From fledgling to soaring in the clouds of social media

Photo: antonychammond / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA
Photo: antonychammond / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Social media can appear far too complicated, with its acronyms such as SEO, terms such as Google Rankings, keywords and  backlinks and tools including bing, hootsuite, Pinit and so on. You quickly reach a conclusion that it’s best left to the experts. In starting and running your own business, becoming knowledgeable and proficient at social media can seem like one challenge too far. As, after all, where is the proof that it works? Surely it’s a great deal of effort with unknown results? Doesn’t it take valuable time and resource needed elsewhere?  These were all questions I asked myself when I first set up my own leadership development business. These, and other, persuasive arguments were what I used to persuade myself that it wasn’t worth it. Honestly though, it was more my fear of technology and the unknown that was at the bottom of the blustering.

First, I ignored social media

I left Shell after 10 years, and in an organization of 83,000 people across 153 countries, there is very little need for you to look outside to make connections. I didn’t use Facebook, hadn’t heard of LinkedIn and didn’t have the time for Twitter. Then, in 2010, I returned to the UK from The Netherlands and decided to set up my leadership coaching and consulting business. I had very few contacts outside of Shell and returned to a country at the start of a recession. So, I ignored all of the messages from the Internet, email marketing, conference presentations and so on about the value of social media. Instead, I concentrated on the basics of setting up my business.

Getting the message

I attended every free workshop I could about setting up a business and every presenter urged us attendees to use social media as a “vital” marketing channel. “You have to get known…..raise your profile……announce your presence and services” to have any hope of attracting sufficient interest to find those elusive clients. These pearls of wisdom formed part of every delivery.

According to these experts, I had a pressing need to “gain some presence in the market” and everyone was saying that writing a blog was a powerful way to get a message across. It was also a way  to provide some content for my social media activities.  At first I couldn’t think of what to put into a blog and then I hit upon the idea of sharing my experiences of starting my business. What I had done during the week, what worked for me and what didn’t and what resources and support I had come across that readers might find useful. It also reminded me what I’d done during the week and allowed me to reflect on my progress.

Once I had my first blog, I needed to share it with someone. So, I set up a Twitter account and used the publicise links on  the wordpress website, following their instructions. I then looked for other social media channels and selected LinkedIn, as it appeared more business-focused than Facebook. People started to comment on my social media presence and ask me how I got started. I would like to say it was the recognised best practice approach of starting by creating a social media strategy. First identifying my target audience, then my ‘unique’ message and finally the channels that I would use to deliver my message. In reality, I started small with something I could learn and practice, that was free, and let it grow from there.

Trying it out

What worked for me was not to spend time considering the right and best approach to use social media. Just have a little go, learn a little, refine a little and then look at how I could develop that. If you make it a “professional challenge”, it can put you under too much pressure, at a time when your focus is, arguably,  better placed elsewhere. There is time to refine and develop what is most effective for you and your business over time. In the meantime, you can always call it market testing!

Being ‘everywhere’

Does it work for me? Yes.  I see social media as a means to raise my profile. It has led to new clients, however it is a long process of relationship building until this happens. I use it to make connections and follow up by forwarding items of interest to current and prospective clients. My measure of success is the number of times I am complimented on my social media activities. Even if it’s a statement of “my goodness, you are everywhere!”

My tips are:

  1. If writing a blog seems daunting, then start by retweeting what you think others would find useful.
  2. Set up a twitter account, follow people who tweet on subjects close to your areas of expertise and retweet them.
  3. Set up a free wordpress blog site  and have a go at writing something.  You don’t have to hit the “publish” button until you are ready and you can always get some associates to proofread and advise before releasing it.
  4. Think about how much time you want to spend on social media activities and set aside a little time each week to do it.  It may be 5 mins at the end of each day or when you are on the train or 30 mins on a Saturday morning.  Book the time in your diary so that it happens.
  5. Just have a go!


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