The Internet gives consultants the opportunity to showcase our expertise for a broad audience while also allowing us to define our niche. We once relied on a web page to represent us online, but people are now turning to social media to find reliable “experts.” Platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube allow us to reach beyond our traditional groups to make the case for our value to those who may not otherwise seek our assistance. This two-part post discusses the value of social media for the public history professional. Part One focuses on how to use social media for networking. Part Two focuses on using online networking to find potential clients.
In the Beginning There Were Listservs
A year and a half ago, I was offered an interesting opportunity to speak at an Australian library conference. In an effort to publicize one of my books, I posted information about it on the PubLib list and it was here that it got attention from a colleague overseas. Listservs have been around since the 1980s, when a student developed the idea to automate the management of email lists so that messages could be broadcasted to a wide audience. I began using them as a young librarian as a go-to place to get advice from colleagues and to network. Listservs are still one of the first places I turn to find colleagues. My invitation was affirmation of the value of this “old” standard form of what we now call “social media.” In the early 1990s, there was no alternative to the listserv. If one wanted to network with colleagues in another way, one would need to pick up a telephone, go for a visit, or attend a conference. Today, the choices are almost limitless.
Explore and Choose Your Social Media Platform
Every day, people are developing new, sometimes more efficient ways to reach out to others around the globe. A consultant who stays abreast of these diverse online tools will have an advantage, but the trick is to explore and then settle in. Find the online tools that work for you and use them. Use them regularly. Merely putting yourself out there is not enough. You must engage your audience, which for the purpose of today’s blog post is made up of your colleagues. People want to get to know you. They want to learn your interests. They want to learn to trust you and what you have to say. You need to stick around long enough for them to do that. One thing to keep in mind about social media is that there is no possible way for you to use everything. There is not enough time in your day to commit to using everything regularly. Try new technologies and then wisely choose those that will best reach your audiences.
Every professional should have a presence on LinkedIn. This tool is recognized as the place to network with colleagues irrespective of your field. There are other similar places online to network such as Ecademy and Xing, but LinkedIn is the largest and most recognized. LinkedIn allows me to connect with colleagues much like “friending” on Facebook and many of its components work similarly. On LinkedIn, I post my resume, information about my business, references, and status updates. On LinkedIn, I connect to professional groups and seek introductions to others beyond my own professional circle, through mutual connections, to assist me when needed. Similar to Facebook, LinkedIn allows me to cast a broad net to reach my audience, but it also allows me to hone in on those with closely related interests through the “Groups” feature.
My favorite online networking tool, by far, is Twitter. Twitter is unique. It allows you to post in a short blurb, anything that is on your mind. There are many ways to use it as a social networking tool, to build a following and to create conversation. I tried Twitter at first by “following” some people in the history field. My own tweets (postings) consisted of generic tips on managing archives, which is my general area of expertise. Here are some ways I tweet:
- I start the morning by scanning archives news online and then tweet stories that interest me or that I think my followers would find interesting.
- I retweet interesting posts by others and comment regularly (there is that word again) on what they have to say. (Aim to promote yourself and others. What goes around comes around on the Internet!)
- I tweet quotes from my books and other writings.
- I follow Twitter memes (trendy topics) that relate to my field and discuss them with colleagues.
- I use hashtags # that serve as a way to catalog tweets so that those who are interested in different topics can find them. #archives #museum #library #history #familyhistory are some of the standard ones I use that have helped get me noticed in my own field.
- I check in numerous times during the day and post about interesting things that are happening, important business related news I come across, and to check what others are saying. I learn from my colleagues and they learn from me.
Twitter interweaves with my work. I have a strong enough network that I can jump on and ask a question of a particular person who I know would have an answer for me. People do the same of me. What are some quantifiable ways that Twitter has helped me among professionals? I have been asked simple questions of colleagues who see me as an “expert” in certain areas. I have been invited to write on blogs (such as this one), and I have been invited to make presentations through my Twitter connections.
Online social networking offers you the opportunity to get to know people outside of your usual social circle. You can make connections with people around the world and with people in related fields who you may not meet, for example, at conferences. I have connections to other archivists and librarians, but also to reporters, genealogists, museum professionals, historians, art historians and others who recognize me as a colleague promoting cultural heritage.
Building connections takes time and patience. Put yourself out there and see where it takes you. You may find yourself with connections and opportunities that you never before considered.
~ Melissa Mannon