Last week I had an interesting conversation (with an HR professional) about what is appropriate for a business owner or supplier to share in social media when their friends or network includes clients, potential clients and partners who refer business on. This discussion was sparked because she (the HR professional in my business networking group) had seen a recent post of mine in late December referring to a personal tragedy that I had in my private life.
This post that she was referring to was brutally open, and painfully honest and transparent and it had caused her to have mixed feelings about whether she should be privy to this information as someone who may refer work on to me. Not because she was offended by the nature of the post or that it affected her opinion of my skill or professionalism, but because it made her question my emotional state and work focus for a period.
For me it had been a very deliberate, strategic decision to post the information on Facebook because my previous situation was well known and I wanted to inform my friends and colleagues of my misfortune in a broadcast fashion so that I didn’t have to have dozens of individual one on one conversations, which would cause me and them far more pain and discomfort. I was very conscious and aware that I had clients and colleagues as friends on Facebook, but they are a part of my life – professional and personal in many instances. Our lives are not one sided. We are both a professional and a private citizen at the same time and I think most people appreciate that and often its your personal life that interests a client or colleague as much as your professional life. We all like to work with people we like, right? But Yes, there are definitely some opinions, feelings and pieces of information that are not appropriate or necessary to share with your clients and colleagues – but this was not one of them for me. It was already going to be obvious to anyone who saw me after December 29 that my life had changed, so I chose to communicate it, to a larger group, via social media. My close friends had already been told by text or phone and my regular clients had already been told by email.
But I welcome the debate and I greatly appreciate my HR professional colleague raising the subject with me because we need feedback from other people. Our opinions, even our professional opinions, are just that, an opinion, and what I think is not reflective of what everyone else thinks. That’s the first lesson a marketer should learn, WE are not our target audience.
So perhaps the more direct question to me is, and this was also the point of my HR professional colleague, should we be friends on Facebook with our colleagues, clients and referral network? Because I didn’t choose to share this information with my Parachute Digital Facebook community, as I didn’t feel it was relevant and they don’t have a personal relationship with me, its purely professional. But my professional persona is not very different from my private persona. I just happen to be a fairly open person and I don’t mind showing my professional network the personal side of my personality – online or offline. But there are cases where someone’s public persona differs greatly from their personal views. I’ve been searching around for an example I saw in Sydney’s MX transport tabloid when I was on the train a couple of weeks ago but MX doesn’t have a website and I can’t remember the name of the businessman who was outed. So I’ll give you the gist. A sydney businessman was caught out when a journalist did a little research and found that he was prone to posting sexist and racially abusive messages on his private facebook profile but his business persona which he portrayed to his clients, colleagues, the media and his professional facebook page, was much more conservative and well, professional.
In this scenario, I would definitely recommend that he NOT friend his colleagues and strangers on Facebook and for such a personality, if I would managing his reputation online, I would not recommend that he have anything but a LinkedIn profile as he is obviously volatile and this was an incident just waiting to happen. It really is better to show only one side, rather than show two contradictory sides of yourself – which can be easily uncovered with some amateur sleuthing. But if you are much the same in person as you are in your professional life, then there is no need to not share your real life happiness and tragedy. Of course there is no need to over-communicate these things either. It is a fine line and I can’t draw it for you, its different for each of us and for each professional and their type of business, but for me, its ok for the personal and the professional to overlap sometimes because communication hasn’t changed, just the medium.
So as to continue to be open and transparent, this is the post I shared that sparked the conversation with my HR professional colleague and this blog post.