For many people, the words ‘Facebooking’ or ‘Tweeting’ are associated with people sharing photos of what they did on the weekend or the type of breakfast cereal eaten this morning. For others, it’s something they feel they ‘ought’ to be getting onto to help promote their business, but feel they don’t have the time to learn what it’s all about and what’s really in it for them. In short, social media sites can be both inane and incredibly useful, because they are medium for sharing any kind of information and connecting with others.
About 9 months ago, Mental Health First Aid Australia made its first experiment with social media, joining Facebook and Twitter. We had found that previous strategies of trying to connect Instructors with each other such as a using a web forum were becoming outdated, and as an international program we needed more direct ways to engage Instructors, organisations and the broader community. With more people using social media sites now than traditional media sources, we took heed of the advice of ‘going to the people.’ So far the experiment has been a success, and along the way some of our highlights have been engaging in interesting conversations, walks down memory lane and experiencing many a feel good moment hearing positive news from others.
Since we are now so enthusiastic about the role social media in the mental health sector, and have also started blogging, we thought we’d share some tips of what we have learnt. This post is directed primarily towards Mental Health First Aid Instructors who may be ‘sitting on the fence’ to let them know what the advantages might be for using social media for professional purposes (we’ll leave the commentary on advantages of sharing what we have for breakfast to someone else!). We know many of you are already very savvy social networkers, so please share any useful tips or resources you know too.
LinkedIn is a business minded social networking tool, that with 120 million members, although not as far-reaching as Facebook, provides a platform for professional networking in their words helping you “exchange knowledge, ideas, and opportunities with a broader network of professionals.”
The advantages of connecting with others via LinkedIn
When you meet someone for the first time at a networking event, you can look them up and see their profile, which gives you much more background information about them than their business card usually does. You can look people up, not just by name, but by company, location, industry, key words. Once connected to that person, you can also see what connections they have. You may find that you have a lot of contacts in common, even though you may have just met. You may find that they know someone who works for an organisation that you have been trying to get in touch with. You can’t always contact someone directly, but you can ask your contact to make an introduction for you.
How to get started
- Create your profile. Watch this useful how to video for a step-by-step guide to creating a LinkedIn profile. You can list as little or as much information about your employment and education history. A public profile is very useful if members of the public or organisations are searching on the internet for further information about you in regards to your work as an MHFA Instructor. LinkedIn individual searches do tend to rank highly on search engines.
- Connect with others. You will find that you probably know a lot of people using LinkedIn already, and you can easily import your existing email contacts who are using LinkedIn. It’s up to you if you use LinkedIn to only connect with people you know through work or to also make connections with professionals working in similar areas. To connect with other Mental Health First Aid Instructors search for “Mental Health First Aid” in the search box in the top right hand corner and search through the results.
- Join groups. There are thousands of LinkedIn groups you can join depending on your interests. For example typing in a search for ‘mental health education’ yielded 59 results. Make sure to join the Mental Health First Aid Australia group and the MHFA Australia Instructors subgroup to post and find discussion topics, job opportunities, promote your courses and connect directly with group members. Joining groups often allows you to make direct contact with another member of the same group.
- Ask for and write recommendations. You can approach former or current supervisors, colleagues or clients to write recommendations on your work performance. These recommendations are then listed publicly on your profile and can be very useful, particularly if you are an Instructor sourcing new opportunities to conduct courses with employer or industry groups.
- Be active. LinkedIn will be as useful a tool as the energy you put into it. Try and log in regularly to see what your connections are up to, contribute your expertise or experience in group discussions, write occasional status updates on your activities as an MHFA Instructor and seek professional advice/recommendations from others.
Generally Facebook is best set aside to keep in touch with friends and family. However in saying this (given that with over 800 million active users it is by far the most widely used social media site), for those MHFA Instructors running their own business, there are a number of Facebook tools that can be useful professionally to promote your work and upcoming courses.
The advantages of using Facebook pages
Facebook pages are used to promote businesses, non-profits, celebrities and artists to Facebook users. Usually users can see activity on the Facebook page wall before they click ‘like’ in order to interact with you. Facebook groups are closed groups and have slowly been phased out by Facebook. They are really only useful for discussing shared interests or for clubs. Facebook profiles are designed for use by individuals, and not for ideal for business promotion as users will have to add you as a Friend before they can interact with you which entails a greater level of ‘commitment’.
Some advantages to Facebook pages are that –
- They are indexed by search engines like Google meaning it is easy for people to search and find your business
- They can be administered by multiple users if you want to share the load
- You can analyse traffic to your page
- There is no limit to the number of ‘likes’ your page can receive
- You can have a custom URL once you reach 25 ‘likes’ e.g., www.facebook.com/mindwisetraining
Tips to get started
Read through this step by step guide to help you set up your Facebook page.
If you have a website already set up for your business, you can use your Facebook page to try and direct traffic to fresh content on your website and vice/versa. Remember just like LinkedIn, the trick is to keep your Facebook page fresh with new content that is optimised for sharing.
Here are some examples of content you could post:
- details on upcoming courses,
- links to blog posts and news items,
- testimonials from participants,
- photos and videos
- discussion topics and questions on relevant topics to your work.
Remember to keep your content short and concise – so that is can be easily and instantly used by others to pass around. Like any social networking site, Facebook is about two-way communication, so be prepared to be prompt in your responses to comments and posts from users. You will gain more likes if you are seen to be engaging others, and responding to both positive and critical feedback, rather than simply using Facebook as free advertising space.
Promoting your page
One of the most important first steps is to add a link from your website to your Facebook page. Suggest the page to friends and ask that they do to the same. It will grow slowly at first but be patient and people will come!
Make sure to like the Mental Health First Aid Australia Facebook page www.facebook.com/mentalhealthfirstaid. Join in discussions, ask questions and share an upcoming course or recent news mention with the MHFA community to direct users to your page.
Twitter is a micro-blogging site where users send out updates, photos, links and videos limited to 140 characters at a time. Twitter is probably the most time-intensive social networking tool but in many ways the most powerful. The relevance for MFHA Instructors is very broad. For example,
- You can create saved searches for any mention to Mental Health First Aid or Youth Mental Health for example to keep abreast of discussions and news items.
- Follow organisations and individuals working in mental health to create new professional connections.
- Obviously the main appeal is promoting your business. Link to new events featured on your website and to your latest blog post to drive traffic to your website.
- Connect with not only people working in the sector, but consumers and carers by participating in regular ‘tweetchats’ about mental health issues for example MHSM Chat and Rural Mental Health.
Tips to get started
Some tips for using Twitter once you have set up your account. Twitter is probably the most technical of social networking sites so don’t worry if it takes you a little while to get your head around it. Keep persisting and do google searches on anything you’re unsure of or simply ask another Twitter user for help.
- Follow as many people as possible. Search for names you already know, or search for people using hashtags such as #mentalhealth or #mentalhealthfirstaid. Follow the people that follow someone you like. More than any other social networking site, you’ll find you will gain followers relatively quickly. Also when someone follows you it’s generally polite on twitter to follow them back.
- Tweet on professional themes mainly, but also let your personality out too, share what you’re reading, ask for advice on something, comment on a news topic etc.
- Retweet a lot, to share other people’s ideas. This will also encourage people to retweet your posts. Make sure to thank others when they do retweet, preferably via a private message.
- Tweet frequently but don’t go overboard in one sitting as this will clog up people’s feeds. Space your tweets out.
- Think of twitter as a cocktail party at a conference where you are mingling with people and organisations who share similar interests to you. Balance out your own self-promotion with engaging others and sharing their news just as you would if these were face to face interactions.
- Follow MHFA Australia’s twitter account, say hello and let us know when you have news so we can retweet it for you.