When it comes to amplifying your thoughts, few tools have ever been created as powerful as social media. People who were complete nobodies can, and often do, have more followers than the leaders of entire countries. Being a social media influencer is a dream job among young people today.
You know the pitch.
But if you’re not trying to be a social media influencer, what role should social media play in your career?
On one end of the spectrum, you have hyper-traditional boomers who think social media should be bland and everybody should post on every platform like they do on LinkedIn. You can lump these people in with your high school teachers who told you to be careful about what you post on the Internet because someday a future employer might find it.
These people aren’t caricatures. Just earlier this year (2019), I was sitting in the global headquarters of an American metals manufacturer that employs thousands of people. I was doing a discovery meeting with the executive in charge of training to see if they’d like to purchase copies of my book.
“Well, do you say anything about social media?” this executive, an older man who had spent most of his corporate career working in HR, asked me.
“Well, yes. It depends on what the person is trying to achieve. I think it’s often a distraction and it has a way of hijacking the brain’s reward system to make people focus on the wrong stuff,” I told him.
“Well, these young people nowadays have no idea how to post on social media, and they have no idea what employers might find.”
Oh. Great. Exactly the stereotype. Pleasant.
I get where he’s coming from. People get deplatformed for saying stuff that isn’t Officially Approved on social media, but that’s hardly a problem for the vast majority of people who are just looking to land a promotion or get to the next stage in their careers.
For most people, they should focus on using social media in a way that helps them and focuses on driving people towards actions they want people to take.
Use Social Media to Build Your Personal Brand
If you’re going to use social media, use it to grow your personal brand.
A personal brand is just a distilled reputation. It’s what others think of when they think of you — and it’s a way to make other people think of you when they think of the areas you can help them in.
When people think of Zak Slayback, they think of tech, careers, venture capital, and writing.
And when people in my network think of these topics, they think of me.
What this does is it gets people to come to me when they wouldn’t otherwise do that. It creates its own inbound funnel of opportunities.
Anybody can benefit from doing this and you don’t have to be on social media to do it (in fact, when you consider the opportunity cost, oftentimes social media isn’t worth it).
But for some people, people with great stories and an ability to tell them succinctly over platforms like Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, and others, social media can be a great tool for building a personal brand.
One of the case studies I like to turn here is Ed Latimore. Ed has a great story of overcoming poverty and addiction to become a renaissance man. He’s used this story to build an impressive personal brand, largely on twitter.
In Ed’s case, he can use social media instead of letting social media use him. He does this with a few elements in mind:
- He’s telling a transformation story (and actually HAS a story to tell… if you don’t have a story to tell, trying to build a brand on social media can backfire and make you look like a grifter).
- He’s practiced how to do so in a medium that makes sense for him (for Ed this is twitter. Ed has more than 90,000 followers on Twitter — he has a good article here on how to grow your twitter following).
- He provides value for his audience and listens to them to know what kind of value he can provide to them as he and they grow.
- He pushes his audience towards other media that helps his personal brand grow more (e.g., if you follow him on Twitter, he’ll ask you to subscribe to his newsletter…he may ask you to follow him on Instagram after subscribing to the newsletter) Then, he’ll send you content from his blog related to the umbrella of content he writes about on twitter, like motivation, learning, and personal branding .
If you’re somebody who can tell a sincere story and can put in the time and effort to master a medium, then social media may be a good tool for you to grow your personal brand and use that for your career.
For me, I dabble in twitter. This has worked moderately well for me, with some feedback loops letting me know where to double down and where to lay off. Other platforms use me as the product (e.g., Facebook isn’t free, it’s zero-price; you’re the product) so I try to avoid them.
For you, you’ll want to ask yourself:
- Do I have a story I can tell on this medium?
- Do the people I want to be in front of (your “right people” as I call them in my book) spend time on this medium?
- How can I tell my story in a way that breaks through the noise?
- Who has mastered this medium and is accessible to me? How can I approach them to learn from them?
But it’s important to stress, again, that social works best when you have done something or accomplished something that allows you to tell a story. Ed has a great story that allows him to use twitter like a master. If you don’t have a story (yet), focus on creating that story first and then amplify as you see fit.