The developer’s guide to marketing & promotion: social media
Author: Jérémy Bourhis
3rd September 2015
Welcome to our new blog series, The Developer’s Guide to Marketing and Promotion. Throughout this series we’ll be looking at ways to promote yourself and your skills with minimal time and effort but measurable results.
This first part in the series looks at how you can realistically and effectively use social media to help you reach your goals and improve your online presence. We’ll be outlining:
- Setting goals
- Dedicating time
- Choosing networks
- What to say
- How to say it
- When to post
- Who to follow
- Tracking & improving
- Next steps
All the sections of this article work independently of each other so if you don’t feel a part is relevant to you, simply skip to something you’re more interested in.
Defining what you want to achieve will form the basis of how you use social media and ensure your messages stay focused. Using social media because you feel you should or because everyone else is won’t let you create a solid foundation. You need to consider what you want to gain from it.
The most successful strategies are those that have clear goals behind them. Maybe you want to use social networks to source more work, to develop interesting/useful contacts, to promote your content, to build authority, increase website traffic, get more out of hacks/conferences, or myriad other reasons. Social media can also be useful as a mid-step that brings you closer to a goal, for example getting involved with a project, contributing a guest article to a website, etc.
Your goals could be as specific as ‘Increase number of followers by X’ or as vague as ‘Build relationships with some interesting people’. Since they’re your own personal goals, it’s up to you. However, make sure they’re realistic. Keep redefining your goals if they feel too easy or too difficult, otherwise you’ll soon lose interest.
Once you’ve created a shortlist of reasons to use social media and your goals, you can make key decisions – what networks you’re going to be active on, what you’re going to say, and how much time you’re going to spend – a lot more easily.
One of the reasons that people are put off using social media is that they think they won’t have enough time to dedicate to it. However, the quality and consistency of the time you spend are actually far more important. Even if you can only spare twenty minutes a week to schedule some posts, that’s better than binge posting for a month and then forgetting to post anything for the next three. Spending too much time on social media can even be a disadvantage – you definitely don’t want your clients or boss to think that’s all you do.
Set aside a reasonable block of time that you can dedicate indefinitely each day or week, and then develop your social media routine based on what’s possible with the time you have. This is much more sustainable in the long term and prevents your social networking becoming unmanageable or stressful. Within your block you’ll want to make time for posting content, responding to comments and actions, and admin tasks (such as reviewing analytics, following/unfollowing, creating lists, etc).
Make the most of your time by using a scheduling tool or app such as Buffer or Hootsuite that will stagger the sending of your messages for maximum impact. We tend to post our own content once and then publish an ‘In case you missed it’ tweet linking to it again a couple of days later. As well as sharing blog posts, don’t forget to share links to your other social channels and key website pages, as well as third party content.
Combine your scheduling software with an RSS reader like Feedly so you’re never at a loss for something to say. Set up a specific category with great sites whose content you’re likely to share on social media, and schedule posts from that, making sure to tag the author’s username to increase your chances of engagement from them. Choose content that you find interesting and that your audience is likely to find interesting, too. Ideally the third party content you share should be a mix of stuff from authority industry figures, people you aspire to build relationships with, people you already have relationships with, customers, and companies whose products/services you use professionally.
Can’t decide on where to focus your attention? Ask yourself:
- Do my customers (or target customers) use this network?
- Do people in my industry use this network?
- Do companies relevant to my professional interests use this network?
As a developer, chances are your professional social media life will be based more around the likes of Twitter, Google+, and GitHub, and possibly LinkedIn and Facebook. Don’t fall into the trap of overcommitting yourself. If you’re developing a presence on multiple social networks, pick one or two that you consider primary commitments, and then have the others as ones you automatically cross-post to (IFTTT recipes are great for this). However, remember that posting isn’t even half the job; engagement and replies are just as important, so secondary networks will still require your time and effort.
While it’s a good idea to reserve your preferred username on up-and-coming networks, don’t rush in to be an early adopter in terms of actively using it. See what your industry and customers do first to avoid wasting your time.
If one of your goals is to build your client base or increase your authority, it’s no bad thing to be in places that only your target customers frequent because there’s far less competition. For example, joining small business forums or groups on LinkedIn means you’ll be in the minority as a developer and therefore much better positioned to offer advice and gain clients.
Branding is a whole series of blog posts in its own right, but here’s a quick checklist to get you started.
- Make sure all URLs to your web properties are up to date, even on networks you no longer use.
- Try to use the same username on every network (or as close as possible).
- Decide on a strategy for images: you may want to use the same image on every network for consistency, or an image specific to the style of that network (e.g. a formal professional photo on LinkedIn vs a casual, friendly photo on Twitter).
- Ensure your bios are up to date and include relevant keywords.
- Check all cover images are relevant and good quality.
- Read back over the last dozen messages you posted to check the tone is in line with how you want to project yourself.
- Review your text to make sure your formatting is consistent, e.g. Whether You Use Title Case For Headlines, whether or not you use a URL shortener, etc.
- Make sure your links to your social media profiles are clearly indicated on your website, in your email signature, and on any physical assets such as business cards.
This list should be revisited every few months, because social networks update image sizes and so on fairly regularly as well as introduce new features requiring an action on your part.
You’ll also want to think about how much of your content is personal and how much professional or semi-professional. Unless you have a specific preference or strategy, it’s generally best to leave personal content for non-public networks. Some networks also allow for finer control, for example Facebook, where you can have a professional page that is separate from your personal Facebook profile, or segment post privacy for followers vs friends.
What to say
This is where a lot of developers hit a brick wall. Think of it like a Venn diagram of what you’re interested in, and what your target audience is interested in. The union in the middle is what you should say. If you’re not sure what that is yet, don’t worry – everyone starts out in that situation. Begin with posting things you’re interested in, looking at what gets the most interaction (and theorizing why). Anything particularly new or that people have strong feelings about is likely to get more attention.
We covered using Feedly and a scheduling tool to curate third party content efficiently in the Dedicating Time part of this guide. However, when it comes to your own updates and content, there are plenty of different approaches you can adopt. At least some of your messages should tie into your social media goals, for example:
- Sending traffic to your website – Link to a variety of your posts and pages, and ensure you have a good content strategy in place to keep momentum going.
- Building your authority – Get involved in conversations where you can help people out. One way to do this is to track Twitter searches for a particular term using a tool like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck. You can also see what conversations your contacts are currently involved in and join in.
- Developing new contacts – If you have an idea about who you want to get to know, simply interact with them based on what they’re posting, or politely ask for their opinion on something. Adding people to lists is also a good way to get noticed. If you aren’t sure how to find target contacts, take a look at our Who to follow section.
- Gaining new customers – Consider what types of questions your target customers ask, what they’re interested in, and how you help solve their problems. Then simply set up searches (as detailed above) based on keywords and questions to find and talk to them directly.
- Stick to one aim and one URL per tweet to avoid pulling people in too many different directions.
- Know your bad habits and break them (e.g. if you lurk without interacting, stop and leave a reply with your appreciation).
- While favorites, likes, and upvotes are all nice gestures, they don’t keep conversations going, so use them to signal the end of a discussion or in conjunction with a message.
- Simplify language as much as possible, and use one word rather than three.
- Changing the medium can help inspire you and boost the novelty factor for your readers. Use images, videos, and podcasts as well as words. If you’re simply making a comment or providing an update in plain text, think about making it more interesting by including a meme or animated gif.
- When sharing links, add a signpost for readers. Add a brief sentence before the link to introduce it, say what you liked or disagreed with, a quote from the article, or which point resonated the most with you to add personality in seconds.
- Make it about them, not about you. Try and include a phrase that tells a reader what they can gain from reading your article or watching your video.
How to say it
There are many ways to create a successful social post, and a lot of this comes down to individual style. However, if you need some inspiration to get started, here’s a breakdown of a few things we’ve posted on Twitter:
Third party sharing
We’ve included a quick intro sentence to summarise the article and make it relevant to our developer audience, making use of adjectives for extra personality. We’ve also tagged the original creator and used a custom URL shortener to make the link neater and branded.
— Cronofy (@cronofy) August 25, 2015
A tweet that starts with a clear call to action (‘Join us’) that includes the reader as part of the community. As well as helping to spread awareness of other social channels, this tweet also tells the reader what to expect and what they can gain from clicking the link.
Join us on Facebook for web development and cartoony goodness: http://t.co/HFqJ6Lei8K
— Cronofy (@cronofy) August 14, 2015
Repeat sharing of own content
Sharing the same thing gets old fast, so mix it up by using a different message every time. This can also help you see what kind of messages are the most popular. In this example, our ‘In case you missed it yesterday’ prefix acknowledges that we’ve shared this before and also that the content is significant enough to share more than once.
— Cronofy (@cronofy) August 19, 2015
We’ve also included a couple of hashtags to drum up additional attention. There are different best practices for hashtag use on different networks, but some general rules are: don’t let them affect the readability of your message. Put them after any links and important content to avoid distractions. Use title case to make them easier to understand (e.g. #RubyOnRails rather than #rubyonrails). Punctuation breaks up a hashtag. Use them carefully; remember they can direct people away from your content/links as well (i.e. they can click a hashtag to run away from your post and it won’t benefit you).
When to post
There are hundreds of infographics and articles out there outlining the ‘best’ time to publish a post, image, or tweet. The simple rule is that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ optimal time to post; it will depend on your target audience and their location, lifestyles, and social media routines.
This is especially true if you’re targeting a niche audience, such as other web developers. Many blanket ‘best time to post’ guides are based on bulk average user behaviour data rather than a specific vertical. Only you can know your own audience, which is why it’s better to use a tool that works specifically based on your account data, or use your own stats to make the judgment calls.
Who to follow
This will depend on the network in question and how it handles followers. On Twitter, for example, ‘People to follow’ and ‘Similar users’ options are good ways to gain followers. You want to make sure you appear to the right people for this, so it’s best to follow users who are similar to you, relevant to what you talk about, or people who you want to be associated with on a professional level (save the emergency cat pictures for your personal account). This is also determined by your bio, which is why it’s important to use relevant keywords.
Not sure how to find these people? Search for topics you’re interested in and see who’s talking about them and who is making particularly insightful or interesting comments. Once you start following people, Twitter will suggest other people for you to follow, and you can go from there. However, only follow people because you want to, not because you think you should.
One of the most frequently asked questions in this area is, ‘Should I follow everyone who follows me?’ Again, go for the relevancy and interest factors first. Follow strategically to avoid networks (and their users) being confused about who you are and what you talk about.
If you get to the point where you’re following too many accounts to keep up, set up lists around different topics (this works for Facebook and some other networks too), and add specific users. For example, /business, /development, and so on. Make sure you’re aware of the policies on different networks to avoid a faux pas; Facebook users won’t be informed that they’ve been added to a list, for example. Lists are great for separating out your different interests and encourages you to build your audience more consciously and effectively.
Tracking and improving
The easiest way to see what your followers are interested in is to track your messages to see how successful they are. Beyond topic, there are a lot of different factors that affect how much interaction a post gets: the time, who sees it, how influential the people who are sharing it are, your wording, the medium, etc. You can test these factors pretty easily on an individual basis, and track them easily using a tool like a Google Analytics URL builder or a shortening service that includes tracking like Bitly.
You can also set up searches to track mentions of your website and/or particular keywords. This is great because it means you can see if someone has shared your content even if they haven’t tagged you in it directly. You can do this using the search column functionality in Tweetdeck and Hootsuite, see overall mention numbers with SocialCount, and set up Google Alerts to get the rest of the web.
As well as clickthroughs, don’t forget to include interaction as a factor – if it gets likes, comments, shares, creates debate etc., take some time to analyse what worked about it to give you ideas for the next time. Clicks and interaction don’t always correlate; it’s very common to get a lot of one but not much of the other, so track both rather than making assumptions.
Whew! Congrats, you’ve made it to the final section of our guide. There’s so much to talk about when it comes to using social media professionally that we’ve only scratched the surface here. If you’re hungry for more, check out these great links:
- A guide to the Facebook News Feed algorithm – Contrary to popular belief, Facebook won’t show your posts to everyone (regardless of whether you’re posting from a personal profile or a page). Here are some basics on how their algorithm works.
- An introduction to using Facebook’s Open Graph protocol – Your Facebook posts look a lot better when images and relevant text snippets are pulled through. Find out how to implement them automatically.
- The everything guide to Twitter cards – As above, but for Twitter.
- The not-so-secret guide to Twitter lists – Find out more about how lists work and how you can use them effectively.
- How to integrate social media into your website – A list of quick ideas from Digital Arts.
- How to use hashtags – We barely touched on hashtags in this guide, so check out this article from Hootsuite for more.
- The Buffer blog – Buffer is a great scheduling tool, but their blog is equally amazing. It’s full of well-written articles featuring plenty of great tips and advice, so if you’re looking to learn more about social media, it’s one to bookmark.
How do you use social media as a developer? Do you have any questions about this guide? Let us know on Twitter.
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