Branding your personal and professional voice online.
By Andrew Sims
Do you share your vacation photos on Facebook with association members? Do you connect on LinkedIn with people you've never met? Have you ever posted a photo of your dinner on Instagram?
If you're like me, you've probably hesitated over and second-guessed what to post on social media, whom to connect with, and how to express your likes and dislikes. I think about what my posts say about me as a person and as a professional. I want to communicate the right balance that not only expresses my personality but also reflects positively on my association.
Following the lead of social CEOs
Like millions of others, I follow Richard Branson, CEO of the Virgin Group, on social media. He posts insightfully on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook about topics ranging from business development and leadership to philanthropy and what he has learned from his personal character flaws. Using social media Branson has crafted his reputation and become a thought leader in business—something LinkedIn has dubbed an "influencer." Do I have a more favorable view of the Virgin Group because of him? Of course I do.
This is what a lot of REALTOR® AEs achieve through their social media presence: a heightened respect—or, at the very least, understanding—of their association's value, all that it does and all that it delivers.
The latest research shows that highly regarded companies are more than three times as likely as those with weak reputations to have a CEO who participates in social media.* A report by media company Weber Shandwick, "Socializing Your CEO: From Marginal to Mainstream," found that 80 percent of the CEOs of the world's 50 largest companies are engaged online and on social media. Even though only about 28 percent of CEOs are on social networks, according to the report, that number is nearly double what it was in 2010.
CEOs such as Branson use social media as their space to be human (yet still professional). They are, in a sense, "branding" themselves as funny, informed, interesting people by writing personal narratives about who they are outside of the boardroom. This works to increase their reach and connection with followers while also humanizing their organizations.
Although this type of sharing may be second nature to anyone younger than 30, the rest of us hesitate. How open should we be on social media? What are the risks? What's the line between personal and professional?
Why become a social CEO
"I believe it is part of my job to be active on social media," says Iowa Association of REALTORS® CEO Gavin Blair. An interactive CEO is important in today's world, he says, noting that "members want touches many different ways. Social media is just one of those ways to reach them."
Blair says he likes to keep things 50-50 when it comes to the content mix of professional and personal. "I have definitely had to put more of a filter on what I say and how I say it," Blair says. "I come from a political background and I tend to share some political discussion, but I've tried more recently to avoid that conversation publicly in my role. I share a lot on sports and real estate."
Blair says if you want to be treated like a person, you have to brand yourself as a person outside of your role in the office. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other platforms enable you to show who you are rather than simply what you do.
The companion to all this sharing is listening. Blair says his social media accounts also help him keep track of issues that members and other industry influencers are talking about and address them quickly online.
Post with purpose
Although social networks are a great place to promote your association and keep tabs on your market, if you're all work and no play, members will unfollow you, says Ryan Conrad, RCE, CAE, CEO of the Northern Virginia Association of REALTORS®.
"Try to make your posts fun and interesting and not always just about work or the association," Conrad says. "Members will soon drown you out as background noise if what you post becomes uninteresting."
Conrad has nearly 800 followers on Twitter and posts regularly about conducting classes, attending industry conferences, and meeting with members. He also posts photos of his office holiday decorations and members having fun at association social events. His Facebook cover photo is typically the association office building or a group photo of his staff or leadership.
Conrad says he friends anyone who appears to be legitimately involved with organized real estate. "This includes REALTORS®, vendors, AE colleagues, volunteer leaders, elected officials, and lots of others. I want to be connected to as many industry professionals as possible to gain a broader perspective on what's happening out there and to share my association's message."
Be a person—not just an AE
Some association executives take the stance that the association-branded social media accounts should be used for work and that their personal accounts are just that—personal. Yet in the clutter of social media, a post from a person is always louder than one from an organization. AEs are finding that the opportunity to make a one-on-one connection with members and others via social media is increasingly valuable.
Tessa Hultz, RCE, CAE, CEO of the Raleigh Regional Association of REALTORS®, says she keeps her Facebook profile pretty personal even though her more than 1,300 "friends" include members, colleagues, media, and community leaders. She posts association news along with family photos and reposts everything from interesting science articles to NAR research.
"I don't attempt to divide myself into personal and professional," says Hultz. "I have one each of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and they reflect me as someone who loves her job and talks about it a lot, but also has a life outside of work to stay balanced."
Cliff Long, RCE, CEO of the Birmingham Association of REALTORS®, is more guarded with his social media accounts. "I do not accept friend requests from everyone," Long says. "I learned quite simply that everyone is not my friend and that sometimes social media provides personal insight that I may be uncomfortable with people knowing."
Long screens requests and annually purges friend lists, eliminating those who don't post regularly. Yet he's convinced of the value of his social media presence. "I am reaching an audience that is highly targeted, at no cost, in that they have asked for permission to enter my world and see my events here at the association," Long says. "This helps me reach my members and colleagues where they are most often, and that is digesting information online in a social setting."
Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, oh my
With so many networks in social media, it's hard to pinpoint which is best suited for creating a space for CEOs outside of the office. The idea that LinkedIn is for work and Facebook for friends is fading, perhaps because members want to be where their customers are, and associations want to be where their members are.
Hultz uses Twitter mostly for professional discussion and connection. Conrad says he's experimenting with SnapChat, a photo sharing app, for his association because of its rise in popularity with younger adults. He has all but abandoned Google+ because of its lack of popularity among members.
Long says his biggest piece of advice for AEs and social media is to know what their staff is talking about and how they are marketing themselves online while making sure to give staff members the freedom to be themselves.
"I try hard not to comment on employees' personal posts, and for the most part I stay off their personal pages," Long says. "In fact, I take them out of my news feed because it can be an invasion of both parties' privacy. There needs to be some distance."
Conrad says everyone on his staff is required to maintain a professional Facebook and Twitter account for the primary purpose of connecting with members. "We put staff's social media contact information on their business cards and e-mail signature lines so members know they're accessible through social media."
Balancing your employees' rights and privacy with your association's communication needs requires a clear policy—and perhaps a lawyer's advice.
So should AEs always represent their association's voice, even in their personal social media accounts? The answer is not clear. But as social networks reach out of our personal lives and into our professional lives, certainly there's cause to question posting that photo of yourself at the beach.
Tips for Managing Your Online Persona
My social media use has changed over time, and I've recalibrated how I interact with friends and followers. It's an evolving relationship.
Today there's less discussion of balancing personal and professional online and more talk about successfully integrating the two. You don't want to be too personal, but you don't want to be all business. This is a comfort level that will be unique for each individual, but here are some tips to help you achieve the online persona that's most true to you.
Don't mix your business and personal accounts unless you feel comfortable doing so—comfortable with the content and the technology.
Do you know how to control your privacy settings and organize your friends and followers into separate silos? We're all pressured to friend members, colleagues, or acquaintances on Facebook, but that doesn't mean you have to share everything with them. Send your messages to target audiences.
Make a policy for what you'll post and stick to it. For example: "I'm not going to post photos of my family" or "I'm only going to post photos of my family on platforms where I have reasonable controls over who can see the photos."
If you're not sure a post is too personal, send it just to a friend or colleague first to gauge reaction.
Instead of liking and reposting everything you find interesting, find a theme (other than real estate) that reflects you and stick to it. For example, brand yourself as a dog lover, a classic car buff, or an avid long-distance runner. Find one or two things outside of work so your followers will remember them; too many likes and reposts will dilute your personal brand.
Just mentioning your association event is promoting it, so there's no need to say "sign up now" in your personal posts—plus it turns off followers. Your friends and followers want to know what you think or feel about the event and why it's important.
Remember, posts are forever.