Most accounting, finance and business systems professionals understand that social media can be a powerful tool for building their personal brands and finding consulting opportunities. However, many aren't sure how to use social media effectively in building a consulting network.
Here are five tips for getting it right:
1. Have a complete, professional LinkedIn profile
If you haven't built a LinkedIn profile yet — that is, a strong one — do so as soon as possible. LinkedIn is vital for networking online with other consulting professionals and executives (and potential employers). List key accomplishments such as recently completed professional certifications or training sessions so those who view your profile can get a better idea of your capabilities. And don’t forget to optimize your profile to increase traffic to your information by choosing the right keywords.
Also, make individual requests for recommendations from former colleagues and managers who know you well enough to highlight your strengths. Just be sure you're prepared to return the favor if asked.
2. Participate in discussion groups
Another way to use social media to build your consulting network is to get involved in online conversations relevant to the accounting and finance profession. Spend a few minutes each day commenting on discussion threads in LinkedIn groups or participating in Twitter chats or Google+ Hangouts. Make a point to follow and respond thoughtfully to posts by thought leaders in the accounting and finance industry.
By participating in relevant discussion groups, you can meet people with similar interests and find opportunities to expand your consulting network. You can also earn a positive reputation: Depending on the significance and popularity of your Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn contributions, you could build your name in your field.
3. Avoid becoming a 'hyper-networker'
Focus on quality over quantity when using social media to grow your professional network. The hyper-networker who wants to link up with everybody on every social media outlet they engage in risks coming across as insincere or over-the-top. For example, frequently sending out mass emails or message blasts to all your contacts is generally not a good idea because it's impersonal. Group messages in Facebook look gimmicky and are often ignored.
4. Use tags and categories
To avoid hyper-networking in the LinkedIn community, use tags to categorize your connections. You can create as many tag categories as you want, such as "AICPA contacts" or "forensic accounting consultants." Then, you can sort your connections and send targeted messages. Although tags are not entirely personal, they'll help center discussion on topics more specific and tailored to your audience and, therefore, will be more likely to be read.
You can also use tools, such as TweetDeck, to organize your Twitter contacts.
5. Consider connecting your accounts
If you connect your social media accounts, you can post your LinkedIn updates directly to Twitter. Accumulating a "portfolio" of relevant posts for others to reference can help you become an established expert in one or more areas. Your network will grow as people contact you with questions, speaking or blogging opportunities, or even job offers.
If you're just too busy to keep up with all your accounts, apps can help you schedule social media updates that will automatically post at times you appoint throughout your day. (Buffer is one popular choice.) Be careful though — using only automatic posts diminishes your personal engagement and could turn away followers, which can work against your goal of expanding your consulting network. Strike a good balance between personal and automated updates.
It may take some time and effort for you to maximize the benefits of social media, but thoughtful and regular use of mainstream channels like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter can go a long way toward helping you grow your consulting network and build your professional brand.
As you build your consulting network, don't forget to add one critical member: a reputable staffing firm. Learn why a staffing firm should be part of your network and how this type of contact can benefit your career.