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Imagine this! A friend asks you to help her with a fundraising event, and out of kindness and because you believe in the mission, you agree to help; suddenly, your world has completely changed through the discovery and power of social media.
That is exactly what happened to me!
About a year ago, I was part of an advisory board committee charged with the task of raising money for a school project in Haiti. At first, I did what most people do when raising fund for a cause – I started a personal network. After all, those personal friends and colleagues who know and trust your work are usually supportive.
My friend Jay Corcoran, who has always been a strong supporter of Haiti, agreed to make a donation, and then he said something that I’ll never forget: “I want you to think about building a presence on social media. Since you love Haiti, social media can really help you expand your reach.” Of course, like many people who either don’t understand social media or don’t see a need for it, I naturally resisted. “I don’t understand this whole social media phenomenon,” I replied. At the time, I was barely active on Facebook, let alone the other platforms, but Jay Corcoran, perceiving a vision of what I could do, insisted and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll show you how, and we can start with Twitter.” In my mind, I thought, “But you are so busy with your job and your own projects, how are you going to have time?” True to his word, he made time in the following weeks to guide me.
While learning Twitter, I decided to test social media by using Facebook to do my tiny fundraising campaign. In just about two months, my small effort led me to raise about $800. I began to connect the dots on how this medium could be used to create a platform to change Haiti. From there, I made it my goal to study and learn the various platforms of social media, starting with Twitter. I would participate in every webinar and workshop, and explore every reference that my spare time would allow.
Social media is fun, but there is a lot of hard work involved in building a presence. Below are the seven lessons I’ve learned over the course of the past year.
1. Have a Strong Commitment
Developing a social media brand for a personal or business reason is a commitment. A common theme I would often hear from Jay Corcoran and other social media influencers is the need to be consistent. In my mind, consistency is synonymous with commitment. I decided to commit 15 minutes every day to finding interesting stories to update my Twitter feed – the social media world calls this method “curating.” The consistency paid off. During the second week, people started retweeting my posts, and my followers’ base began to grow. And, in just over a year my small commitment led to 2000 organic followers.
2. Be a Silent Learner and an Active Doer
It’s important that you spend the first few months being a silent learner while you focus on finding great content to share with your followers. Although I am still learning, I am more comfortable now inserting myself into conversations with my followers or just responding to posts that resonate with me.
By learning silently, by sharing great content and easing into the community, you’ll draw those influencers who are respected in their industry into recognizing and following you. I remember when Ann Tran followed me; that was exciting because she is one of the first major influencers that I wanted to connect with. Her love for travel and social media were the leading motivations. I started thinking ahead, that one day she would visit my beloved birthplace. I knew if she followed me, she’d likely get a balanced view of Haiti.
3. Make Your Profile Take a Stand in Social Media
The moment someone reads my profile, he or she clearly understands some of my passions. Your profile is what my friend Jay Corcoran calls your real estate, and it must tell your story, and that story should continue to evolve as you grow in your knowledge and life experience.
4. Be Helpful and Not a Burden
In social media, it is recommended that you make an effort to give more than you take. At first, I didn’t understand what that meant, but after putting these wise words into practice, I see that they work. Ann Tran makes a habit of retweeting her followers, including me, even though our audiences are different, and now I do likewise.
Although my primary subjects are Haiti, business, leadership, and the Haitian-diasporas, and many of my non-Haitian followers may not necessarily care about what’s going on in Haiti, I find a tweet that can resonate with my Haitian followers, and it’s usually an inspirational quote.
Another way to be helpful is by commenting on other people’s tweets, or connecting followers who could benefit from a mutual business introduction based on my knowledge of their backgrounds.
5. Be Confident in Your Own Strengths
I learned that it’s important to focus on planting your own seeds to grow your own forest.
I often observed people on Twitter whose main goal is to try to get the attention of “famous influencers.” Don’t make that your goal; instead, focus on building your own platform. If you’re doing good work and you are providing value, they will eventually hear about you and start noticing you.
Have the confidence that you are unique and have something of value to share. Not everyone will need what you have to share, but those who are looking for the type of message you are about will find you.
6. Have Healthy Opinions, and Don’t Let Anyone Dictate Your Platform
It’s not healthy to have a reputation on Twitter as someone who is obnoxious and contentious. People are always watching, even if you don’t think they are. Be mindful of what you are building and what negative perceptions you may be creating in social media.
Also be aware that no matter how conscious you are, some followers will eventually have a problem with a post you share. For example, since I’ve worked and lived in Haiti, I have strong opinions about some of the things taking place there. However, my goal is to express them in a way where I am open to all sides while discussing the solutions.
7. Stay the Course and Do Not Let a Setback Discourage You
Building a social media presence can feel like the stock market — you never know what you’re going to discover or learn in a given day. Building a brand on social media means that you will experience some ups and downs, especially if you are consistent. Expect people to unfollow you daily or at least several times a week, but don’t let that discourage you.
However, if 20 to 30 of your followers start to unfollow daily, then you need to pay attention. Maybe you’re posting too much without informing them, or maybe you are sharing information that is completely off your topic. Some of the people who started following me in the beginning are no longer part of my network, and that’s fine. Your goal is find people who are compatible with your message.
Likewise, it’s vital to monitor and assess the people you’re following. You’ll find that from time to time, you need to unfollow some of your followers who are not active or engaged in the medium.
As you venture on building a strong social media presence, I hope some of these key lessons I have learned can help.
Your turn… if you have recently started using social media, what are some things you have learned? For those with more experience, what else would you add to this list? Share your comments below.
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Note: This article was also published in Haiti Business Week (HBW).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Daniella Bien-Aime is a Haitian-American blogger, an adult learning and leadership development specialist, teacher, trainer and social media enthusiast. Passionate about Haiti, she is a graduate of Teachers College, Columbia University with a Master’s in Adult Learning and Leadership. You can follow her blog at www.daniellabien-aime.com and Twitter @dbienaime.