Brands in flux

Nearly every business and business leader has a social media presence, but what does it take to see value from your online efforts?

The sheer volume, availability and immediacy of digital information place new demands on brands as they continue to negotiate the online world. According to JD Gershbein, a LinkedIn strategist recognized as a thought leader in personal branding, social networking and new media development, the hit-or-miss nature of content marketing suggests brands and people need to do more to stand out. But first, you have to participate, he says.

Social media must-haves

  • PROVE YOUR LEADERSHIP: Tell your story, share content, manage your community
  • MAKE YOUR PROFILE WORK HARDER: It’s not just a résumé, it’s a chance to build your brand
  • COMMUNICATE YOUR VALUE: Create a statement that demonstrates your worth
  • CURATE YOUR NETWORK: Focus on contact where you can add mutual value

The power of participation.

“Social media is a communications platform; it’s just folks talking,” says Gershbein, who recently spoke as part of our McGuffin Mornings forum. “What you do with it, and the extent of what you bring to it, is going to determine the outcome. If you don’t participate, if you don’t activate, nothing’s going to happen. But if you’ve done some work and keep applying force, LinkedIn will work and you will see results.”

Here’s what Gershbein had to say about building a brand, joining the thought leadership movement and mining your LinkedIn network.

1. Three keys to creating “social proof” of leadership

GERSHBEIN: Leadership remains the hottest topic in business today and social media is a huge piece of that. You can, and should, contribute to the social proof of your leadership. There are three parts to this.

First, is brand storytelling. There’s a lot of pressure to tell stories today. And it’s hard to do. But it’s important to share what makes you the professional you are, what makes you unique.

Second, is content marketing. It’s all about sharing content. That’s how you sell the story.

Third, and a vital piece, is community management. What are you doing with your network? Is your network completely out of control? Or are you living your story in front of a cohesive network of professionals who know you, like you and refer you?

2. Building your business case on your profile

GERSHBEIN: We’re on LinkedIn to build three things: a brand, a professional network and a business case for ourselves. Building your business case comes down to answering three questions: Why you (or your company)? Why now? What problem(s) do you solve?

There’s a disconnect between what people do and what they put out there on their profiles. Most people just transplant their résumés verbatim in the summary section of a profile. They never go into any kind of client pain. They never go into specifics about the kinds of problems they solve and they don’t tell the prospect: Why am I on this page?

There are business owners who are kept up at night because they have operational inefficiencies, or have employees who are leaving, or have a product launch and have no idea what to do next. Those business owners want to know: Who are the people who can come in and do this for us? A well-done LinkedIn profile can tell them you’re the answer to their problems.

3. Communicate the value you deliver

GERSHBEIN: You know why your clients call on you. You know the problems you solve. Now you need to communicate them on your LinkedIn profile and everywhere else on social media.

Here’s a great exercise. Try to create a value statement about yourself without using the words “help” or “show.” It will get you more in touch with what you do. Next, write thought leadership pieces and publish them. Forget about who sees them. You have to write them; they become part of your portfolio. Through this, you begin to differentiate yourself and shape and manage perceptions out there, which ideally lead to the formation of positive impressions of you.

This is the heart of how you’re going to grow your business via social. The more you talk about yourself and with greater clarity, the more you’re going to get out of this. This is the state of branding today. This is the state of social media today.

4. Connecting and collaborating with potential clients

GERSHBEIN: The untapped potential of your professional network is a goldmine. The question is how are you going to mine it. You can’t personalize an invitation to friend someone on Facebook, but you’re given that option on LinkedIn, and that’s where it starts. Effective social media really translates to managing conversations well, and that means coming at them from a perspective of collaboration.

So be sure to state why you want to connect and the value for both parties. Don’t rely on the generic default message. Your invitation should clearly explain the reason you want to connect, the mutual value you offer the recipient.

If you’ve accepted a connection, now what? Reach out. Here’s how: “Dear Mike, Thank you for the invitation to connect. In reviewing your profile, I believe we have many professional synergies worth exploring. When would be a good time to schedule a brief phone conversation with me?”

What happens when you end your email with an open-ended question? It prompts a reply. My batting average is very high with a strategy like this because I’m at least in the conversational game. Pulling those conversations out of the virtual world and into the real world is where the rubber hits the road. You’re trying to move a relationship forward and this is, to me, what gets lost.

5. Curate your network, beginning with weeding

GERSHBEIN: We’ve brought so many people into our social networks but we’re not doing anything with them. These are the relationships that are going to move the needle for you. And that’s where we need to invest energy.

I recently completed a massive audit of my LinkedIn network. I was approaching 8,000 connections. I found I didn’t recognize a lot of people and some were in industries I didn’t really serve. You want to operate with the purity of a lean, agile network.

So, I went through people case-by-case and pared it down to 4,400 first-degree connections. I lopped off about half of my network.  Now, I’m left with people I’ve had some exposure to and some clarity about what they do. I also isolated about 600 who are in a category of people I’m in the process of calling and having a conversation with because I’ve got to get to know them better. These 600 are in a position where we can truly create mutual value and that’s what it’s about. When I reach out, I tell them I’m in the process of re-acquainting myself with my network, and I highlight how we might be able to collaborate.

Again, I end with an open-ended question: “When would you be available for a brief phone conversation?”  I’ve already had some promising results and I plan to keep exploring these connections. I’ve found that when you come at people from the point of view of collaboration, they’re more likely to speak to you.

Socialize your marketing.

If you’re a marketer looking to up your game on social media, give us a shout. From organic to paid, static to video, our clients count on us for content that adds spark to their social strategies.

McGuffin Mornings is a quarterly breakfast series hosted by McGuffin Creative Group in downtown Chicago. Covering topics focused on trends and insights in marketing, advertising and creative, it serves as a forum for savvy marketers to connect and sharpen skills in our rapidly changing industry. If you’d like to know about future McGuffin Mornings events, you can sign up right here. We’d love to see you there.