The topics you discuss on social networks are like suits.
They’re articles of clothing that identify your otherwise naked reputation, and like in the real world they serve a deeper social purpose than merely covering you up.
A suit and tie conveys a level of professionalism, just as a police officer's uniform signals authority. Similarly when you’re talking about your profession on Twitter it helps establish your reputation as someone with “something to say” on that sector. Yet even the most dapper businessperson knows that there are times when jeans and an old Ramones t-shirt would be more appropriate.
We’re often given the conflicting advice that we should be informal and playful on social media and yet stick to a fairly narrow conversational focus to help establish our credibility on a topic. Which way do you go? There are downsides to either extreme. A person who tweets about anything and everything becomes incredibly hard to peg down. Remember that the people following you are also following a number of others, and unless you’re a strongly known brand, a celebrity or someone’s personal acquaintance a lack of consistency hinders your ability to stand out among the noise. At the same time, staying completely “on message” can stifle you.
If you adopt the approach of very narrowly focusing your interactions on your brand, your business, and your customers you risk looking too corporate. In the social media realm that’s absolutely a detriment. Remember these are first and foremost communities of individual people and you’re subject to their established mode of speaking and rules of conduct. If you’re perceived as too much of a salesperson you’ll be tuned out. At best, you may find yourself stuck in insular conversations, speaking only to other people in your industry (colleagues and competitors) but never catching the interest of anyone outside it. Often those are the very people you need to reach.
The middle path is to select a small handful of topics you’re comfortable wearing. A good measure is to select one topic in each of these three categories: your profession, a passion, and your local community. The first category is obvious, as you want to grow your reputation as an expert in your field and demonstrate your professional chops by sharing and listening in that capacity. Your passion should be your family, a leisure activity, a sport, or a hobby. It humanizes you. It’s the “social” part of social media put ahead of your business goals.
Your local community is the most fascinating of these categories, as it’s the most obviously beneficial and yet most frequently overlooked of the three. Your city or region is very likely the shared point of conversation with the majority of your online customer base. By engaging in discussions on local issues you’re no longer merely “the fireplace salesman” talking to other fireplace salesmen, but “the Niagara-based fireplace salesman” known to the wider Niagara community, and that’s a huge difference. Top it off by becoming “the Niagara-based fireplace salesman who loves homebrewing” and suddenly you’re interesting, locally relevant, and memorable. Soon you’ll begin to experience those wonderful moments where your categories overlap. It is that serendipity that truly makes social media worthwhile.
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