social-media-personal-branding_Laeeq Khan

Social media use is often accompanied by concerns of reputation and privacy.  An important element of responsible social media use is managing your personal online brand.

Creating a strong personal brand helps you maintain your reputation just as it does in the offline world. The concept of branding brings in mind well known organizations, companies and their products. Brands such as Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Panasonic, Toyota, GM, and Boeing have a history of innovation and quality attached to their names. In the fast food industry, a big M guides us to McDonalds. Such is the power of brands. There is another important brand, YOU. Creating and maintaing the “You” brand has been important, but takes a new meaning in the online world.

To build a powerful online presence, there needs to be an integrated strategy that utilizes the power of the social web to the fullest. Have a positive and presentable presence on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook. Have a personal website, an online portfolio that helps others see who you really are. Display your achievements, your strengths and what excites you. Most likely, these profiles have SEO power. Social media profiles together will help you disseminate positive information about YOU, that shows up in search results.

Yes, building an image you can be proud of takes time and effort. Put in those extra hours to build your online brand. You are your best advocate and if you don’t step up to define yourself, others will. It was this topic that formed the crux of a seminar I organized for students at Michigan State University. This post serves as a brief outline of my seminar. The following infographics are quite useful at helping you manage your personal brand better: How to use the 10 social networks to grow your personal online brand, and Personal Branding with Social Media.

 

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Whats with all the change on social networking sites that has been haunting us for months. Facebook, Twitter, Google + all seem to be on a fast track of rapid changes that often makes users uneasy. Vying for superiority in the age of tough competition sometimes makes companies lose sight. A problem at one place is an opportunity waiting to be capitalized by another company. First of all lets analyze whether there is any problem or not?

Many of us who are active on Facebook may have noticed the rampant changes taking place. The ticker on the top right corner, who is reading what on what site, and the new profile all combine to make us feel as if we hardy exist and have no say in what happens to our account and how it is used. We are aware that young are on social media and are actively using it to socialize and communicate. So there is no going back. Regardless of the changes, rest assured, I am not abandoning Facebook. The benefits of it outweigh the costs.

While the new features introduced by sites like Facebook may prove annoying at the beginning, they have been generally welcomed by most (at least the ones I know). Whatever Facebook changes come our way, social media addicts simply accept them. Has anyone seen droves of addicts abandoning Facebook? Nope!  There is no question of liking or unliking these changes. What choice do we have anyway? We are not asked before any changes are implemented. Ideally, giving users a little more power in what they are given would save sites like Facebook from any potential negative publicity. But the reality is not so favorable for the addicts.

Change must be managed

In the business world, we know that customers are unforgiving. Any product changes are not done casually without taking consumers into confidence. By this I mean that a through market research precedes any possible new product development or a change to an existing product. In the case of SNS such as Facebook, it is observed that changes are implemented in a way that may not be very pleasing to the users. I am sure, if there were a choice in shifting to another similar network, many would shift. However, thanks to the absence of a viable alternative and the presence of network effects, it is not easy to transfer to another social networking site (SNS) overnight. In addition, there are valid concerns about privacy on Facebook that we sometimes hear from our friend status updates or news articles. When abrupt changes are implemented it becomes a challenge for many to understand what is going on, let alone how privacy is being maintained. It is also evident that giants like Facebook actually dictate how we conduct online social interactions. Site design, share settings, and a number of design factors determine what we get to know from others and what others know from us.

So what could have been done differently? I view this from an effective change management perspective. First, it should be clear that it is Facebook’s right to implement changes that would prove to be beneficial for everyone or just benefit Facebook in some way. In addition by creating an account of Facebook, we knowingly agree to the terms of site use. However, to manage a healthy image and respect users, any new changes can be implemented in a gradual and educative way rather than forcing change on others in a very short period of time. For example, before any new changes are implemented, video tutorials and messages can demonstrate the proposed changes to Facebook. This would not only build positive goodwill but also facilitate the change process. This is also productive in the long-run as users would have a high level of trust for the site. In the face of new powerful competition users would not flock to the new platform owing to the long build up of mistrust at a subconscious level.

How new changes are beneficial

Amongst this list of tirades, there are some very useful features that attract us to this site. Facebook recently introduced “lists” which allows users to categorize “friends”. Who ends up on a “close friends” list or a “restricted” list, his/her fate. But what is thought provoking is that due to this feature, we as users are compelled to think about our Facebook “friends” in a way we may not have thought about before. Which lists do our classmates fit in? Are they all close friends, probably not. We end up creating lists where we can organize our contacts and thus think about them differently just because we are supposed to fit them in some category. This is in some ways good as we consciously think about our contacts and where they fit in, in comparison with a long list of “friends” who are all treated as… Facebook “friends”.

Then comes in the question of selective status updates. We may not like to share everything with everyone. Imagine a student sharing a status update about him/her enjoying a bowling night while the person’s professors waits for the person to turn in an assignment. There seems to be nothing wrong with this, but lists sure do make us think about possible issues that may make us feel uncomfortable. A clear categorization of contacts in lists allows us to selective share updates in an organized way.

So what may have proven to be an inconvenience for some at the beginning is now a actually beneficial for many. Facebook is way more organized and has made us think of our “friends” being really friends besides those that really matter in our overall social network. New changes have also made us think about those who seldom comment or “like” our status updates, whom we only met once or possibly never met, and deal with them accordingly.

As far as I can remember, a lot changed in 2011. Google + is the new player in town and although not as successful as Facebook and Twitter, has its own strengths and weaknesses. For the next year, all I say to the established players and the not so established players, please take it easy and manage change in a manageable way and have a plan of action that awards respect to the millions of users who use these sites day and night. This roller coaster is way too exciting. We can’t live without you, I am sure you cannot live without us!

 

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Do you ever pay attention to comments below news articles, YouTube videos or on status updates on social media sites? If yes, how important do you think they are? Do they make you think differently? These are some questions that can be interesting and worth looking into.

Comments on news articles, videos, and photos can be informational, amusing or even distasteful. Reading comments can be an experience that has more to it than the eye can see or the mind can contemplate. It can be an experience that engages the readers and often provide them with ample material to agree or disagree with. No matter which direction the comments generally take–positive or negative, users may get impacted by them consciously and unconsciously. Comments are not mere views on subject, they may have considerable value in terms of manipulating the narrative and general opinions of the users.

Comments and have become very popular online. Websites such as New York Times, The Economist, CNN, Aljazeera, YouTube, Flickr, Yahoo News etc. attract a lot of comments and debates. We can easily find comments on content of different types. There is also a rising trend towards the  integration of social media with news articles, videos and images. It is possible to comment through Facebook and Twitter log-ins on a website which has news and other content.

Another interesting phenomena is rating content or even users. Rating serves as a form on online voting system expressing user like/dislike or popularity of a certain content. In a single click, users can express their opinion and thus add to the activity on a site.

From a user perspective, comments on a website create the impression of an active audience. A large number of comments demonstrate that the website is active, popular and full of energy. This may play a role in further encouraging more comments and even sharing of the content on other platforms. Furthermore, comments may encourage users to view the website as a place where everyone is and thus somewhat add to its credibility as a site which is visited by a number of people.

I got interested in news comments mainly because of the extreme skewness experienced on prominent news websites. Such extremely negative or flaming oriented comments can be a common sight especially on articles whose topics involve politics, religion or something contentious. Some express the opinions in decent and civil ways, while others resort to the use of abusive language to get their message across. This may be perfectly normal for some people and even acceptable, but research shows that flaming is generally disliked as it undermines the very nature of a healthy debate that can yield positive results for the society. While some sites may moderate comments and disallow foul language, others may be less restrictive or lack the resources to deal with a large number of commenting activity.

Comments can also be very beneficial. They provide unique content that reflects the candid and true public opinion as compared to published and carefully managed content on news sites. Commenting activity thus serves as free flow of views and what the readers actually think about issues and the information in an article. It would be interesting to know how much (if at all) opinions are altered after reading or viewing certain content in the presence and absence of comments.

In a recently conducted research, I found some interesting results from the commenting behavior on YouTube videos. The data gathered is set to be further analyzed and detailed results will be published. In short, it was found that anonymity played a role in the type of comments posted. Interestingly, 97% of flaming comments were from users who were anonymous.  This was also known through earlier research in this domain. Similarly, the type of video also impacted the type of comment it attracted.

Research into commenting is fascinating and excites me as a researcher. When I view the commenting phenomena in the light of crowd psychology, I can see how comments that may seem meaningless and unimportant, may hold the key to understanding the formation of public opinions. The impact that comments have on users can carry more weight than the news itself. If that is where the user focus is, than more needs to be done to understand the interesting phenomena of commenting.

 

 

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“Social what?…” Yes, this was the answer I received upon asking a small business owner about social media. Sometimes, sitting in front of computers and being intensively involved with social media may make us out of touch with reality. No doubt social media use has become pervasive, but are some being left out?

In my opinion, most small business may fall in the following three categories:

  1. Those who do not know what social media entails and how it could help them.
  2. Those who know about social media but have little know-how into implementing a social media strategy.
  3. Those who have a social media strategy in place, but due to lack of full understanding of its potential, have not efficiently optimized social media’s implementation.

Why small businesses must embrace social media

In these tough economic times, businesses have to try extra hard to stay afloat. Small businesses in particular face greater challenges from large competitors and possibly a shrinking customer base as the economy passes through a recessionary phase. Social media provides a platform to reach diverse audiences at little or no cost. It indeed provides an ideal mechanism especially for small businesses to reach out to their customers and even expand their market share.

An effective social media strategy is all about being active and alive in the minds of current and potential consumers. If they hear about it, they may even buy. Marketers realize the importance of constantly reminding their customer base about the company’s product offerings. Where best to reach customers with a powerful marketing campaign, little capital investment and instant feedback? Social media provides the answer. If so many are spending their time on social media, it naturally makes sense to reach them where they are – on sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Today, its not a choice not to embrace social media. Many large firms already have a strong social media presence. We hear about popular brands on sites like Facebook. It is also common to observe friends in a social circle to “like” the page of a popular brand, personality or organization. Businesses can boast the number of fans the they have on such pages. Such visible popularity further adds to company’s image. There is a dominant element of interactivity where firms reach out to their customers and get a first-hand account of the latest suggestions, concerns etc. A business which is abreast with the latest buzz and keeps a check on the pulse of its fan base is more likely to adapt when needed and better serve its customers. To sum up why social media must be embraced by small firms the following points need consideration by small businesses:

  • The need to get noticed and be alive in the minds of the customers
  • Hearing from the customers through interactivity afforded by social media
  • Saving costs
  • Expanding the marketing campaign to a wider base

Integrated Social Media Strategy

As stated earlier, the benefits are immense and need to be realized through an effective social media strategy. So how does a business create an effective social media strategy? It may seem simple but may prove more daunting than commonly understood. Such a strategy is not only about creating a page and having a profile on such sites. Rather, it is a concerted effort that is integrated and builds upon the unique strengths of different mediums. If Facebook can be used to create the organization’s page to update update customers or fans of the latest products, deals and news; a LinkedIn profile can be beneficial in reaching out business partners and professionals. Twitter with its unique micro-blogging potential can reach a different audience in a somewhat unique manner. Similarly, a lot can be done through effective use of video sites such as YouTube. Company events, product launches and marketing campaigns can be best done through a video. The key here is integration. Social media has to be utilized in an integrated way while capitalizing on the unique benefits of each medium.

A critical element of a successful social media strategy is being current and active. A business must never simply create a page and have presence on social media sites. There is a need to constantly update the fan base with the latest. This does not mean that customers be inundated with updates that may seem annoying. A balance must be maintained in which marketing messages may be sent out in a subtle and elegant way.

With power comes responsibility

Social media is no doubt a powerful medium. This power has to be harnessed and used effectively to one’s advantage. The ease with which such messages can be sent to thousands of people in an instant brings with a great deal of responsibility. Any miscalculated move can cost the precious image of a business. Example which explicates this point are here, here, and here. Thus, the intricacies of social media should first be understood and only then should a small business embark on such a route.

 

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In recent discussions of the usefulness and importance of tags, an issue has been whether tags are socially constructed or emerge as a result of personal information management goals. On the one hand, some argue that tags are a result of social influence where what tags are posted by others determine the choice of tags posted by a person. On the other hand, it is argued that tag creation is a very individual phenomena where personal choice of words as compared to what tags other users are using defines the overall tag use. In a notable research by Rader and Wash (2008), using data from a site called del.icio.us, a collaborative web bookmarking site, evidence was found that “users choose tags in a pattern consistent with personal information management goals, rather than as a result of social influence”.

As evident from the above mentioned research, tag choice is indeed a personal information management goal and this applies well to the use of tags on sites like del.icio.us. Nevertheless, tag use is a complicated phenomena which may differ on other sites. Depending on the personality of the user, we may find different patterns in the use of tags. The issue is important because tags are vital keywords that help in the organization as well as the retrieval of information.

Tagging has somewhat become pervasive in the Web 2.0 environment. While pictures can be tagged on sites like Flickr, bookmarks are being tagged on sites like del.icio.us. The blogosphere is also not aloof from the tagging trend. Important information in posts is easily identified through keywords or tags. Twitter users use keywords with hashtags that serve as tags and thus help organize tweets accordingly.

Tagging items may be a somewhat effortless task, however, it all comes down to tagging accurately. Users may be motivated to tag in order to gain more visibility. This may not always truly reflect the true nature of the content as the emphasis is on using as many keywords as possible that may seem attractive.

 

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This graph was shared and re-shared on Google Plus and has been recirculating since then. It gives a powerful message about the instant popularity of Google Plus as a new social media contender to the dominant leader Facebook. A little Googling revealed that the graph depicting the fast rise of Google plus was actually built  by Leon Haland as mentioned in an MSNBC article. The article seemed rightly titled, “Kickoff of Google+ stomps Facebook, Twitter”. Surpassing 15 million users in just 24 days proves the popularity and pervasiveness of online social media sites.

These days, besides email, an account on a popular social media site has become somewhat of a necessity. We no longer simply rely on communicating with others via just phone or email. Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have become the norm for many who want to keep abreast with the latest buzz.

The business world has naturally embraced social media to strengthen its brand image and recognition, reach customers, receive valuable feedback and maintain an active online presence. More and more businesses are using social media to engage with their target audience.  It is a sensible business strategy as being on a different online platform (besides traditional company websites) that is already being used by just about everyone makes it more likely to increase exposure. Social Media goes beyond just providing exposure by allowing businesses to receive valuable feedback and be aware of what consumers are thinking in a easy and cost-effective way.

Why use Social media for business?

New media allows firms to have a wider reach like never before. Business presence on social media is also of great importance because if you won’t, somebody else will. This can be seen from two angles. One, firms must compete where other firms have a presence. Two, fans may create pages or groups on social media for a firm or product they admire. There has to be an official presence to take control of the brand image. Micro-blogging on social media can have far reaching implications for a business. According to the Social Media Marketing Report for 2010, a significant increase in web traffic is seen with little investment of time.

Businesses also need to keep track of how they are being talked about in the online world. Simple tools can help firms in being more aware. While Google Alerts can send you a daily digest email whenever your search terms come up in any news stories, blogs, etc.; Social Mention can monitor social media properties directly including: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Google etc. Your mentions can be emailed directly to you everyday. It is also possible to conduct a Twitter search whereby real time information about what people are saying can be setup in Tweetdeck.

How Facebook and Twitter help achieve your marketing objectives

Social media offers great tools for customer service. Small businesses may particularly benefit from an integrated social media strategy. The right and targeted use of Facebook, Twitter and Google plus may remind customers about the company. They may compete effectively if they are able to offer superior customer service as a tool for competitive advantage. For example, a Facebook Page for the company may allow customers to ask specific product questions. Answering these customer queries demonstrates that the company cares and that it is readily available when needed. In addition, other customers may benefit from the conversations on the Facebook page. On the other hand, Twitter may prove to be an alternative medium to update customers about the latest deals.

While offering consultancy services to a local small business regarding the effective use of social media, it was observed that often small business owners may not have the right information about the dynamics of an effective social media strategy. They may not be aware of the power of social media in strengthening their company’s brand recognition. A positive PR in addition to the online social media presence proved fruitful for the business in increasing its sales.