In the rough-and-tumble scramble to make a buck, lines are crossed and feelings hurt. Yoni Goldstein explores the unwritten rules of conduct and etiquette for entrepreneurs.
Q: I've really bought into the idea of staying connected. I tweet, post to Facebook, etc. A few months ago, I added one of my top clients as a Facebook friend and now I'm regretting it. Because I've been so accessible, people will say almost anything to me – and a few weeks ago there were a series of photos that involved drunkenness and partial nudity. Since the posts went up, I've noticed a shift in the way my client communicates with me. I can't imagine blocking her, but I’m not sure what else to do.
A: Despite Mark Zuckerberg’s repeated attempts to wrest away your privacy on Facebook, you can still effectively limit certain friends within your social network from seeing things they probably shouldn’t see. Clearly, you’re not taking full advantage of said features, which is why you’re in this mess – that’s the first lesson here. Social media isn’t just about having fun and posting pictorial evidence of borderline debauchery – it’s about building your professional brand. Treat it as such.
Business friends aren't the same as regular friends, so don't treat them the same
If you had managed your privacy settings effectively, this would have never happened. Untag yourself from any potentially injurious photos immediately, and limit your client’s future access to your Facebook profile, posts, photos, timeline, Farmville updates – whatever.
But there’s a larger question here: Should you even be Facebook friends with your client? Social media experts can’t agree on an answer – whether it’s clients, colleagues or bosses. Some say it’s a recipe for disaster (à la what happened to you), so avoid at all costs. Others argue Facebook friendships with colleagues can actually help forge a positive, congenial workplace environment, so friend away.
I’d tend to agree with the latter. I’m friends with my current boss, and a number of former ones, on Facebook; I follow them, and am followed by them, on Twitter. Then again, it’s evident you and I lead very different social media lives. Also, a relationship between an entrepreneur and a client has a different dynamic. And so I offer this very convenient solution: Create a second Facebook account for your “business” self (or even easier: make a business page that links to your existing account – it’ll have its own timeline, separate from the one where you post your semi-nude party pictures). Such a sensible idea – you should probably get on that.
Your Facebook faux pas aside, though, I need to offer you major congratulations: It’s obvious you get the importance of social networking, and that’s potentially a very good thing for business. In fact, your online social skills may very well mean you’re better at running your business than the guy in a competitive firm who still swears by his Rolodex and maintains a MySpace account. Two recent studies suggest people who are tapped into social media are more productive workers. The theory goes that if you’re using social media, it means you’re generally a more social person, which translates into a greater ability to collaborate. A perhaps more important result, the studies show, is that you’re better at customer interaction, and that leads to improved business results. In one of the studies, people who regularly used more than five social networks were shown to produce higher sales in less time than their competitors. The fact that you’ve “bought in” to social media bodes well for your professional future.
In other words, keep doing what you’re doing when it comes to social media and you’ll increase the odds of expanding your business. Just remember this: Business friends aren't the same as regular friends, so don't treat them the same. The less of your drunken, half-naked self your clients see online, the better – for you and for them.