Use principles such as consistency, reciprocity and the 2:1 rule to build up your content and followers on your professional social media accounts.
So you’ve set up your social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. (Didn’t do that yet? See my first post: “A Professional Academic’s Guide to Using Social Media.”) Now what?
Below, I provide a few of my “tricks of the trade” — lessons I’ve learned in my time managing my own online brand and those of my employers and clients on social media. These ideas will help social media enthusiasts to go about systematically building their content and followers the way the non-academic pros do it.
Consistency: The essence of branding
What is consistency in offline life? It means that you show up; you tell (and show) people who you are; you set expectations for what you will give them; and, then, you meet those expectations – regularly.
The same principles apply for building a consistent online brand. This means:
- Posting every day
- Using the same names and photos across multiple accounts
- Being upfront in profiles about your intentions and goals for your accounts
- Posting content and comments that match those stated intentions and goals
- Building a system for making all of the above happen no matter what*
2:1: The ‘golden ratio’ on social media
When I schedule content for a social media account, I want to aim for an observable 2:1 ratio of original posts to shares/retweets of others’ posts; professional or “on-brand” posts to personal comments or moments; and text-based posts (comment, link, statistic, etc.) vs. visual posts (photo, GIF, video, etc.). Here is a chart of how to implement this ratio for certain account features:
|For every 2 of these …||Have no more than 1 of these…|
|Curation||Original posts – not a quote/RT||Shares/retweets of others’ posts|
|Self-presentation||Professional or “on-brand” posts||Post that is an “off-brand” or off-topic comment|
|Content type||Post that displays a visual component (image, GIF, etc.)||Post that is just text, no “preview card” or other visual|
|Follower count||Accounts following yours||Accounts that you are following|
A note on the last: Never pay for followers or engagement. Be the white hat, no matter how easy it is to act unethically. Trust can be destroyed in a moment and take a lifetime to rebuild. Remember that the follower metrics in social media are not a number for their own sake – they represent real people who you want to communicate with. Winning the attention of 10 real followers is always preferable to an army of 10,000 bots and fake accounts.
If, for some reason, you engage in black-hat social media tactics for research, be upfront about it somewhere so your audience can put it in context.
‘Net effects: Why you want to connect with relative strangers
In 1977, anthropologist Wayne Zachary published his study of a small karate club. He represented the findings of his ethnographic study as a graph of connections between individuals who consistently interacted in contexts outside those of karate classes, workouts, and club meetings.
During Zachary’s study, the karate club split into two factions, one around the club president (node 34, below), the other around the instructor (node 1). These people who were the faction hubs exercised direct influence over the members in their local network. Some members had ties to both factions (nodes within orange rectangle). These nodes had influence as the bridges between the two factions. It was a landmark study of what came to be called “network effects.”
The findings echoed those of sociologist Mark S. Granovetter, who, in 1973, had reported on how people got jobs in the (then) working class community of Newton, Massachusetts.
Granovetter asked each of the workers in his sample: “How did you get your current job? Was it through a friend?” Over and over, the answer was, “No, it was an acquaintance.” These “weak ties” (occupying a position in the diagram of Granovetter’s participants that is similar to the “faction bridges” in Zachary’s diagram) proved surprisingly powerful in determining who ultimately gained employment – and who didn’t. (Read more in his article “The strength of weak ties.” The American Journal of Sociology. 78. 1360–1380.)
These two studies offer empirical support for why it’s important to find and cultivate bridges to other fields and groups of scholars – such weak ties and distant members of factions can be sources of impact and opportunities. Today, we can use social media — especially LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, the three I am focusing on here — as a low-cost, low-friction method to make these vital career connections.
Reciprocity: Social media is literally a “sharing economy”
Social media culture works on a principle of “I’ll scratch your back, and you’ll scratch mine.” Try to:
- Pass along articles that you found helpful in your own timelines or feeds.
- Tweet or post advice for people in your field or those starting out.
- When people leave a positive review, try to go back and leave a good review on their own work. (Don’t say anything untruthful, but surely there’s something of value in what they publish that you can comment on.)
- Ask for help or ideas from those in your social media circles. It constantly surprises me how effective the form of reciprocity known as “crowdsourcing” can be.
- Tag people in comments or replies to make sure they see interesting posts.
On Twitter, these norms are particularly pronounced. I particularly love the “Follow Friday” tradition, in which people post accounts of those who they think others should follow using the #ff hashtag. Many also people will thank those people in direct message or public posts for following their accounts.
The most interesting way in which Twitter’s reciprocity culture manifests is that, often, users will follow you back once you follow them. Paradoxically, to get followers, this means you should follow more accounts!
Be positive: Likes, hearts, puppies, rainbows and smiles
Though negativity on social media is getting a lot of attention right now, it’s important to realize how much impact you can have if you share positivity.
“Liking” itself is a powerful strategy for driving engagement in communities online. The introduction of the “Like” button on Facebook in 2008-09 supercharged that company’s user engagement. This button – quickly copied on Twitter as “Favorites” as well as on LinkedIn, Instagram and other networks – is popular in part because it is a low-effort way for anyone to comment and/or give “props” to one of their connections on social media. Everyone loves being acknowledged by others.
Facebook has since expanded the “Like” button to a series of “Reactions,” but the first three options of “Like,” “Heart” and “Haha” remain largely positive in emotional valence. The concept of “valence” in psychology refers to the degree to which an emotion either repels (negative valence) or attracts (positive valence) our interest and attention.
These “Like”-type buttons are just as popular with programmers as with users, because, by counting the number of times people press them, they help quantify something very important – a signal that a post is of enough value to some users that they took time to engage with it even for a few seconds. The record of these interactions, along with the log of who posted the content, who clicked on it and what it was about, help Facebook and other social networks to calculate scores that help their algorithms determine who should be served which content from the vast amount generated each day by their active users.
(To learn more details of these calculations, watch a video from Facebook’s 2016 F8 developer conference where the executive in charge of their News Feed talked more about what it is, how it works and what this information means for publishers.)
Considering how much attention is paid to positive engagement by humans and algorithms alike, try to post these types of content:
- Wish people “Happy Birthday!” or “Congratulations” for milestones.
- Work in some positive content such as:
- funny memes or GIFs like the ones I’ve been using;
- pet photos or other types of animal shots;
- “Dad” jokes ( the type that are innocuous or corny);
- nostalgic photos from past happy times (these are so popular that they are weekly events with their own hashtags such as #ThrowbackThursday and #FlashbackFriday);
- good-news stories.
- Your profile photo should be smiling.
How do you like these tips? What else should people know?
I’ve shared the above tips for social media in this spirit of reciprocity. Many more can be found online – including on my own social media accounts and those of fellow academics. Keep paying it forward by sharing your own ideas in the comments here or on your own social media!
Thanks for reading! I hope you can employ these foolproof formulas for boosting your professional brand on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. For more ideas, see my first post, “A Professional Academic’s Guide to Using Social Media.”