Networking has expanded from the traditional model of industry events and watercooler discussions to a broad digital world ruled by social media. Stuck in our old ways, many of us in the technology world are missing out on opportunities in the digital realm by not realizing that social is the modern way to learn about advancements in our profession, inspire employees and establish credibility.
Whether you are looking to expand your career journey, raise awareness of your current organization, attract new investors or talent, or enhance existing professional relationships, building and maintaining an authentic online presence is a great way for technology executives or entrepreneurs to expand their reach and impact. These activities offer clear value, both on a personal level and for businesses as social media continues to evolve from a business to consumer marketplace to an integral part of doing business in a digital-first world.
From building past businesses, I’ve seen firsthand how impactful social platforms can be. Now that I’m back to my entrepreneurial roots, it’s something I’m making a conscious effort to work on. I’ve learned that while establishing an authentic online presence takes time, its easier than you may think. The key to success is actually quite simple — reach the right people with genuine, relevant content at the right time. Below are four key steps I’ve found success with to get you started.
Define Your Point of View
To me, the first and most important step in creating an effective online presence that will enable authentic interactions and constructive thought leadership is to define your unique point of view. Think about the topics you want to talk about based upon your current role and experience, including your life experience. You’re a distinct, one-of-a-kind individual with your own way of thinking, speaking and engaging with thoughts and ideas, so your online and social media presence should reflect that. Ask yourself what voice and content make the most sense considering your background and personality, and don’t be afraid to be yourself.
Ask yourself: What is the biggest differentiator among your peers? What motivates you? What are you known for, personally and professionally? What trends do you notice in your industry?
Your online persona will be a combination of these traits, as expressed through what you post, share and say. This exercise can also allow you to establish some guide rails for approaching your channels, including content topics, voice and tone, engagement style and target audience. This will help you create consistent and authentic profiles and content, which your followers will be more likely to engage with (and hopefully share). It’s helpful to always remember you’re not just a conduit: Your individual voice and honest point of view should be a part of anything you share.
Build And Expand Your Network
Expanding and building your network online isn’t all that different from the traditional networking model. Just like how going to industry events builds your influence through personal connections, I’ve found that your following will grow just by being an active user online, producing content and engaging with others. You can organically grow your following by executing best practices, such as setting and sticking to a posting goal, making your content easier to find using hashtags and tagging other accounts, and following others with similar profiles or who are relevant to your audience.
After inviting your real-world network to connect, you can also actively identify and vet influencers on Twitter and LinkedIn with whom you can connect. On LinkedIn, two great assets I use for finding peers are the People You May Know section and LinkedIn Groups. You can also look at your peers and who they’re engaging with and following. A major underutilized asset on Twitter is the list function, which helps you to organize and filter people and organizations into separate streams. Not only can you create your own private or public lists, but you can also follow others’. Similar to your content, make sure your lists focus on your expertise and point of view. Once you have lists of relevant publications, reporters and industry thought leaders set up, following and engaging in relevant conversations will become much quicker and easier.
Use Your Judgement
The power of having an authentic online presence — namely, the ability to reach a broad audience quickly and directly — shouldn’t be taken lightly. You shouldn’t be afraid to engage, but there is always a place for caution and good judgment. Always remember that your digital presence is an extension of you as a tech leader. Assume that who you follow, what you share and the content and people or organizations that you engage with on social platforms is public (even if it’s set to private). You should directly engage with a speaker following a presentation or comment on a tech article shared by someone you admire. What you shouldn’t do is share anything that makes you uncomfortable, because others will likely feel the same.
It’s also important to be mindful of timing and what else is going on in the world. During an emergency or in the wake of terrible news, an otherwise innocuous business post can come off as tone deaf or offensive. Even during normal circumstances, an appropriate message shared at the wrong time can have an adverse impact.
Always use your judgment and when in doubt, I recommend keeping it to yourself.
I’ve found that the best time to build your network and online presence is before you really need it. Mastering your digital presence can be valuable for job seekers, tech entrepreneurs and corporate executives alike, but it takes time. Don’t wait until you’re being considered for the next step in your career or you need to course correct a reputation issue to establish your presence. Start laying the groundwork now. Beyond the network and knowledge mastery online thought leadership gives you, it can also provide you with an audience and reach, the ability to help shape your organization’s reputation, and the opportunity to build trust and new business from afar — all valuable in the modern workplace.