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If you’re a new or not yet established brand, how should you use social media to build a reputation for yourself?

Apart from making sure your product/website is relevant to the social media channel, it is also useful to participate in social media communities as an end-user or brand representative.

My previous post on social networking ROI already talked about the benefits for building a strong social media presence so let’s move on to examine the characteristics which constitute successful social media profiles.

What are some qualities which contribute to the growth and eventual popularity of a social media profile? Assuming that you aren’t a niche celebrity and don’t have a well-established brand name, what characteristics of your profile should you develop for maximum social media presence?

To uncover these factors, let’s take a look at social news communities, sites which allow their users to have editorial control over the popularity/visibility of content. Although I’m using social news as an example, note that the points I make apply to other social media channels such as networks, forums, blogs as well.

This article is not just for end-users/webmasters but businesses who want to learn how to start using social media to develop a stronger online reputation.

When I started using social news sites like Sphinn and Digg, I was a nobody. My early story submissions to both sites received only a handful of votes and very few people knew who I was, let alone added me as a friend or actively followed the stories I submitted.

A few months later, I’ve submitted over 300 digg frontpage stories and became the No.1 user on Sphinn in terms of Sphinn stories gone hot. I’ve made new friends and other users are more likely to pay attention to what I contribute now.

The point here is not about me transforming from nobody into someone of social media importance. Anyone can do that with some concerted effort. The lesson I want to impart here is that there are some general characteristics which underlie a popular social media profile. I’m going to tell you what they are.

How to Build a Popular Social Media Profile: 7 Helpful Characteristics

These characteristics are no secret and they apply to both new social media users as well as already popular brands seeking to leverage the exposure that social media gives. Instead of explaining in an abstract manner, I’ll try to link these points with what I’ve done with existing social media profiles.

In my opinion, here are the 7 characteristics of a successful social media profile:

1. Strong Profile Visibility: Developing Brand Recognition

Image Credit: larry saves the day

A good social media profile is highly visible in multiple channels. The more people connect your social media profile to your existing brand or website the better. Start to increase your visibility by inter-connecting all your social media profiles and web properties (blog/podcast/forum etc.).

After which, take this one step further by evangelizing the social media service. When I first using StumbleUpon, I published detailed guides on dosh dosh and drove traffic to my profile. This increased the number of people who befriended me on SU.

Don’t rely on cheesy incentive-based contests to build an audience, just become a gateway for others into the social media channel and you’ll develop followers. Teach, guide and help others adopt and use the social media service. It’s not difficult to do and everyone benefits in the end.

Visibility is also reliant on your participation levels. When I first started using Sphinn, I submitted a good deal of stories everyday and always voted new stories religiously. I deliberated maintained the high submission volume because I wanted my avatar to become more familiar to the other Sphinn users.

When you think about visibility, think about it in terms of familiarity or brand recognition as well. You not only want people to see your profile, you want them to know and recognize it instantly. Broad visibility will give you a lot of opportunities for networking, which helps you along the way.

2. Active Participation: Maintaining a Continuous Presence

Image Credit: Danboard Super Box

The more active you are on a social media channel, the more likely you are to build a strong reputation. The amount of time you spend on the site is directly proportionate to the growth of your brand presence. To be highly active via a social media website, you need to strategically set aside time to use it everyday.

You must not only be active but regular. Don’t use the website for 2 weeks and then disappear for a month. I’ve seen this happen for Digg users and when they come back after a while, they’ll find that other users have un-friended them and may find it difficult to get people to notice their submissions.

This applies to all social media profiles. Attention or influence accumulates. Strive to build on what you’ve gained. Just sitting back and slacking off limits your potential for maximum visibility. When you are entering into social media, the best thing to do is to maintain a continous presence from the start.

I treat social websites like I treat email. I am most active two times a day, morning and night. In between, I use social media sporadically: only when I comes across interesting content to share with other users. I’ve done the same for many months and it has become a habit of some sort.

The initial stage of building a profile will always require an investment of your time. Take it from me: it gets easier over time. At the moment, I spend considerably less energy and time on all my social media profiles than when I first started. Why? Because established brands tend to spread themselves.

3. Practice Reciprocity: Seek Win-Win Outcomes

Image Credit: Famous Film Moments

In social news websites, users often vote because of the submitter and not the story. This is because they are reciprocating votes given to their own stories or sites. Psychologists likeRobert Cialdini have mentioned that reciprocation is a natural component of human relationships. It’s not strange to find it in social media.

But instead of merely trading votes, trade attention and other assets. When someone shows interest in your social profile by linking to or promoting it, keep an eye out for the his/her profile or interests as well. Go beyond mere site-specific functions and think about how you and the other user can collaborate in mutually-beneficial ventures.

Reciprocation is not just a mechanical game of blind, circular suppport but a pro-active tactic. Instead of reacting, take the initiative doing someone a favor, and ask nothing in return. The unspoken rule of reciprocation will ensure that it’ll come back to you. Even if you don’t get anything in return, at least you’ve made a friend.

And friends matter a great deal in social media.

4. Effective Communication: Conversations are Important

social media conversations
Image Credit: LSW2-19

A good social media profile is always open to communication. Request and listen to feedback. Learn from the people around you. Make it easy for others to contact you away from the social media channels by providing your contact information.

Communication also involves some power networking: try to interact with other fellow social media users by talking about the community or other common interests.

When you’re communicating, you’re learning. When I talk to other social media users, I almost always learn something new. Even experts need the grapevine.

It’s impossible for anyone to know everything and anything to do with social media, let alone be perpetually updated with the latest happenings with each website. Let other social media users be your informants, let them be your teachers.

Communication is an integral part of building relationships and its a good way to make new friends or acquaintances that may benefit you in the future. Talking to other people is also fun and it enriches the social media experience. Conversations are a big part of social media: Keep this in mind.

Although I might not be available on IM every day, I do try to reach out to the people who are most active on the same social media channels. These are the people I like to talk to the most because they are actively engaged as I am. Make a point to connect whenever you have issues to discuss and not only when you need a favor.

5. Support the Community: Putting the Collective Before Oneself

support the community
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A good social media user supports the community in many ways. She reports bugs, shares feedback about the site and highlights issues concerning other users. When you see other social media users struggling to broadcast news about the community, help them to spread the word.

A successful social media profile is one that is well integrated with the collective. And that integration is naturally developed when one is passionate or supportive of other users in the community and the site itself. Offer constructive criticisms of these websites and help other users to get heard.

While using Digg, I’ve noticed a few users who consistently shout or promote the stories of other users. They have nothing to gain except that they believe the story deserves to be on the frontpage. These users are selfless and they care more about the community than their own digg submission/frontpage record.

While there aren’t many of these users, they demonstrate a mentality that I think should be adopted more often in social media. When you build a profile or enter into social media, think in terms of the collective first before you focus on your self.

This not only allows you to develop credibility but naturally leads me into the next point on providing value.

6. Provide Value Above All: Gaining Trust and Attention

provide value above all
Image Credit: Lego clonetrooper on Brighton beach

There is one reason why you should provide value before expecting profit when it comes to social media: value leads to the development of trust. To build a successful brand through social media, you should first earn trust by providing value through your participation.

For instance when I started using Digg/Sphinn, I mostly submitted stories from other websites instead of mine. I deliberately minimized the benefits I could get from each channel even though both of them welcome the submissions of your own articles.

Why? Because the impression of providing excellent value is one I want to associate with my profile. I ended up submitting tons of articles from other sites and directed millions of visitors to them. I didn’t ask for anything in return.

I’m sure you’ve seen Digg users who submit nothing but their own website all the time. There’s nothing wrong with it inherently but this gives one a bad reputation among other users. If you do it aggressively enough, you’ll may even be labeled a spammer and your site might be blacklisted/penalized by other users or site admins.

What’s the problem here? Simple. You’re not contributing value to the community, you’re only trying to extract benefits. This doesn’t work. If you look like you’re constantly trying to pitch your affiliate link or drive traffic to your site, you’re never going to build a popular social media profile.

The sad truth is that if you focus on providing value, other users will trust and follow you or your site more closely. You gain attention and your brand grows, which often leads to greater benefits in the future in terms of traffic, reputation or connections.

This is the way I built up profiles on every social site I’ve used. Provide value above all. Don’t overfocus on extracting benefits. You can’t go wrong with this strategy.

7. Demonstrate Integrity

Image Credit: Then from…

You want to make sure that you’re developing a legitimate social media profile because many people are keeping their eye on you. There’s no point in creating a strong social media presence only to do something stupid to mess up your reputation.

When I talk about ethics, I’m mainly referring to personal principles, unwritten community rules and each site’s Terms of Use. Don’t do anything that violates each social media website’s rules. Even if you really want to do something against the regulations, at least make sure you don’t get caught.

You can bend the rules a little and experiment with social media but make sure that what is visible to your audience is legitimate. A large part of the social media audience will not appreciate you breaking the rules if they discover it. It only takes a few people and a few words to damage your social media profile.

Unwritten rules may vary for each website and you’ll probably get a hang of what to do or what not do after you’ve participated and talked to other social media users. These rules are not set in stone and you can act outside of established norms, although you should do it in a way which frames yourself in a positive light.

Apart from self-preservation, ethics can also improve your reputation of your brand in social media. Integrity is a much respected characteristic by all, so tailor your behavior to demonstrate that. This is especially important for new brands entering social media, since they have no previous clout to leverage.

Image Credit: Justice League plus Harley Quinn

For example, I know what I share on Twitter will be seen by all my followers I make sure to only share non-spammy and useful/interesting websites. When I submit a digg story, it has a 44% chance of hitting the digg frontpage, so I make sure the site I’m submitting is legitimate.

Precautions like this may seem minor but people notice what you do. Once I’ve had a user message me to tell me that a story I submitted to Digg was stolen from another website. I emailed digg support and had them remove the story immediately.

I don’t want my name to be associated with plagiarism of any form. You might think it’s not a big deal but reputation is built step by step from the ground up.

Your brand is simply a summation of many situations, all compounded into a coherent whole. Every public action matters. In short, take a stand on what you believe in, demonstrate integrity and use each social media website ethically to protect your established reputation.

And that concludes the characteristics of a popular social media profile. If you’ve got questions, feel free to leave them in the comments. I’ll be glad to answer them.

Fundamentals of Social Media Marketing is a tutorial series which teaches you how to utilize the power of social media channels to get more exposure for your brand, website and business. The post you’ve just read is the 8th article in the series.

Posted by ABDUL SABOOR Thursday, October 8, 2009


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