Can Twitter damage your professional brand? Oh, let me count the ways.

First, let me say I’m not writing this as a social media “expert,” nor would I ever purport to be. I’m posting this blog as your average professional who uses social media tools as a way to enhance her business. I know there are millions of you out there in my club, trying to do the right things, stay current, contribute selectively, while fitting it in with an already busy life.

So while I don’t aim to even approach any bleeding social edge, I have built a career helping people and companies establish and manage brands, and ran a PR firm for a decade. Now, as a leadership coach, I help professionals improve their careers and options, and capitalize on the power of their positions. Personal branding is a critical and portable part of building a career, whether you call it influence, persuasion, networking or marketing.

All of this has given me a fairly critical eye for what’s in service to one’s professional brand, and what confuses the heck out of people. It’s also why I felt compelled to write this blog post. (And an entire chapter in my upcoming book.)

As I engage in social media, I see a lot of behavior that seriously interferes with building a thoughtful personal brand that demonstrates competence, thought-leadership, or frankly, good judgment. This is usually not done lightly or purposefully, but incrementally and accidentally.

And there is no murkier branding water to wade through than Twitter, where the cheese factor is high, tackiness abounds, and metaphorical state fair hair is everywhere. You start to wonder…are there different rules here for professional brand?

Don’t be fooled. The answer is no.

Some of you reading this aren’t on Twitter, and aren’t sure if you ever will be. Even as a late adopter, I have to admit it’s surprised me with its benefits. It’s a constant flow of information, allows your message to reach masses, and establishes thought leadership more quickly than any other tool out there. It’s also not as formidable as it seems once you figure out all the Tweetspeak. (Here’s a key for all those weird # symbols, RTs and abbreviated words.) Beyond that, it’s like speaking through any other medium: What do you want your brand to be and how do you communicate to enhance it?

If you’re trying to develop your professional brand on Twitter, whether you’re a leader, consultant, manager or young executive, here’s my best advice:

1. Determine what you want to be known for, and make sure that every Tweet hits that point, even tangentially. If your expertise is IT, branding, leadership, accounting, etc. make that your consistent theme.

2.  Be personable but not personal. We want to see your personality, but it’s not necessary to tell us what you ate for dinner. A professional brand is not the same as a personal or entertainment brand.

3. It’s possible to Tweet too much. There’s a difference between being a social media phenomenon and a credible professional who happens to use social media. While the former might be a novelty, it’s tough to argue for spending thousands to actually hire them. Robotically sending out Tweets every 15 minutes is a bit creepy (and makes us wonder if you’re busy enough). Try for a few per day.

4. Avoid auto replies for new followers. While these are tolerable to say “thanks for the follow” it gets quickly annoying if you’re trying to get me to your Facebook page, blog or website.

5. Don’t use tricky schemes to get followers to click links. It feels good when you get click thrus, retweets and new followers. However, don’t resort to cheap sales gimmicks like writing misleading teasers to trick followers. Lots of people advise on ways to write gotcha Tweets. It’s cheesy, not  professional.

5. Provide helpful information. Whether finding articles to refer, retweeting relevant blogs, or recommending a conference, speak to the audience you are trying to create. You never know how far your tweets will go, and the more consistently useful and relevant, the faster your community will build. (Hashtags help too.) Tweet about your blog or company as well, just not exclusively.

6. Understand social media metrics, but don’t be a slave to them. Blogger, and real social media expert, Jeff Bullas had a great post about figuring out your Twitter reputation. It’s good information to know and keep in mind, and services like Klout are fun to use. However, for most professionals this is a long-term, ongoing initiative that will build over time. It’s more important to have 50 of the right followers than 5,000 spam artists following you.

If you’re on the fence about Twitter, jump in. You can engage in a way that’s helpful to your professional goals, and stays manageable. I did, and even though I didn’t expect to, I’ve been able to expand my business through it. Who knew? (Yes, I hear ya social media experts. Millions of people knew.)

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About kristihedges
Executive coach, leadership development consultant, Forbes.com blogger, Entrepreneur.com contributor, author of Power of Presence (AMACOM).

2 Responses to Can Twitter damage your professional brand? Oh, let me count the ways.

  1. PaulCarneyJr says:

    Great post, Kristi. I, too, just started using Twitter earlier this year and was surprised at the amount of information available. I also found it a great way to connect with people who have related interests and be able to share information with each other.

    Your advice about the amount of posts and relevance to your “brand” is so important. I can verify that there are a few people whom I respect that write things on Twitter that I wish they would not write because it lowers their credibility. I will be sure to pass along your article to them.

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