The following platforms are used by online professionals and entrepreneurs from a wide variety of backgrounds. We left out platforms that are more niche in nature and have not been broadly used by the professionals we work with, interview, and research.
Not every platform profiled below will be relevant or useful to you. Consider testing the waters with all that appear relevant to your goals and profession. Only invest significant resources (namely, time and attention) in those which yield concrete benefits. Underperforming platforms can be left alone so long as you maintain an up-to-date profile.
- Create and maintain an active profile
- Connect with colleagues, clients, and professional contacts
- Research relevant LinkedIn groups (and join any that appear to be worthwhile)
Maintaining Your LinkedIn Profile
It is essential that your LinkedIn profile provides an up-to-date and accurate snapshot of your professional background. Your image should current, polished, and of high quality. Your profile's text should be free of grammatical errors. Many people turn to LinkedIn to get a more accurate understanding of an individual's background (whether interested in them in a professional capacity or not), hence it is all the more important that your profile is polished.
Should you work as a freelancer for several different clients, create a new job title for each new client referencing each client's business. Doing so will associate your account with that business's name and increase the odds that new clients or useful contacts will find you. For example, let us say that you write as a freelancer for several publications, including The New Yorker. If your include your contribution to the New Yorker as a separate item within your LinkedIn profile (and properly name and link to the company from that entry), people searching for New Yorker-level writers on LinkedIn will find you. People looking fro contributors to The New Yorker will not be so likely to find you if you group work for that publication under a single job listing called "Freelance Writing."
Connecting with Others via LinkedIn
LinkedIn is designed to be a platform on which you build a network. If you do not connect with others on the site, you fail to utilize one of its most basic features.
Specific reasons as to why LinkedIn is a particularly important place to build a network:
- You are more likely to be able to access someone's full LinkedIn profile if you and this person have shared connections
- The more connections you have, the easier it will be to be to be introduced to someone important
- Connecting with others on LinkedIn can make it easier to stay up to date on colleages' careers and job statuses
- Many professionals who do not maintain a public presence elsewhere online do maintain profiles on LinkedIn, so LinkedIn may be the only online network over which you can connect with many important people
To connect with someone on LinkedIn as someone other than a coworker or friend, you will need to know his or her email address. Should you not have it, check out our guide to determining and verifying another person's email address using the Chrome extension Rapportive.
Leveraging LinkedIn Groups
The prevalence and utility of LinkedIn groups varies significantly from industry to industry and from job title to job title. You may find many active and helpful LinkedIn groups relevant to your work- or you may find nothing.
Determine which existing groups may be useful to join (that is, look for groups that would provide valuable connections and information and NOT be an arbitrary time suck or distraction). Should there be no useful groups relevant to your work, consider starting one. We know professionals who have gained significant first mover advantages (regarding branding, influence, etc.) from being the first to launch LinkedIn groups relevant to a particular industry.
Whereas LinkedIn offers the equivalent of a networking mixer, Facebook offers something akin to an intimate dinner or lunch with a colleague. Facebook is important for entrepreneurs and professionals as it enables them to cultivate personal relationships with colleagues and clients. More often than not, is those with whom you have a strong personal bond that end up yielding the highest number of professional opportunities.
Facebook is not a place for business. It is not a place for wheeling and dealing. While you might use it to occasionally share intelligent, interesting insights relevant to your field that would be of interest to others, it is more important that you use it to maintain and strengthen your relationship with people on a personal level.
For example, let us say you work in the movie industry. While it would probably not be a good idea to:
- Hound producers on Facebook about reading a screenplay you wrote or hiring you to work on their next movies
- Post unprofessinal content complaining about some diva actress or sharing information (that should be secret) about an upcoming film with which you are involved
- Constantly post promotional content about your work to your Facebook wall or a Facebook page
It could be helpful to:
- Show professional contacts you care by liking their shared links, photos, and status updates and providing the occasional relevant, insightful comment
- Carefully post content that would only reflect well on your professional reputation
- Occasionally post behind-the-scenes photos from movie sets that do not broach confidentiality agreements and would be likely to entertain your friends and acquaintances
Facebook Pages for Business
It would be wise for you to maintain a Facebook page for three reasons:
- It is important to maintain a presence on the site (so those searching for your brand through Facebook will find something you control)
- Having a Facebook page offers people on Facebook a means by which they can tag your page in comments and status updates
- Facebook pages offer a convenient means by which you can regularly provide customers with information related to your business
That said, posts made to Facebook pages that are not sponsored only reach an average of 16% of fans organically. You may therefore have more to gain by posting through other platforms that do not throttle your access to fans and followers.
If LinkedIn is a networking mixer and Facebook is a personal dinner out with a colleague, Twitter is an industry convention. It is the perfect tool for tapping into and engaging in live, pithy conversations with others in your field.
Think of Twitter less as a place to broadcast (a mistake made by many) and more as a place to interact. The social network opens up an avenue for communication with people who might never otherwise respond to you (even if you do have their email addresses). Use Twitter to ask short questions of admired professionals, to respond to your colleagues' insights and musings, and to establish a more open and active connection with clients, fans, and followers.
By using a social media monitoring tool such as TweetDeck and maintaining columns showing tweets associated with saved searches, you can keep tabs on real-time conversations people are having about subjects relevant to your work. For example, if you cultivate and sell orchids and seek to establish yourself as the go-to orchid expert online, consider following several keywords related to orchids, such as "growing orchids," "Dendrobium orchids," and "water my orchid." Doing so can give you the opportunity to weigh in on a conversation, share your expertise, and discover what others are saying about your area of expertise. Finding the right keywords to follow can take some experimentation; avoid choosing keywords that are too broad, as you will be overwhelmed by a barrage of nonstop tweets.
Pinterest is the runway, display window, or showroom of the online business world. While LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter may be particularly useful for developing connections with colleagues and business clients, Pinterest is excellent for developing connections with general consumers.
The site may be particularly useful to you if:
- The work you produce has strong visual elements
- You work in a creative industry in which you do a lot of visual research and brainstorming
Using Pinterest to Share Your Work
Should your work be visual in nature, you might find it advantageous to post images of your it to Pinterest. For example, if you design beautiful shoes, images of your work might be very well displayed on a Pinterest board designated for shoes. Should you sell handmade goods through an online shop, it might be worthwhile to pin images of the beautiful products you sell. If you arrange flowers, you can broaden your reach, provide inspiration to others, and introduce many people to your work by posting images of your arrangements to the site.
If you do post images related to your work, be sure to do so in a reasonable and relevant manner. Let us say you design and sell cakes. If you only have one board on Pinterest, people may not consider you as someone worth following (clearly you are not an active, involved member of the community). If, instead, you have several themed boards (e.g. Birthday Cakes, Wedding Cakes, Nerdy Cakes, Unconventional Cakes, Cupcakes, and Great Cake Recipes) and post content from other sources to these boards in addition to original pins, you will be far more likely to garner attention on the site.
Pinterest may be used as a professional tool that helps you with work projects while simultaneously building your online brand. Should you ever need to do visual research of some sort, consider using Pinterest for the purpose.
Let us say you are an interior designer. Pinterest can be an excellent platform on which you can collect inspiration and conduct visual research for various projects. By collecting your visual notes in a public arena, you can gain additional insights from others while also increasing their awareness of your professional expertise.
You can even used shared boards on Pinterest to interact and work with clients and colleagues. Landscape architects can encourage their clients to create Pinterest boards showing the sorts of designs they would like for their gardens, plus encourage clients to poke through boards they have created indicating different styles and approaches with which they are experienced. Teams at advertising agencies can create group boards to which they upload inspiration for a particular client's project. Wedding planners can kick off shared boards with brides-to-be to which both parties upload food, drink, and decorating ideas.
Whether Quora would be useful to you is contingent upon the number of useful people within your industry who use the site. People within the startup industry are particularly active on Quora. People in involved in rodeos... not so much. Sign up for Quora using Facebook Connect to get an idea of who within your network uses the site. If few do, don't invest your professional time in the platform.
Should you find that many of your colleagues and potential clients do use the site, poke around questions relevant to your work and provide thoughtful answers when you have something new and valuable to contribute. Take note of what other people are saying and wondering about. Post intelligent questions that others in your industry are also likely to ask. The more often people search for questions relevant to your work and find you providing useful insights and commentary, the more likely they are to reach out to you with professional opportunities.
Should you spent much time presenting at meetings, conferences, and events and make a lot of PowerPoint presentations, consider creating an account with SlideShare, which is essentially a YouTube for PowerPoint presentations). Many professionals upload their PowerPoints to SlideShare so that when they give a presentation to clients, speak to a professional group, or present at a conference, they can simply point everyone to a centralized location should they like to review presentation later on.
With a free account, you can upload public presentations with reasonable file sizes that may be found by those searching online for information related to their contents. Slideshare also offers paid accounts that allow for private file uploads, video uploads, analytics, and meeting features, however it should be noted that Google Docs offers all of those features (save analytics) for free.
Crunchbase is much like a Wikipedia for tech companies. Though LinkedIn also features company profiles and should certainly be a platform on which you provide information about your business, Crunchbase company profiles often offer more information and frequently show up in search queries.
Should your business be in any way related to the tech world, it would be worthwhile to start and maintain a profile for that company (as well as yourself) after getting a feel for the manner in which other, similar companies are presented. Keep in mind that anyone can edit company profiles. Make sure your contributions are accurate, succinct, and professional.
AngelList is a social network for investors, startups, and talent. It connects talented people with companies, introduces investors to promising businesses, and helps startups garner the human and financial resources they need.
Should you be launching a startup and be actively looking for investment or employees, AngelList should be one of many resources you use to aid your pursuit.
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