“Take Care of Business, Take Care of Yourself”
By Michele Rivard and Kristina Blanco
Let’s face it. The lines between personal and professional communications have begun to merge and social networking is serving as an avenue to carry your professional image and brand to the masses. This is a dramatic change from how companies built their reputations and corporate branding back in the olden days…the 1980’s and 90’s …LOL. It used to be that businesses would hire special marketing and communications teams or public relations experts to take charge in branding their reputations. The communications were predominately one-sided and largely in the hands of the business. Technology and Social Media have changed not only the rules, but the entire game. It has become everyone’s responsibility to develop brand imaging and a positive reputation. That includes business owners, employees, customers, prospects and vendors…not to mention friends, family and other acquaintances. A quote I found on dna13.com1 said it best, “The evolution of communication technologies and the ways in which consumers are using them is forcing corporate leaders to reinvent the standards and methodologies they use to protect, manage and nurture their most important asset—their brand reputation.” It’s now everyone’s job to TCOB.
I have to admit, a couple of us here at Spectrum were hesitant to join the masses in Social Networking, both personally and professionally. Of course we got over it and created our Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter pages, but we were a little shocked at what we saw happening online. After several months of “Facebooking,” about 100 “friends” later (many of whom I was never friends with in the first place), I was amazed at the kinds of things people openly share. For example, a 16 year old cousin and her group of teeny-bopper friends curse up a storm on their Facebook page…and consequently, on my Facebook page. Not to mention the fact that I need a texting dictionary to understand half of what she’s writing. Okay, okay, so she’s 16, that’s to be expected, right? But what about my 30 year old girlfriend from college who routinely posts pictures of her drinking at the bar, and making comments about her partying and at times, giving out way too much information? I can’t help but think to myself, “Is no one concerned about their reputation and how that kind of communication might make them look in the business world?”
In an article titled 7 Deadly Sins of Social Networking2, we found point #2 very informative. It stated in part:
Mixing Personal with Professional
“This is the case where someone uses a social network for both business and pleasure, most commonly on Facebook, where one’s friends include business associates, family members and friends. The problem is that the language and images one shares with friends and family may be entirely inappropriate on the professional side. A prospective employer may choose to skip to the next candidate after seeing pictures of you drunk or showing off a little too much leg at someone’s birthday party. In sharing such things, you also stand a good chance of making the company you represent look bad.
“In my view one of the major rules when engaging in social networking is to be aware that your words belong in the public domain,” says Paul V. de Souza, chief security engineer at AT&T. “You may be quoted all over the Internet, so make sure to choose your words carefully. Be diplomatic and extremely professional.”
“You have to understand very clearly what the objective of your presence on any given social network is. If it is for work, keep it for work only. If it is for personal/fun use, keep it for personal use only,” says Benjamin Fellows, a senior IT security and risk consultant at Ernst & Young. “I can’t tell you how many times I have been invited to Facebook by a work colleague only to find things on their wall or profile that are definitely not politically correct or are downright offensive. I keep all my work friends in LinkedIn and my personal friends in Facebook. Even then, I am very careful what I say on either site. I guess you could also put this under the heading of know your audience.”
Not only has the game changed, but the language as well! See if you can understand the following text we got off of one of our ‘friends’ pages: “OMG. So the other day I was OTP with Lisa when you called on the other line LOL! I forgot to call you back, but I plan to! Until then TCOY! TTYL.” If you were an employer and came across this text on a potential new hire’s Facebook account, you’d probably think they were immature, and a little ditzy. But imagine if they were using acronyms implying swear words, or discussing inappropriate parties or situations, your decision on whether or not to hire them would be an easy one.
The reality is if you’re a business owner, you should be participating in social networking. It is the wave of the future. Consumers are no longer buying into the ‘one way’ communications of the past, but require dialog with those they chose to do business with. A whitepaper titled: Corporate Reputation in the Social Age3 stated:
“At the heart of the change is the explosion of consumer generated media found in more than 150 million blogs, social networks, consumer opinion sites, video and picture sharing networks, and worldwide message boards. Corporate marketers and communications specialists no longer have even the illusion of “control” over the message. People are talking about their products throughout the Web and carrying on their own conversations about brand-relevant topics.”
By participating appropriately, you are taking charge of your own reputation, or rather, what people perceive it to be. You may not even realize it, but you may even be influencing the reputation of another business just in the comments and conversations in which you are participating. Even if you haven’t embraced social networking, others have and they are having conversations that may be both good and bad. The question for you to consider is “are they having conversations about you, your company or your product?” Are you familiar with those conversations and prepared to deal with them accordingly? Don’t waste the opportunities to build your brand reputation by not getting involved in social networking! Use the understanding that you gain from listening to what your consumers are saying to your advantage! Just remember, keep your personal and professional lives separate online, and only post appropriate, user-friendly content in both arenas.