Social media isn’t going away, and your business should be making use of it. While you may not be desperate to put yourself out there in a personal way, social platforms can be powerful drivers for professional development and business growth. In fact, a recent report found that 37% of the world population is currently using social media, with a 21% growth in active users since 2015. Perhaps most intriguing is that the 65+ age bracket is driving the majority of this growth.

To put it simply, no matter what you background or experience level with social media, there’s no better time to dive in. Feeling timid? Whether you’re brand-new to social or looking to refine your business use strategy, we’ve got some tips on how to reach your professional goals by growing your digital network.

Here are the “Dos”, “Don’ts” and “Definitely Don’ts” of social media promotion:

The Dos

There are some simple, somewhat common sense best practices when it comes to creating and sharing content online. When you’re ready to post, it’s important to:

  • Be yourself—the charming, moderately censored, professional version. If you keep this in mind, you’ll be able to build an authentic persona that people want to engage with online.
  • Use humor, when acceptable. Sometimes it comes down to personal judgment. When in doubt, keep it poised, but don’t be afraid to exercise your wit when it proves appropriate and relatable. In fact, it can make for some very clever (and effective) marketing campaigns.
  • Think before you speak. Online is forever in many cases—don’t engage in topics or conversations that could leave you regretting your words years, months, or even seconds later.

When in doubt over the appropriateness of a social media post, use the acronym WWGT—as in What Would Granny Think if she saw this post coming from me?

The Don’ts

When contributing to the mass of content on social media as a business professional, we generally want to influence others by sharing something valuable, relevant, and non-offensive. Therefore, it’s important not to:

  • Forget your grammar check. Proper grammar and sentence structure ensure that your content comes across as professional, polished and considered. Make a mistake? Edit, delete and/or re-post if appropriate. Be attentive to detail in general to avoid silly mishaps like Oprah’s viral tweet promoting the Microsoft Surface while using Twitter for iPad.
  • Neglect current events. Social media moves a million miles an hour, and commenting on something that (A) you are not well informed on or (B) you haven’t researched can come across as ignorant or insensitive to news and important issues. Bottom line: only comment on a current event if you feel it is necessary for your professional well being and will be valued by your online community. When in doubt, leave politics entirely out of the equation.
  •  Be tone-deaf. Relative to neglecting current event research, coming across as “tone-deaf” (not being empathetic to a situation and speaking on it inappropriately) can be as simple as not checking a trending hashtag before using it for commercial promotions.

Retailer Urban Outfitters used a current event and trending hashtag in a distasteful way when they created a sales promotion around a destructive storm in the Northeast U.S.

The Definitely Don’ts

There are don’ts, and then there are “bury my computer and cut me off entirely” don’ts. While that may be a bit hyperbolic, it’s important to be aware of the risks you take with certain actions when using social media to:

  • Share too much information (otherwise known as TMI). Some things are better left unsaid. As a rule of thumb, people you’re looking to engage with professionally online do not need to know your physiological functions, your embarrassing moments or your lengthy daily recap. For both business and personal accounts, it should go without saying that proprietary information should never be shared online with a public audience.
  • Flat-out lie. Don’t risk your professional reputation (or that of your business) by sharing false, misleading or refutable information online. A good guideline is to share factual information for which you have supporting data, or professional view points and predictions with disclosure on your perspective. Being honest about your achievements and knowledge base will help you build a trustworthy, leader persona within your professional network.
  • Share your *strong* opinions (read: political or controversial subject matter). If you’re looking to build a professional audience, it’s best to leave certain subjects out of your conversations. With so much valuable content and ideas to exchange, there are much more productive ways to grow an audience. Leave tendentious topics to discuss with trusted family and friends offline.

An embarrassing—if hilarious—example of what can happen when you’re caught lying online, even about trivial subject matter like high school literature.

In Summation: Some Golden Rules of Social Media

Now that we’ve covered a few examples of proper and improper social media usage, there are a few simple best practices to keep in mind to ensure both your business’s and your online personas are professional, polished, and valuable to your growing audience.

  • Be transparent, but to a limit. Don’t be afraid to share behind-the-scenes images or company culture related content on social media; it presents the more human side to your business and to your professional life.
  • Use the 80-20 rule. The guideline goes that roughly 80% of your professional/organization social media accounts should feature valuable content generated by you or industry players, and the other 20% should be a mixture of company culture posts and more blatant sales offers. It’s important to remember that you should be primarily trying to build strong connections, not quick sales, through social networking.
  • Be authentically you. Though it’s important to avoid TMI or WWGT moments online, using the 80-20 rule, your own sense of humor and a tidbit of transparency can give your audience a glimpse into the person or organization they’re consuming content from and conducting business with. Studies show that people are increasingly more trusting of content and reviews provided by online influencers than they are of businesses or even celebrities. Become a trustworthy person in your own network, and watch to see the opportunities that become available to you and your business.

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