July 19, 2010

Maybe you work at selling a company product. Or maybe you work at selling yourself as a hot product. Either way, you need to have an interesting, focused online identity.

“It’s extremely important to have a strong position,” Jinal Shah told my New School class the other night. “You need to create a point of view for your audience.”

Jinal is what’s called a  “digital brand strategist,” one of the trendy jobs growing out of the Internet’s obsession with connecting via social media. Her employer, Electric Artists, is a Noho-based digital agency that helps clients like American Express, Starwood Hotels and the Food Network with building customer loyalty online.

Such a treat to have her visit with 12 of the students from my “Introduction to the New Journalism” class. Ranging in age from ages 22 to 48, they’re pursuing careers in immigrant rights, acting, interior decorating, psychopharmacology, journalism, public relations and more. I got a kick from watching Jinal mesmerize this diverse, non-conformist group with a 75-minute talk on how to succeed in business. To nail the lesson, Jinal also gave the lucky attendees feedback on their individual blogs.

Without acting preachy, she sold us on her personal brand: Future Digital Diva. “I get paid to be myself and just have fun!” she said and went on to charm us. Jinal was 18 when she left India to study journalism at Temple University. While at school, she started a blog about her “teen angst.” After graduation, the dream magazine job didn’t materialize. Instead, her blogging know-how put her on the digital strategist track.

The firm she works for provides what’s known in the jargon as “social media marketing, digital strategy and online public relations.” Very often, it begins with helping clients to create and manage blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts in smart, thoughtful ways.

Jinal Shah, digital media strategist

Here are the highlights from Jinal’s talk. The corporate strategies are easily adaptable to personal use:

  • Beware the 80/20 Rule. Usually, 80% of your customer feedback comes from only 20% of the customers.
  • The first eight to 10 posts are most important. So if someone criticizes you, don’t hit “delete.” That’s too controlling. Instead, add new, positive posts. That will push the “bad” comments further down on the computer screen.
  • Content is king. Develop a daily content calendar so followers know your routine. Eg, Maybe you’ll post about new products on Monday. Tuesday could be for a question that invites conversation (Eg, A shoe store might ask, What’s your must-have shoe for the summer?”)  Instead of customer anger, channel their passions in a positive way.
  • Be interesting. Have an online voice and personality. Your followers need to know that there’s a human on the other side of the computer. If this is a company account, sign off on every post with a person’s name.
  • Branding = targeting the right audience. Use precise, original language to distinguish yourself. If it’s about you as a personal brand, focus on the most interesting aspects of your life.
  • Know your audience. Then, decide how to reach them. Eg, 60-ish customers might prefer contact via a snail mail direct marketing campaign. The under 35 crowd will prefer Facebook, Twitter or even email.
  • Don’t just follow the industry. There’s an online “echo chamber” affect” where everyone ends up tweeting and Facebooking about the same thing. “Get beyond your comfort zone,” Jinal urged.
  • Ask for forgiveness, not permission. Try things out and “if your hand gets slapped, stop,” she said.
  • Social media is just like building relationships in real life. Yeah, sure, most of these so-called connections are minimal. But cultivate the top 100 connections and some of them will become genuine.

As for writing tips:

  • Number lists always work. Eg, 5 things to do in Paris.
  • People love links. Refer them to other sites that offer them info. Link love makes you useful.
  • Do your homework. “I’ve learned to never open my mouth unless it’s an informed opinion,” she said. Otherwise, the critics go after you.
  • Pay a lot of attention to headlines. That’s how Google and other search engines find your posts. Clear is better than clever.
  • Ask! On Facebook, people like open-ended questions.

Jinal mentioned that more and more companies are hiring people on staff to handle social media duties. These jobs have titles like community manager and chief communication official. Worth exploring! To learn more about Jinal Shah, check out her website at Thank you, Jinal!

And to learn more about this class, click here.