Professional social networking should be about showcasing, not showboating

Elizabeth Hibbert

Word Salon

Thanks to social media, business owners can post pretty much what they like, when they like, as often as they like. Which is great. In some ways, it means PR, promotion and advertising has never been so accessible, cheap or even free.

But there’s a downside. The side where time spent on professional and social networking sites can represent a trawl of vastly differing quality of content, from invaluable, insightful analysis and humorous and enjoyable light-hearted reads, through to shamelessly self-promoting articles and, frankly, self-serving content which has only the writer, not the reader, in its line of vision.

The more time I spend on social media, the more I spot this enormous variation in quality of input and a rise in what can only be described as advert listings disguised as articles. You know the kind of post, ‘Here’s something I did the other day which was great. These are the reasons why I’m great. And in conclusion, well, I’m grrreat’. This style of content is kind of acceptable in an advertisement (although even then you should be talking more about your customer than you).

It’s powerful on advertising channels such as radio where bombarding potential customers with sales messages will get good results. And it’s a perfect approach for company websites where people are seeking information about your business.

But on a networking platform?

When I read content on a networking platform it’s to be informed, challenged, questioned, entertained and even amused. I hope to leave the article more knowledgeable, positive and inspired than when I started reading.

Of course, we’re all aware that channels like LinkedIn are promotional and networking opportunities. And showcasing one’s work, business and skills is a key part of that.

But it’s about doing it in a way that the reader doesn’t feel sold to (just like in real-life networking), and in line with the spirit of what social networks were set up to do. Doing it with subtlety and effort, not just taking your reader’s time without giving anything in return.

Otherwise, we might as well all just sit and read through the Yellow Pages.

So here are my tips on how to write an article that will engage, not alienate, your audience, whilst still showcasing your work.

  1. Choose a subject area in your profession that will be of interest to your audience and put a quirky or unusual spin on it. In other words, give your readers something to ponder or explore, or even an angle with which they may disagree. If it provokes a response and an outpouring of views, then you must have successfully engaged the reader.
  2. If you are promoting a successful project, put it into context and back up any claims or statements with evidence, statistics and testimonials. Demonstrate what you learnt from the experience and highlight any research as well as interesting or unexpected outcomes.
  3. Give something away. Not something material. But an insight. Some guidance. Handy hints and tips. Recommendations on best practice that show your willingness to share expertise, rather than just showing it off. Yes, perhaps there’s a small risk that people may use your advice to do the job themselves instead of approaching you to do it. But in my experience of writing articles myself and for clients, readers who are likely to do this will do so anyway. And at least you’ll have the great PR of having shown generosity of spirit, and established credibility as a valuable resource. Then, what’s likely to happen is that the reader will recommend and remember you when the time comes that they do need support in your area of expertise. An article I recently wrote on behalf of a client, focused entirely on providing useful advice in their market, resulted in a lucrative contract for them. This approach works.
  4. Link a project or product that you want to publicise to another article or news item. This will give your content a raison d’etre; a relevance and reason for highlighting your achievement, and do so in an interesting way. For example, if a news story is focused on health and safety in the building industry, and you’re in this market, there’s a perfect opportunity to promote your own work and standards in response.
  5. Remember essay writing at school? Planning the structure? Well the same applies here. It should have a beginning, a middle and an end. An introduction, a body of content and a strong conclusion. Your article should have a purpose. In other words, approach it like a journalistic article, rather than like an ad.
  6. To help your blog be found by as wide and as relevant an audience as possible, ensure it is rich in relevant keywords. Weave them in skilfully though, so that they aren’t repetitive or artificial, but help make your article a great read as well as boosting your SEO.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for businesses showcasing their work and expertise. As a copywriter, this is exactly what I do day in day out (and I ensure my clients sound fabulous).

But there’s a time, place and context for different types of content. And choosing the right ones will make for a more fulfilling social media experience for us all.

What do you think?

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