*originally posted 2015
Establishing social media boundaries is critical to the success of your brand.
Do you have a social media strategy, and does it articulate who (or the types of accounts) you will connect with on various social media platforms?
I designed this post to help you identify and correct areas where your social media practices are working against you if you are trying to enhance your credibility as a professional*.
It is also designed to explain why I probably won’t accept your friend request on Facebook and may not connect with you on LinkedIn or follow you back on Twitter.
MY BIGGEST SOCIAL MEDIA MISTAKE
When I became a freelance writer and editor, I had no social media strategy. I watched what others did and followed suit.
That was a mistake!
I was emulating the wrong people. I had to learn the hard way that what works for others didn’t work for me and the goals of others were not my goals. Further, our personalities and strengths differed.
Goals, personality, and strengths work together to form your brand.
You can have an accidental brand (which rarely works in your favor), or you can purposefully brand yourself to put yourself in the best position to achieve your business goals.
What's Your Brand?
Your brand dictates your boundaries.
If, like me, your personal brand is professional and your goal is to be seen as a resource and authority in your industry, your behavior on social media will be different from someone whose brand is informal.
It is beyond the scope of this post to discuss the pros and cons of branding choices. However, if you lean toward an informal brand, my experience may serve as a cautionary tale.
MISTAKES I MADE
I used my personal Facebook page to connect with clients and prospects.
I followed most people and accounts back on Twitter.
I connected with any writer who sent me a LinkedIn connection request.
WHY THOSE WERE MISTAKES
I use my personal Facebook account as a way to keep up with close friends and family. My family is large and spread across the globe. Facebook is an excellent tool to stay connected.
Per Facebook’s rules, Profiles are for personal use and Pages are for business use. Many writers (and other business people) blur the lines by using their personal profiles for business purposes.
I accepted friend requests assuming that I was connecting with people on a more personal level and that they were using Facebook the same way I was. They were not. Having pictures of my son’s graduation pool party on my profile was, no doubt, confusing for those who use their personal profile for business, and I have no doubt that this diminished my professional brand.
It was a mistake to engage with professional connections on my personal Facebook profile because they were showing up there dressed in business suits, I in a swimsuit.
Twitter is my favorite social media platform, and I use it to add value to my business in several ways.
Many of the accounts I follow will never use my services or be interested in what I have to say. I follow them because they provide valuable information and because I plan to use the services of some in the future.
I follow some accounts because they fit my ideal customer profile, and I hope to engage with them professionally at some point. In the meantime, I follow their tweets in an attempt to understand their specific challenges and needs and how or if I can help them. This a “long game” strategy.
When I first started using Twitter, I followed back almost every account that followed me. I mistakenly assumed that if someone followed me, she or he was interested in the information I provided and/or using my services at some point down the road. Therefore, I wanted to engage with them.
However, there is a trend of follow, follow back, unfollow to grow an account’s follower numbers on Twitter. Once I started to see patterns, it was very easy to identify those who were using that strategy. I quickly realized that while I viewed those I followed and those that followed me as valuable connections (not all for the same reasons), to many I was simply a number. That’s a “short game” strategy.
It was a mistake to follow back so many accounts because they weren’t quality connections and the tweets they put out clogged my feed and distracted me from quality connections and information I wanted.
I have high hopes for my LinkedIn activities because my ideal clients are professionals. However, it has taken me longer than expected to gain traction on LinkedIn.
I did a lot of things right when I set up my profile, and I took the advice of experts and generally didn’t connect with those outside of my industry or market. However, I should have been more particular. I received a number of connection requests from people who listed “writer” in their profiles. Because LinkedIn is a professional platform for people seeking business resources, I assumed that those people wanted to connect with me as a professional in the publishing industry. They were not. Like Facebook and Twitter, many simply wanted to sell me their book and/or were growing their numbers.
It was a mistake to follow them because when my ideal professional prospects look at my connections they see connections that do not reflect their brand and needs. I am reminded of the scene in the movie Dirty Rotten Scoundrels where Michael Caine’s character says, “A poacher shooting at rabbits scares off big game.” Although I have no real business connection to the “rabbits,” it may appear that they are my primary market and scare off those I do want to attract.
(By the way, I found out that you can disconnect from people on LinkedIn, and have since done so.)
How I Established Boundaries by Reframing My Expectations
Having learned from those experiences, I have established social media boundaries that compliment my business goals and fit my strategy.
I use each social media platform differently but in harmony, and I’ve brought my expectations in line with reality.
The key to social media success and to establishing social media boundaries is having realistic expectations.
Therefore, I no longer accept Facebook friend requests from prospects, clients, or business associates unless we have a well-established personal relationship.
I do not automatically follow back on Twitter. I research new followers and only follow those that demonstrate real engagement with their audience, those accounts that, like me, are playing a “long game.”
And, I no longer accept invitations to connect on LinkedIn unless the connection serves the needs of my business.
Being Professional Isn't Being Unfriendly
One thing I struggled with was the idea that people may be offended if I didn’t accept their friend requests on Facebook, follow them back on Twitter, or connect with them on LinkedIn.
Then I remembered my brand and strategy, the reasons I established boundaries in the first place. I also reminded myself of my target market-professional writers, editors, agents, and publishers. Professionals expect and respect boundaries, and they focus on quality not quantity. Those that do not are not my ideal clients. I certainly do not wish to offend anyone, but as professionals, we cannot please everyone nor should we try.
The result of being selective about who I connect with, and where, has been a decrease in effort and an increase in sales. For someone working to develop a sustainable, lifestyle brand, establishing social media boundaries has served gone a long way to helping me build the business I want.
*By professional, I mean someone who consistently sells her or his products or services to those outside their circle of friends and family and who demonstrates a steady increase in sales and professional development.