Toeing the Line: Professionalism and Social Media

“How Social Media Can Affect Your Professionalism” was the topic of the day at Monday’s Network@Noon at the Prince William Chamber Western Office.  Promoting business in social media, while protecting your personal privacy and maintaining your professionalism is one of the biggest concerns for small business owners.

The Big Decision – Are my customers my friends

One of the first questions to ask yourself as you move forward with your social media plan is “Are my customers my friends?”  Answering this question will allow you to set up some “rules” for who you will connect with on the different social media channels.  For example, my general rule for a LinkedIn connection is that the person must know enough about me to make a recommendation.  LinkedIn is designed to set up professional connections so that your network can recommend you to their network – that’s tough to do if they don’t know me.

This becomes even more important in Facebook.  Facebook “friends” are people who have given me permission to see their personal posts and I’ve given them permission to see my personal posts.  So if crazy cousin Eddy posts something on my wall about an embarrassing childhood experience or picture, all my friends can see it.  Fans are people who choose to follow the posts I make on my business fan page.  “Liking” a fan page is a one-way interaction and these “fans” or “people who like” cannot see any information on my personal profile, and I can’t see their personal profile.

For many larger businesses, where the owner isn’t personally linked to the business, this isn’t a difficult decision.  However, many smaller businesses and sales people depend heavily on referrals from friends and building personal relationships to make the sale.

If you decide to pull customers into the more personal social media areas like your Facebook personal profile, make sure to adjust your posts to position yourself a personable, yet professional.  For example, you may not share that funny picture of your nephew’s potty training progress, but the tasteful pictures of your daughter’s field trip may be fine.  If you enjoy being fully transparent on Facebook, it might be better to keep your customers on the Fan Page.

Building Your Professionalism

Here are three ways that people are getting the best results in building their professionalism using social media.

Posts should add value and show your expertise…Make sure your content mix is more than 50% original thoughts.  It’s great to re-tweet and share the links of others, but to differentiate yourself and show your expertise it is important to post original stuff.  Even when you share a blog post, add a comment that explains why it is great content for your audience.
Blogging really establishes expertise…To really show off your expertise and credibility online, nothing beats a consistent blog.  Because blogs are typically longer than the standard social media post, it allows you to deliver real value and complete thoughts to your target audience.
Use social media to leverage your network, not replace it…All the old rules for face-to-face networking still apply and social media is not an excuse to stop attending those networking events.  Social media merely gives you a tool to take those relationships to a higher level faster.

Some General Posting Guidelines

Don’t post anything you don’t want on the front page…Including, but not limited to, complaining about customers, sharing trade secrets or talking about extremely personal family situations.  Before you “share”, think through your professional audience and make sure they won’t be offended and think less of your judgment and professionalism.
Do you want customers to know you are at their competitors??? If you have a key restaurant client, do you really want them to see you “check-in” at their competitors across the street?  It may not matter if you are good about equaling out the love.
Posts can reflect your work schedule, political positions, financial situation, etc…Launching into a bashing of a political candidate or religious group may seem harmless enough, but would you do that in a meeting with customers who may hold opposing views?  How about reflecting on your day off golfing to a customer who is still waiting for their overdue web site?

In Summary

While considering how social media fits into your marketing mix, make sure that you segment the audience and adjust your content to ensure professionalism, trust and credibility.