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My friend Vala Afshar is one of the smartest at social media that I know. I sat down with him recently to find out his secrets. Here they are in Vala’s words…
I wish I could reveal an instant shortcut or even a few quick tricks to becoming a social media influencer and industry thought leader. There may be short cuts, but I have not found them. If all you are looking for are twitter followers, you can literally purchase them. But to realize the true benefits of social networking you need a quality network, not just a quantity of followers.
Based on whatever success I may have had to date with social media, here are my humble suggestions to those seeking social wizardry. In summary, it is valuable, timely content that drives social success. Become a source of insightful content, well-focused on your target audience, and over time you will build an engaged network that will help you grow both personally and professionally.
Step 1: Curate From The Best
First select a subject you are passionate about. I focus on the theme of digital transformation. This topic is special to me because it transcends the IT megatrends of mobile, social, cloud, apps, and big data. Whatever subject you choose, jump in and get involved. Put your antenna up and collect, forward, and amplify topical information on your field of interest. Tune in to the most informed sources and coalesce the best of the best.
Use this startup phase to develop your voice. Be conversational and well informed. Research relevant and new content and share with the intent to inform. Include your opinion, especially if asked. You’re not leading a seminar, you’re chatting at the water cooler. Contribute insights and avoid off-topic overt selling.
Step 2: If Content is King, Context is God
On my weekly Google hangout show called CXOtalk, Brian Halligan of Hubspot drew attention to this quote by wine marketing master Gary Vaynerchuk, “If content is king, then context is god”. Context is the right content at the right time on the right channel – natural, useful, timely, and noteworthy. This requires a thorough understanding of your target audience or persona so you can transform and deliver meaningful content effectively. Be available and be responsive. You can’t engage with your audience if you are not there to interact with them.
Step 3: Create and Synthesize Content
The next step is to progress from curating other people’s content to synthesizing and creating original content of your own. In my case, I co-authored the book, “The Pursuit of Social Business Excellence” with Brad Martin. I stepped into the blogosphere initially by writing guest blogs, then by authoring my own blogs.
It’s very important to establish a regular cadence and consistency. This year alone, I’ve posted more than 70 articles at Huffington Post, Information Week, and Enterasys.com. Every day I have numerous shares and engagements on Twitter; many tweets in response to messages from others in my network.
Just as important as creating and publishing content is sharing your platform with other thought leaders. For example, we invite a different CXO to participate each week at our CXOtalk video platform. Many of my Huffington Post blogs are co-written with industry thought leaders. Sharing the spotlight—like Christine is doing here–promotes community and encourages engagement.
Be generous and acknowledge the insights and contributions of others. As examples, I’ve posted blogs specifically acknowledging The Top 100 Cloud Computing Experts On Twitter, The Top 100 Most Social Customer Service Pros On Twitter, The Top 100 Most Social Human Resources Experts On Twitter, and The Top 50 Social Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) on Twitter.
Step 4: Use Social Tools and Technology
Just as buying the best golf clubs won’t by itself turn you into a PGA tour professional, the newest social media technology alone won’t automatically make you a social networking pro. But good tools combined with the steps above can certainly help. I take full advantage of Tweetdeck and key on#hashtags related to the theme of digital transformation. I also have a number of lists that filter business leadership and technology content from the best and brightest industry thought leaders.
It is not necessary to use every available social medium. I’ve concentrated my networking energy on Twitter and Facebook. I believe there is an art to using Twitter, including some very important guiding principles to master the art of tweeting. Robert Scoble and Guy Kawasaki have found Google+ most effective. Perhaps for you, LinkedIn, Vine and Pinterest will play an important role in establishing your social network. Whichever media you use, be sure to fully embrace it. In The Decision to Follow You on Twitter Takes Less Than 10 Seconds, I describe the importance of simple things like including your bio and a professional-looking avatar, as well as staying positive and avoiding automated messages. Take advantage of the lists feature of Twitter. Add variety and interest to your posts by including images, infographics, and videos.
Incorporate as many traits of social leadership in your tweets and posts as you can. Don’t be afraid to share personal moments. People want to connect with other humans, not robots or bloodless corporations. And just when think you have done enough, do more.
If building a social network of quality connections takes so much time and effort, can it really be worth it? From my experience, the professional benefits alone can be amazing. As David Weinberger says, the smartest person in the room is the room and social media expands the size and scope of your room. Phil Komarny describes the knowledge multiplier benefits of social media interaction. It enables you to tap into the collective intelligence of some of the brightest people in the world, regardless of their location or time zone.
Sometimes the benefits of social networking go well beyond professional life. Earlier this year, Deborah Mills-Scofield beautifully described the sequence of events that culminated in a very emotional experience for me. Thanks to social networking, I was able to help CCChampions founder Sidney Kushner bring 10 year old cancer patient KJ to the Boston Celtics basketball game for the special “Heroes Among Us” award.
Please remember, just like anything else in life, you will get out of it what you put into it. To be remarkable, give without expecting a get, maintain a level of consistency and be honest, authentic and positive. The size of your network has nothing to do with your ability to deliver valuable content using social media. In life, and social networking, success is simply a combination of competence, confidence and character.
Feel free to connect with me on Twitter – @ValaAfshar – and let us learn from each other.
Thanks to Vala for his tremendous insights!