Expert Social Networking Advice From a Top Chief Digital Officer

Vala Afshar

Chief Digital Evangelist


The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) is the most influential museum on Twitter, and also one of the world's largest and finest art museums. The Met also employs one of the top social networking experts in the world. Sree Sreenivasan is the first Chief Digital Officer of the Met. Prior to joining the Met in 2012, Sreenivasan was the chief digital officer and professor of digital journalism at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism for 21 years.

This year, FastCompany named Sree Sreenivasan 'MOST CREATIVE PEOPLE IN BUSINESS 2015'.

Sreenivasan believes the future of all business is storytelling. He leverages several social networks to share brilliant and engaging stories.

Sreenivasan describes his team's work as telling a million plus stories about the Met's million plus pieces of art to a billion plus people. How do bring attention to the work and beauty at the Met and also deliver what people care about in a manner that is accessible and enriching.

"In a world where everybody is a storyteller, a trained storyteller stands taller. Where everybody is a journalist, a trained journalist stands taller, a trained photographer stands taller. One of the goals we have is to reconnect the physical Met and the digital Met to the world in a smarter and better way," said Sreenivasan.

I believe Sreenivasan is one of the top social chief digital officers in the world. We recently spoke with Sreenivasan about how business executives can bolster their digital footprint and personal brand by using social media and collaboration best practices.

Here is a summary of brilliant social networking advice from Sreenivasan - this is a long post but the advice from Sreenivasan is pure gold:

What is the role of social media in business?

"Social media is so important for business, but it is something that I think people only understanding in kind of slow dribs and drabs. You would think people get it now, you know its 10 years of the world understanding the importance of social media. But it also took a long time for people to understand, even the value of the web, of email. And now, we're seeing that social media can help you connect with audiences better, with stakeholders, with customers," said Sreenivasan.

Sreenivasan identifies the benefits of social media in multiple dimensions including the ability to listen to trends, ideas and future direction of companies and technology. Social media can also build your brand and bring attention, traffic, and ultimately sales to your business. He views social media as absolutely critical to everything you do in business. That said, Sreenivasan doesn't believe that social media can completely replace traditional ways of doing business. Social media simply adds another layer of opportunity.

How can we social media to build relationships?

"What social media allows you to do is to build relationships through the idea of listening, connecting, and engaging. What that means is, that traditional companies have been all about this kind of sending out broadcasting what they're doing," said Sreenivasan.

Sreenivasan continues to say:

Now, you can connect with people. You can be part of their lives without actually trying to make a sale. We find increasingly there's so much skepticism among customers and the public about kind of the things there about corporate advertising, about messages where you're trying to sell things, that it's much better to be part of their lives by being useful, relevant, and interesting in their lives.

And then they will see your content and if you're posting and say, oh, maybe I do want to buy that would go to that or whatever it is. So that's how I think social media can help you, by connecting with people when you don't need them, so that they can be there for when you need them.


Can we use social media to help us sell more?

Absolutely. You can use social media to sell if you don't start out by saying you're going to sell. Instead what you should be doing is to say, how do I raise awareness, how do I show people that this is something really cool, really useful. It's a game changer that something people want in their lives, and then you can see that people want to buy.

You have to build that demand, and that is what we have seen so many companies that understand the importance of social media. You want people to be interested in what you are doing, rather than saying we want them to be interested in buying what you are selling. And this applies to products, to services, and to ideas.

If you are in the business of selling anything, you want to be in social, but you want to be very careful about how you do it. And the way you can think about it is let me make content that's engaging and interesting. And then when the time is right, I can sell because people will want it on their own.

How can one create a social media strategy?

You create a social media strategy by understanding your business really well, your customers really well, and your potential customers really well. And then you sit down and you think, what makes sense for them in terms of the platforms you're interested in, that they will also be interested in.

You do not need to be first on every platform, but you can be where your customers are, and potential customers are. You know the old saying, fish where the fish are. So you start by understanding that, and then you sit down and look at what kind of content will make sense for you.

You do not have to be on every platform, but you need to know which content makes sense for the kinds of audiences you have.

How does someone use social media to build a strong personal brand, and why does it matter?

Social media can help you build this brand if you set out to be authentic, be yourself, and really know what you're doing. One way I think about it is if you're good in real life, you can be great on social media. This is something that Erica Anderson, who works at Twitter says, "if you're good in real life, you can be great on Twitter". I like to say, if you're great in real life, you can be awesome on social media.

Social media does not make your brand. Social media amplifies who you are - it amplifies your brand. So if you're terrible in real-life - you're late all the time, you deliver bad products, bad service, you badmouth people, you're boring, you're irritating to people - then social media will take that and amplify it, and you'll be awful on social media.

On the other hand, if you are a great business executive, you do good work, and people care about what you have to say, then you can be awesome.

What are the steps to building a personal brand?

First step is understanding which of the social media networks make sense for you. I think depending for most people, you know there on Facebook and then maybe they can do one more thing. So you would join the platforms you want to be on, and then start posting content that's useful, interesting, helpful, and don't post about shoes all day unless you're in the shoe business. Post content that will help other people.

I talk to some political folks, who are very good on social media, and they say they make content not for the audience, they make content that there audience wants to share with other people. So that's what you want. You want such great content that people want to take it, and share it with other people. And that's what you want to do.

Thoughts on Twitter:

First let me just say that it's very hard to separate out the personal and the professional. That was possible years ago. People would say Twitter's for work, LinkedIn is for work, and Facebook is personal.

That's no longer the case. What happens when your best customer asks to be your friend on Facebook or when one of your board of directors asks to be your friend? It's hard to separate that. The safest thing to do is to presume that everything you see is visible to everybody. And find out who is influential in your circle and think about them when you're posting.

On Twitter what I like to do is to think about is that I'm going to be on point with my work with the topics that I am interested in. Share your interest with people in your bio. Be really clear about what you're going to be posting about and then post about it. Occasionally you bring in your family, you bring in your vacation, and it doesn't matter as long as you're on point most of the time.

Thoughts on Facebook:

On Facebook it becomes much harder, because we've so much personal stuff we post on there. You can make lists of your content. You can direct your content to the public, just your friends, or business contacts. You can do that on Facebook, but it's a lot of work. Some share all of their content publicly and make sure that the content is not really personal.

Facebook is bigger and more important than it's been and there is a lot of talk of Facebook fatigue. The things that Facebook has done in the last couple of years, I call it be empires strikes back - is expand its relevance with Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram.

Thoughts on Instagram:

On Instagram it's a little different, and by the way my boss the Director of the MET, Thomas Campbell is on Instagram and not on Twitter, and the reason he's on Instagram people say to me, hey Sree, your Mr. Twitter, why isn't he on Twitter, he's on Instagram because there's less drama on Instagram.

You can be there, you can be kind of be yourself, and I would love for you to see what he's doing at Thomas P Campbell, and you'll see he's doing a mix of things about his own work about the Museum, but he's also talking about other museums. Occasionally he has his family in there as well. And that combination has worked well for him.

There is no formula on social media. People always ask for a specific formula of guaranteeing success. What there are, are guidelines and you have to become a student of your own social media. Try something, see if it works, why it didn't work, try something else. But it's very important for you to be patient and work on it very systematically and strategically.

Thoughts on LinkedIn:

LinkedIn is the most underappreciated social network in history. It is more important than it's ever been and people still don't get it. Everybody who I know who is on LinkedIn but they barely use it as well as they could, they think about LinkedIn as a job hunting site, which it is, but it's really a career management, a life website that you can use that can have a direct impact on your future, and the futures of your people in your network but people just don't understand that.

A lot of business people do understand that, but even they're not using it properly. So LinkedIn if that's the kind of comparison that you want to make, I would say LinkedIn is something that we could all work on. LinkedIn has recently opened up publishing, so that everyone can publish content on there. If I was starting a blog today, I would make sure I was posting on LinkedIn, rather than just posting on another platform.

Why not be on the network where your colleagues, your competitors, and your future colleagues are all working already are using it every day, and they're looking for good content. So that's why I encourage you to use LinkedIn. I've recently started posting on a more regular basis. I need to do better myself on LinkedIn and I urge you to do that. My wife, who post on LinkedIn she finds a lot of traction and it's a good place for her for business leads and other things. So I encourage you to do more on LinkedIn.

How can we connect with influencers on social media?

I tell people it's not who follows you on social, it's who follows you on social meaning influencers. Make a list of the influencers who you want to connect with and then connect with them, and how do you do that? You retweet them - well, first you follow them, you retweet them. You answer their questions. You comment on their work, and over a period of time people notice and they start following you.

They may unfollow you because you might be boring. But you have to reach out one person at a time and decide who you're following. I recommend a tool called Twiangulate, it's like triangulate but with a W, that shows you who your most influential 100 followers are, or your top 100 followers, based on how many followers they have.

Find them, connect with them, network with them, and over time they might follow you. But if you aren't participating, you can't expect people to follow you just like that.

How important are followers as a metric?

Well followers are an important metric, but you know the problem is that if your boss comes to you and says, we need 100,000 followers, we need 1 million followers. You can buy a couple of hundred thousand followers for a couple of hundred bucks. Please never do that, because you will get caught out.

There are tools like that will out you. Anyone can see how many fake followers you have. This happened the other day. Somebody emailed me and said, wow, how this person can have so many followers. I said, well let's take a look. So we went in there and instantly we saw 84% of this person's followers were fake. Instantly credibility is lost.

So followers are important, but don't get so obsessed with the number of followers. I can tell you at the MET, we recently cost 1 million followers. We are the seventh most followed art museum in the world. But we were named the most influential art museum in the world, and I would gladly give up hundreds of thousands of followers for influence, and that's what you want.

Are you a person that people listen to, that people care about, that people connect with, people take seriously, then you'll do fine on Twitter. And you build out your base organically, slowly. Don't worry about the numbers and you'll be okay.

If number of followers is not a measure of influence, what can we used to measure influence?

I am not saying that followers are not important. You want to grow your followers on a regular basis. You know every day you have a lot of un-followers. I have a friend who has 1 million plus followers. Every time he tweets he loses 250 followers. The reason is that all those people are like who is this person, I don't know and then just delete him.

Every time you Tweet there is a chance for new people to follow you, but also current people that un-follow you. That's why you want to be strategic about your tweet, what are my tweeting, doesn't make sense. I spent 3 to 6 minutes on every tweet I write, because it's that important to me that I want this to be something that matters and that people can look at.

I would rather be connecting and interacting with influential people and making sure they're taking care of and not just ignoring completely. So while you need these superstar followers, those folks are rarely going to follow you, are rarely going to retweet you, are rarely participate. You need that combination of very influential people, and then the folks who are loyal and that balance you have to strike on a regular basis.

How do we get more followers?

The way you think about followers is what can you say that will help you find more followers. What are the things you can do? So one of the things I've learned is from watching people who are really successful, and one of the things is great content gets you great followers. Great content gets you great followers, meaning are you posting things that people care about. Is it interesting, is it things that will drive the conversation, are you contributing in some way, or do people read your stuff and go, oh God, what a boring guy.

Every time you tweet, think about them before you tweet, because if it's boring, they're going to un-follow you and it gives you something to latch onto. Is this pursing following me, are they going to get bored?

The next thing you do is tell people you are on Twitter. Tell people you are on Instagram. Is it on your business card? Is it in your email signature file? Are you once a week on Twitter, telling people you're new Instagram handle? On Instagram do you have a link to your Twitter account, that kind of holistic approach where you got to tell people this. A lot of people think well I'm just going to tweet, everybody is going to see it. it is just not true.

Another way to build an audience and build followers is by networking, just the way you build your physical network. Build your digital network by going to events and make sure you tell people you are on Twitter. Participate in as many Twitter chats as possible, but remember, people will see your work. Tweet interesting stuff because if the tweet is boring, it's just a waste of time.

Whenever you participate on Twitter you have less than 10 seconds to make an impression. So please have a clear recognizable recent photograph of you and a solid of bio of who you are.

Clearly articulate in your bio the following: who you are, your background, and what you are going to be posting about. You have a couple of seconds when people say, 'I wonder who this person is?' Then they click, see who you are and they click out. But they might follow you if you are interesting and you are posting interesting content.

Twitter also has that extra Twitter profile section above the kind of header background. You could put things in there that makes it clear that you're an interesting savvy person that people will add to my content and my info stream, and not dilute it and not pollute it, that's what you need to be clear to everyone about.

What type of content can we share to grow our network?

People love content that is self-shareable with other people, so making sure that your posting things that are relevant, that are newish to the stream. It doesn't have to be brand-new, but new, and you have unique take on something that's going on, that would be important.

Every time you post something, think about using a photograph or a video when you can. Because what people do is they're just constantly scrolling with their thumbs on Twitter, so like this when I'm looking at the feed, I'm constantly going - I'm sorry I know it's hard to see, but I'm just going like this with my thumb, so I say to people create thumb stoppers. A piece of an image or a video is a thumb stopper, and your thumb will stop on it and you'll take a look, then you'll keep going. And you will see and you will notice your stopping more on something with an image than without an image.

Include an images when it makes sense, and there's so many good tools that allow you to do this including places like and other tools that help you design social images and social graphics, so I would think about that.

People also love unusual things, access to things they can't see and tools like Periscope and others show people that access that you have. But nothing really substitutes for smart, intelligent, and interesting, and occasionally fun and occasionally funny content. It doesn't mean you have to be boring on social media, what it means is be strategic and think about what you're posting, and if you do that you will have great success.

How do you decide who to follow and what is your follow-back policy?

There are a lot of people who play these follow back games, where I'll follow 100 people hoping that 80 people will follow me back and then I'll unfollow people, and that's a lot of work, and I don't think it's an authentic way to follow people. I think if someone is interesting you should follow them. And if they're not interesting it's okay to not follow them.

Your follow list, the people you're following, should be in constant flux. You should be un-following people, adding more people etc. There is a point beyond which Twitter becomes useless because there are so many people that you're following. Decide what that comfort level is for you. For some people it's 200 folks and for some others it is 200,000.

Find what makes sense for you and then you can participate, and that's why Twitter lists are also really important. But at the base level I don't have time to follow back everybody, but I'm using tools that tell me who am I'm following, who are not following. I love a tool called Crowdrise, which tracks on your phone and can tell you who your recent followers are, and when I re-tweet then I'll see that it's better laid out than on Twitter, then I keep following people, and I unfollow people when they're boring and so that's what I do.

I just looked the other day and there was about 500 people I follow, but they don't follow me back. I don't take it personally when people unfollow me and I don't get upset about it - maybe a little upset, but not too much.

At the end of the day, always remember that the quality of your connections is more important than the quantity. And most importantly, please make sure that you follow Sree Sreenivasan on social media - you won't regret it, I promise.

Aug 16, 2015