Social media is no longer an opt-in sport for professionals – latest figures show that Asia Pacific accounts for half of all global social media usage.

At this volume, companies and individuals are pulled into conversation whether they like it or not. The question then for executives isn’t a debate between engaging or not – rather it’s how best to engage and contribute meaningfully to these conversations.

Social media platforms are an increasingly critical channel to build credibility, manage a company’s reputation, and engage a variety of stakeholders both internal and external. But engage poorly and the masses will be unforgiving.

So how can you use social media to authentically build your ‘professional brand’ while representing your organisation at the same time?

Representing an organisation

On social media, all employees of an organisation are unofficial representatives for it – and this effect compounds the higher up you go. To add another layer of responsibility, everything said, typed, liked, or shared is public.

With this in mind, professionals should behave on social media in a way which accords with their organisation’s values, while letting their ‘voice’ reflect their personality. A soft, conversational tone in engagements will help humanise an organisation and its brand to those being reached.

Beyond personality and values, each social media platform has its own guidelines, which must be abided by. It should go without saying that professionals should never engage in behavior such as discrimination or what could be seen as harassment, retaliation, or online-impersonation. Defamatory, insulting, or deceptive content about any individual organisation is a no.

Additionally, all claims and promotional statements made about an organisation’s products or services on social media are still subject to the same legal marketing guidelines.

Personal vs corporate use

First, the basics. It’s important to know the distinction between personal and corporate social media accounts.

For personal accounts, if an employee does talk shop, they should identify themselves as an employee. Corporate accounts on the other hand are created for the company by the social business team. These properties should be branded, never used for non-business communications, and can only be accessed by approved, trained, and certified employees. Employees should feel encouraged to share content from their company’s corporate site.

Substance over fluff

Not all sharing is created equal – on social media there’s an unspoken agreement to minimise overtly promotional or self-promotional material about an organisation posted by individuals. And although they might be hilarious, memes and funny videos can tarnish an organisation’s perception if in poor taste.

For an ambitious professional, social media is best for exchanging ideas and values. Thought leadership in the form of insightful blog posts, commentary on articles, industry news, and current events, is a welcome contribution to conversation on social media. Kept short, sweet, and incisive, this content wins out.

Wherever possible, thought leadership should be the go-to content for professionals on social media – not to forget a healthy dose of non-business communication on the side to further humanise their organisation.

Knowing the crowd

Just as all sharing is not equal, neither are social properties made equal. Generally speaking, the most relevant platforms for executives are Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook in the form of both personal accounts and Public Figure pages.

Twitter is a place for the sharing of short, 140-character long thoughts, as well as articles and news. This is a great place to engage with the general public, as all activity on Twitter is highly visible and open (except for Direct Messages). Being authenticated is another functionality that executives are able to add credibility and air to their Twitter profiles.

LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network, and should be seen primarily as a form of B2B communication. Non-business topics should be avoided, while thought leadership and reflections on an organisation’s achievements, progress, or changes, is highly encouraged. This is the ideal platform to position an organisation and communicate its values to industry fellows, as well as current and potential employees.

Finally, Facebook. Public Figure pages should be treated similarly to one’s LinkedIn profile, though with a slightly more casual tone of voice. Public Figure pages are publically visible, whereas personal accounts are visible only to friends. Privacy setting help to limit and control the visibility of posts, but as a general rule if you wouldn’t want to see it on the front page of a newspaper, don’t post it.

Social media poses many questions to professionals – but when engaged with well, meaningfully, insightfully, and respectfully it can greatly enhance the trust and perception people have in an organisation while building your own personal brand.