Now, with that in mind, please let me preface this by saying that in many ways, I feel like any kind of online presence I have began by accident. I never really set out to cultivate an online presence, I was only ever trying to learn: I didn’t have a business, or even a blog, to promote. I probably did a lot of things wrong in the text book sort of way. In some ways, I probably still do. But, since people seem to be interested, here are the tips I have to offer. Please feel free to add to this list in the comments.
1. Leverage Twitter
I realize Twitter is just one social network; a social network without a viable business model that could disappear tomorrow, but while it’s still around use it!
There’s no other platform out there that lets you access people who are already where you want to be with so little acquaintance. On Twitter, you can have passing conversations with a CNN Anchor, a Director of Corporate Communication for a major pro sports league and a CEO all in one day, not to mention all the people who are just super smart and doing great work. If you build your relationships organically, through genuine, authentic discussion, you can have direct access to your mentors and precious professional connections you may never have had the opportunity to cultivate otherwise.
2. Make friends first
If you’re interested in throwing your voice into the mix of any social network or community of bloggers, start participating in their content, have conversations, meet face-to-face with as many of them as possible. Form relationships in social networks before you start your own blog or start trying to get people to participate in your content – whatever that may be. If you already have a blog, participate in other peoples’ stuff anyway. Promote them and comment on their stuff. Eventually, they will be curious enough to check you out in the same way. They may even promote and comment on your stuff. Building relationships gives people a reason to care about your content.
3. Listen to smart people (and meet them offline if possible)
One of the first online people I made sure to meet offline was Chris Brogan. He was giving a chat one morning on social media at an ITEC conference. I took the day off of work and went down to see him speak. After the presentation, I spent a good portion of the afternoon asking him a lot of questions and sharing a lot of unsolicited opinions.
Luckily Chris is a pretty patient guy, but at some point during the conversation he told me that I should start my own blog. If I recall correctly, he said something like… You’re really smart. In fact, you’re so smart that I would ask you to write a guest post for my blog, but where would I send my readers… your Twitter page? Maybe he was just being nice, but it made me feel like I should probably be contributing something more.
I was really afraid to start sharing my opinions with the world (and Google), but then I thought no one would actually read them… so, what the heck? I’m glad I was wrong and people actually do read my blog, but in the beginning, if I’m being totally honest, it gave me a lot of anxiety. Sometimes it still does. But once people like you started reading and subscribing to my blog, I started feeling a sense of responsibility to write stuff and a lot more comfortable sharing my thoughts.
Since meeting Chris, I’ve met lots of other really interesting people who are doing great work in the realm of social media including Scott Monty, Brian Solis, Jason Falls, Kami Huyse, David Armano, Kaitlyn Wilkins (aka the Catch Up Lady) and Jeremy Tanner. In the case of each of these people, I knew them from reading their blogs and interacting with them on Twitter before ever meeting them offline. There are others I could include on this list, but you get the point. Find out who’s in your town and go see them, drive long distances if you must and go to every conference you possibly can to meet the smartest, most influential people in your sphere.
4. Be interested
In the wise words of Harvey Danger from the song Flagpole Sitta, “If you’re bored then you’re boring”. To be interesting you need to be interested. Phoning in content or conversations online is a waste of time. You’re better off taking a break.
5. Forget everything I just said
Really, what do I know? What worked for me may not work for you, but I don’t know that — only you know that. It’s not about right and wrong, it’s just about sharing what we feel works for us with others so they can take it or leave it or make it even better.
There is no magic bullet. In some ways it feels like telling people to eat right and exercise. The people who are really into living this way seem to get it immediately. However, those who want to reap the benefits without the work will just keep researching crackpot schemes promising to make you an online influencer overnight, or some other such nonsense. The irony is that things can happen so quickly online anyway. Why push the river?
Maybe building an online presence requires a sort of lifestyle change. There are things I do every day now that I didn’t do a year ago. I post updates on Twitter, check my blog stats, read and comment on other peoples’ blogs, answer comments on my blog on a daily basis… this is all in addition to writing for my blog and working full time.
I still feel like I’m figuring out all of this as I go and you probably should, too. I launched this blog in a single evening. I had no idea what to name it so I came up with Very Official Blog as a kind of joke. It stuck and I’m glad, because as serious as a lot of my posts are, I really, really love to laugh.
So this how I think I’ve been able to build my online presence. I’m sorry if you were looking for more of a step-by-step approach, but that’s really not my style. For me, there were no steps, just daily participation as myself. I’m sure I’m leaving a lot of other great advice out, like don’t worry about numbers and stuff like that, but a lot of other people have already said them better than I could, like Greg Verdino and Mack Collier.
Please feel free to add your thoughts here, I know a lot of people are looking to people like you and I to help them navigate and establish a presence on the social web. How do you cultivate your online presence? How did you get started?
How are you taking your presence to the next level in 2009? If you need some time to think on the matter, distract yourself with this very fun video and remember, if you’re bored then you’re boring… [vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/173714]
Update Dec. 29, 2008 – 11:12 a.m. EST: For those of you asking for some background information about the Flagpole Sitta Lip Dub video posted above, you should check out Christopher Ming Ryan’s blog. He wrote a post back in November that gives a bit of the back story of this video with some interesting details. Turns out the company used this as a recruitment tool… who knew?!
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