aspiring authors can create portfolios using sites like Behance; and business developers and consultants can create spreadsheets on Google documents.
If one’s original work is circulated among the web-using population using a variety of avenues, their official site traffic is likely to increase exponentially. In addition, McGinnis suggests writing guest blog posts to garner exposure. “Your 'payment' is a link back to your site — make a great offer and you could land hundreds of new subscribers with every guest post you write,” he writes. “And make sure it's your best work. This is your chance to make a big impression — don't blow it by sending out second-rate articles and keeping the best stuff for your own site.”
Online business is no longer relegated to corporate websites. Everyday, entrepreneurs and corporate leaders utilize social media in order to establish a rapport with millions of web users. By understanding how these various platforms function and recognizing both their strengths and limitations, professionals are able to launch successful companies with little more than a keyboard and mouse.