Like it or not, your behavior on social media says a lot about who you are and what you value in your personal and professional lives. Striking the right balance between being savvy and career-minded on social media is more important than ever before.
While the initial wave of engagement on social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter was dominated by early adopters and technology enthusiasts, there is a pressing need now for C-suite executives to enter the fray.
High-level executives have much to gain from their activity on these sites, but experts tell CIO.com that they should follow some general tactics and practices to achieve those goals and elevate their careers in the process.
"Social media is here to stay and it's getting more dominant all the time in the sense of how our global community is informing itself of everything from invasions in Crimea to new products," says Colin Moor, a partner at career consulting firm Essex Partners. "You can't ignore this, you have to start to embrace it."
Stop Worrying and Learn to Love Social Media
In his experience working with senior executives on career transitions, Moor says he has seen a wide divergence between seasoned clients who have worked with marketers and others to craft a solid strategy and those who don't even have a LinkedIn profile.
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"There's still a surprising amount of hesitancy to get on board," he says, adding that his most cautious recommendation for those who have that inhibition is to start with LinkedIn. "Most of your discomfort about the things you worry about will be ameliorated pretty fast," Moor says.
"Today an individual's LinkedIn profile is equal in importance to the traditional resume," says Moor. "You're going to be marketing yourself on a 24/7 basis if you're there. No resume can be that effective for you."
While there are "real tangible benefits of having a presence" on sites like LinkedIn, Moor says the initial phase can be so overwhelming that it "scares most senior executives into paralysis." There is a full range of comfort levels with social media, but the ice breaker usually comes for latecomers once they see how many of their peers are already deeply involved across these various networks, Moor says.
A Direct Line to the Big Dogs
On LinkedIn, a senior-level executive has the opportunity to connect and communicate directly with top leaders at major organizations in their field. Moor calls those moments a "real eye opener," particularly for those who come to him with no knowledge of social whatsoever. "About 80 percent of our success stories have some networking dynamic attached to them," he says.
Jobs and career advancement may be the carrot that gets people to join LinkedIn, but the site has grown well beyond that into a more basic business tool for sales, marketing and networking. That reality is compounded by the fact that activity on social media is not exclusively personal, but also increasingly important and reflective of the larger organizations of which they are a part.
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"The problem is most employees don't really know what they're doing. They're not presenting themselves particularly well on social," says PeopleLinx CMO Michael Idinopulos.
Attorneys and sales representatives with unimpressive profiles can quickly destroy the credibility of their employers, he says. Employers and employees are both rising to the occasion as they grasp the importance of a smart strategy for social media, but most have no idea what they should be doing to improve their profiles and outward-facing perceptions, Idinopulos adds.
Performance-Enhanced Social Networking
"I think the biggest difference with these tools is they're like traditional networking on steroids. It's not like the activity itself is fundamentally different. People have always met each other in social gatherings and exchanged business cards and other information," he says. "What's new is that people can now do it on a much grander scale than they could before."
Still, the benefits to the employer are usually secondary. "It is quite role-dependent, but in the end it all comes back to personal brand. Regardless of what my specific job is, I as an individual will benefit from having a compelling and personal brand on social networks," says Idinopulos.
"You would never show up for work or a work meeting with your shoes untied and your clothes messed up. It's kind of shocking that people are still willing to do that online," he says.
Must-dos and Don'ts on Social Media
Idinopulos and Moor shared the tips they give clients for the successful use of social media. First and foremost is building a compelling and complete profile. Then it's time to build a relevant network of people you actually know who would return a call from you, for example.
After making those connections, the primary objective should be to engage your network with valuable content. At least half of the content shared should not be about you, they advise.
"I think the biggest mistake people make on social is social narcissism, just talking about themselves nonstop," says Idinopulos. "It's just like any social interaction. People are not interested in people who only talk about themselves. Just don't try to dominate the conversation and make it all about you."
These opportunities are made possible by a fundamental change: Professional marketers are no longer the only professionals with access to business marketing tools, he says.
"That means that the way companies represent themselves, their product, their service, their talent, their brands, all of that is moving to a much more decentralized model where the world revolves around the individual employee instead of revolving around the marketing department."
Read more about social media in CIO's Social Media Drilldown.