Q: I have a good customer base. Why do I need to worry about my professional online identity?
A: You want to make sure you engage with your current customer base online, and you also want to be visible to people doing Google searches for you or your products or services.
Q: I already rank high on Google. Do I need to still be on social media?
A: According to a recent Harris Interactive study of 2,000 hiring managers, 37% of companies went beyond Google and looked at social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to investigate candidates. Only 15% said their company policy prohibits snooping on social media for background checks. This doesn't just affect prospective employees looking for work, it also affects contractors working on projects. For many smaller businesses, you are the face of your business.
Q: Where do I start?
A: Establishing an effective and professional online web presence doesn't have to be rocket science. Follow these five tips and you will be well on your way!
1: Develop a personal website as your online anchor
While it's good to be on social media, it's critical to have your own domain – a personal, professional website that you can use as an online anchor. This isn't just a company site – you need that too – this is a site that is your public online presence.
You don't need to spend thousands of dollars to build a professional-looking website.
One of the best tools for this is the free and open-source WordPress, the most popular blogging and content management system with approximately 20% of the web using it. You could get a free site on the hosted WordPress.com service and purchase its domain mapping service that enables you to use a custom domain name.
2. Install measurement systems
One of the first things you should do on your new site is to set up a web analytics tool such as the free Google Analytics (www.google.com/analytics) so you can track who is coming to your site, where they are coming from, how long they are staying there, which pages they leave from, etc. You should also set up a Google Alert (www.google.com/alerts). You can enter keywords such as your name and company name and also select how frequently you want to receive alerts and which region you want Google to focus on. Whenever the Google search index comes across your name being used, it will send you an email alert with a link to the web source.
As part of your website, be sure to have a blog and write regular posts, at least once a month if not more frequently. Make sure your posts are not self-advertising but instead offer some valuable insights or commentary on your industry. This will help establish you as a reputable person in your industry.
4. Leverage Twitter and LinkedIn
There are a lot of social media networks you could start using, including Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Foursquare. The two that will likely have the biggest impact for your business are Twitter and LinkedIn. LinkedIn has much more of a professional business networking focus than the more personally oriented Facebook. Twitter is a great way to follow leaders in your industry and connect with colleagues, potential employers and customers. It's good to follow the 80:20 rule: 80% of what you post should be about news, trends and tips, and only 20% should promote your products and services. No one wants to follow an advertising stream.
5. Continuous improvement
Now that you have your measurement systems in place, you should at least once a month monitor how you are doing and make adjustments as necessary. How fast are your social media connections growing? Are people starting to engage with your website and blog? How many unique and return visitors are you getting to your website? Most importantly, how is your professional online presence turning into leads, sales and revenue? •