If you’re ready for a midcareer makeover, you can get new clothes and a new haircut. But even more important, you must make yourself what I call “Google-able.” That means you need to create a smart social media footprint.
By day I work as a small-business coach, and I keep coming across amazing professionals with extraordinary credentials who want to build a consulting practice or establish themselves as thought leaders in their industry.
But here’s the problem: When I put their names in Google, I come up with nothing. No website, no social networking profile — not even a guest blog post. These people may have advanced degrees and impressive titles on their resumes, but there is no electronic evidence of their expertise and accomplishments. Since this has happened several times over the last few weeks, it dawned on me that I needed to help fellow midcareer folks understand this new paradigm.
Gone are the days of calling around to get the 411 on a potential business partner or new hire. These days, people do an internet search before you ever get a call about a new opportunity. Recruiters and corporate executives routinely conduct internet searches when looking for talent and don’t always advertise open positions. Many believe you don’t even exist if you don’t have a social media footprint.
Here are five essential steps to get started online.
1. Smile and click.
One of the key things you need prior to establishing yourself online is to get a professional headshot. Go ahead and spend money to get a good photo. It should be a smiling shot that is friendly. Even though you are communicating over the internet, people still want to see who they are talking to.
If you haven’t established an online presence yet, keep this in mind: You are using the skills you already know — how to communicate with people. Creating an online presence simply helps people find you. Think of it as your virtual business card, which is far more useful in 2011 than the paper variety.
2. Sign up at LinkedIn.
The first step to building your brand online is to stake your territory: One of the best moves you can make is to set up a profile on LinkedIn. Yes, you’ll also want to establish a Google profile and sign up for a Facebook or Twitter account, too. But LinkedIn is the most important.
“If you are looking to do anything in the professional world, LinkedIn is where you need to be. LinkedIn is the ultimate buyers’ market,” says Patrice Rutledge, author of Using LinkedIn.
Here are her top tips to make your profile shine on LinkedIn:
- Add your profile and be sure to fill it out 100 percent. Your profile should use the appropriate keywords that your target audience would use to search for your expertise (including job title and certifications).
- Use applications to enhance your profile (SlideShare presentations, Google presentations, portfolio display or box.net to add a resume).
- A detailed company profile is important for a business owner. Be sure to link it to your personal LinkedIn profile.
3. Create a website.
The next thing you can do is register your name or your business name as a website domain and create a simple one- to five-page website. If you are interested in establishing yourself as a thought leader in your industry, adding a blog to your new website is a great idea.
I realize that this might sound intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. You can register your own domain name and then hire a virtual assistant who specializes in social media to help you set it up. (By the way, a virtual assistant is an entrepreneur who assists business owners and busy people with time-consuming tasks, allowing them more time to focus on profit-generating activities.) With a few basic lessons, and time with tutorials, you can get going in no time.
4. Sign up for a Facebook account.
Cathy Larkin, founder of Web Savvy PR, conducts hands-on workshops to teach baby boomers how to use Facebook. Her clients often want to know what to talk about on their Facebook Fan Pages and how to create a good profile.
“I show people how to use Facebook rather than telling them how to do it,” Larkin says. “It’s all about figuring out what your intended audience wants to hear, learn or know about.”
She offers the example of a real estate agent who posted information about how to clear two feet of snow from your roof, which is much more creative — and useful — information than simply listing houses for sale.
Here are Larkin’s three tips for using Facebook Fan Pages:
- Consider your keywords. Your domain name for your Facebook Fan Page should include keywords that people will use to search for you online.
- Set your Info page as your default page. If someone visits you on Facebook, they will quickly get a sense of who you are and what you do (and hopefully fan your page).
- Upload photos and online videos. It’s a great way to promote your products or services and add rich content to your Facebook Page.
5. Don’t forget Twitter.
Thomas MacEntee, the 48-year-old founder of High-Definition Genealogy, says its best to think of social media as a garden you have to tend.
Laid off from his tech job in Chicago in late 2008, MacEntee reinvented himself as a family historian — helping people investigate their family trees — and utilizes social media to connect with clients. It took MacEntee about a year to build his business.
He’s been so successful mastering the intricacies of Twitter — the free service that allows users to share information in 140 characters or less — that he now teaches a social media class for baby boomers called “Twitter: It’s not just what I had for breakfast anymore.”
He says the key to Twitter is giving as much as you get, and listening as much as you speak. He says some boomers have a problem with these concepts. “They think they are giving away their work for free, but it’s part of building yourself as a brand and an expert,” says MacEntee.
Here are some action steps to get you started building your online brand.
- Decide what you wish to accomplish before using social media. Are you looking for a new work opportunity or simply want to connect with others who share a special interest or expertise?
- Figure out who your audience is and where these folks hang out online. (You want to be as specific as possible in targeting your efforts.)
- Create your LinkedIn account immediately. Add a great photo, import your contact database from your e-mail and join one group.
- Expand to your own website, Facebook and/or Twitter.
- Start developing a list of potentials blog topics. It’s a good idea to developed an archive of blog posts at least three months prior to launching your blog.
- Remember that social media marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. You will get out of it what you invest in it.
If you follow all of these tips, when someone types your name into the world’s most famous search engine, they will immediately have your virtual business card — and so much more — right at their fingertips.