Should I use a Social Media Profile or Page?

Should I use a Social Media Profile or Page?

While social networking has only been around for a little more than a decade, it seems like the question of whether or not a business should use a personal profile or a business page has been around forever. There are countless blogs and opinions that have been written on the subject, but I think you’ll find that I have a slightly different take on the topic.

On Facebook, you have a choice of creating a personal profile or a Business Page. Similarly on Google+, you can choose to use your personal profile or a branded Page that you’ve created. On LinkedIn, you will always have a personal account, but you can also create a Company Page (though LinkedIn Company Pages are currently extremely limited in what they can do). And on Twitter, while there’s no difference in account types, you can choose to brand your account as yourself or as your business.

For starters, it’s not as cut-and-dried as, “if you’re representing your business, use a Page.” There are plenty of instances where using a personal profile is simply better. Now, let’s be clear: I am not advocating creating a personal account on Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+ and using your Business Name instead of your own name. Always follow the Terms of Use for any platform, and that typically means using your real name for personal profiles and your official business name for Business Pages.

So for me it’s a question of whether or not I can be more effective and professional and engaging on social media acting as myself or as my brand. To determine that, there are a series of questions one must ask which will hopefully help lead you to the right decision.

Social Media Profile or Page Decision Tree

Take a moment to review each of these questions and apply them to your own situation.

Business Size

Do you anticipate that your business will always be just you, or do you hope to someday bring on additional people and staff? While business owners can still be the face of a business on social networks, larger businesses should always have a Page that represents the business.

Business Products or Services

Do you sell products through your business, or are you providing one or more services? Retail businesses in particular are likely better served by using a Page that can better reflect the business brand. On the other hand, individuals who provide professional services tend to find more success marketing themselves, rather than a brand.

Personal Voice

Have you tried engaging with other people as your “brand” Page on any networks? Was it just too awkward, or do you feel as though you could get used to it? Note that many brands and businesses will “sign” posts with their individual names/initials so that when they’re speaking, they’re more comfortable speaking as themselves. HootSuite can even add initials automatically to tweets.

And the other side of this particular point is what does your audience expect? Will your followers and other influencers feel more comfortable speaking with you or with your business brand? If you can't put yourself in their shoes, don't be afraid to ask a few people. And spend some time yourself on social networks and see how you like to be engaged by brands.

Personal Time

Having two sets of accounts is certainly more time consuming than just one. Are you able to commit to maintaining both a personal profile and a business Page? If you decide to use two sets of accounts, you don’t have to duplicate the same amount of time and activity across all accounts. For most business owners, I recommend focusing on just one account, whether it’s a profile or a Page, to regularly represent the business and engage with influencers and potential clients.

But of course for the busy business owner that requires mutliple accounts for their business, but lacks the time to manage them all themselves, that's where I can help. In addition to managing each account in terms of sharing interesting updates, responding to comments and listening for relevant conversations, successful businesses also need to proactively seek out and engage influencers, join and create and build online communities, and look for new and creative ways to leverage developing social network trends and capabilities. Understanding which activities will provide a return for the business and which ones will not is a real challenge.

Personal Interests

Finally, do you have personal interests and activities that you want to use one or more of the social networks for, and keep those activities personal? If so, you should limit that account(s) to personal use only, and have a Page for your business.

The Social Media Hat Solution

What I do works well for me, so I will share it for reference. It may or may not work for you and your industry.

On Facebook, I have a personal profile that is mostly for personal use, and a branded Business Page.

On Google+, I focus most of my time on developing my personal brand and profile, and use a branded Page for broadcasting, curating and testing.

On LinkedIn, I focus most of my time on my personal profile, since as I mentioned, Company Pages are still very limited.

On Twitter, I have both a personal profile and a branded business profile, but I use my personal profile most of the time.

Other networks like Pinterest and Instagram are a bit of a blend.

So for me, most of my time (and success) is through my personal Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts.

What about you?

Once you’ve considered each of these points and how they apply to your own business and brand, what did you come up with? Did it help you determine that a personal profile is the right option, or perhaps a business page? Or do you still have doubts?

If you’re not yet sure which route to go, please feel free to leave a comment. Explain your business, and why you’re not sure which way to go, and we’ll see if we can’t give you some direction.

And if you think there are other considerations that should be noted, please share those as well!

ADDENDUM: Google +Post Ads

Late 2013, Google announced that they were beta testing a new ad system for Google+. But instead of putting ads within the social network, Google opened up their Display Network for businesses to promote their Google+ post outside of Google+. It was assumed at the time that the new ad format would be only for Page accounts, but we now that not to be true. Any individual profile or brand page can take advantage of the new ad system, called +Posts.

The catch is that the profile or page with the post that is being promoted has to have at least 1000 followers. So while it may be easier to get to 1000 followers as an individual, it's likely that promoting posts from a brand page will have great impact as +post ads. Either way, you can follow the directions here to get started with +Post ads. The point is that, the sooner you choose which way to go - profile or page - the sooner you can get to that 1000 follower requirement and begin using +Post ads to promote your posts and extend your reach.

Image courtesy of Mays Business School, Flickr.

Mike Allton, Content Marketing Practitioner

Mike is a Content Marketing Practitioner, Blogger and Author in St. Louis, and the Chief Marketing Officer at SiteSell. He has been working with websites and the Internet since the early '90's, and is active on all of the major social networks. Mike teaches a holistic approach to content marketing that leverages blog content, social media and SEO to drive traffic, generate leads, and convert those leads into sales.

Mike is the author of, "The Unofficial Book On HootSuite: The #1 Tool for Social Media Management", "The Ultimate Guide to the Perfect LinkedIn Profile.", and "Blog Promotionology, The Art & Science of Blog Promotion."

Advanced Social Media Marketing from AgoraPulse