It wasn’t that long ago (relatively!) that ‘social media’ consisted primarily of posting a flyer on a notice board with the hopes that someone would read it and respond. Thankfully, today we have a slew of applications through which savvy individuals can target specific audiences with content people actually want to engage with. A part of this comes with knowing your audience, but another part comes from an awareness of what media platforms are available.
Universally used: facebook
Let’s start with the obvious one: facebook. What started as a conduit for Harvard grad students to gossip through, exploded into a global success, connecting millions of people in ways we once deemed impractical but now take for granted. Facebook is more than just a platform to let everyone know about that “dog in a dress!” you just saw, it’s an opportunity to invite other like-minded individuals to participate in a conversation. With the creation of a company/group page you immediately target those with an interest in that field. From here you have the chance to really engage this self-selected, interested group of people without pushing an agenda. This of course promotes trust – in both your brand and your knowledge – in what are potential clients; assuming you aptly demonstrate your know-how in your chosen field and can go toe-to-toe with a scientific line of questioning! Which of course you can… right?
Going professional: LinkedIn
LinkedIn, aka the ‘Professional facebook’. LinkedIn has now quickly become akin to your digital business card and contact directory, so you probably want to keep that up to date. No business development professional should be without it, and anyone hiring sales personnel will always check your LinkedIn activity and contact base, so it's good to give it some attention.
In addition to being your open online resume, LinkedIn offers an exceptionally strong social networking tool for our industry. With the added benefit of creating engaging discussion threads and content-specific groups, it’s possible to quickly amass valid contacts in an array of areas. Sharing insights, tips, events and approaches via specific LinkedIn groups can easily supplement the face-to-face interactions many of us have at events. Interdisciplinary talk is commonplace and can lead to new avenues of custom, collaboration or simply an interesting dialogue. The goal is to initiate conversation without pushing a commercial agenda – your success will depend on your ability to do this, but the rewards and blossoming relationships make it all worth it.
Being succinct: Twitter
Twitter is, in my opinion, the most influential yet most difficult to break into of the social media platforms. Where facebook allows scientists and other people to interact under your ‘banner’, twitter is their direct link to you but without any sort of ‘Our Page’ safety net. Twitter forces you to be concise with a mere 140 characters per tweet and so excessive padding of facts is out. Twitter also forces you to engage: in order to attract followers you will have to chime in on the conversations that you think are relevant. Gaining real followers boosts your credibility. Also, unlike facebook, twitter has been embraced by a phenomenal amount of scientists in their work lives: from real-time conference updates to sharing new lab results as and when they happen. It presents you with an opportunity to quickly respond to a plethora of questions, promote new ideas and get discussions rolling – it adds a real persona to your business.
Many people will go straight to twitter – bypassing customer support altogether – when they have a problem and want an answer, an answer that the rest of twitter will be watching, and so being both helpful and honest is paramount. The more frequently you help out others, provide quick responses or share interesting content, the more your positive reputation grows.
Open forums: Reddit
Putting faces to companies and sparking interesting conversation is the name of the game and nowhere does that better than forums. Forums are public sounding boards for queries, complaints and curiosities. A frequently overlooked forum in the professional world is Reddit, and with over 114 million unique visits just last month, you may want to have a look!
Reddit has a thriving scientific community in which scientists take the time to answer a plethora of questions posted by other scientists and the general public, or even to discuss more specialised topics; something facilitated by anyone being able to create their own forum, or subreddit as it’s known. It’s moderated, but only loosely. It’s a chance to openly answer questions and root out concerns.
A feature commonly employed is the AMA, or Ask Me Anything section in which a company employee opens up the forum for an hour or so to answer any and all questions that people have. These have been hugely successful in many areas and is something more people ought to investigate in the name of science communication.
Balance is key
Be careful though, spreading yourself too thin and having facebook pages, a twitter account, LinkedIn profile and several forum accounts that you never pay attention to will quickly result in people losing interest with you, and you losing engagement with those valuable contacts. It would be best to focus your efforts on a few key avenues and ensure that you always have a response to queries and an obvious online presence.
The bottom line is to be a part of the discussion. By having channels of communication open between yourself and the public you are dramatically boosting your influence and thus potentially generating more leads while simultaneously reinforcing your credibility. Being a company that people feel they can expect sound answers from can only be great thing.
Image by Carol Rivello