Social media is ubiquitous. Look at all the bowed heads and tapping fingers as people commune with their smartphones. It doesn’t matter if they’re walking down the street, in a business meeting, or sharing a meal with others, phones are always on and socially connecting. The Twitterverse has become part of the regular news cycle as politicians, and yes, the President, make it their go-to public communication channel.
But what does this mean for sales professionals in the business world? In my guest post on InsideSales.com, When and Why Sales Professionals Should Text Clients, I suggest that there is a time and place for texting within sales relationships, just as there are times when it is appropriate to communicate with clients by sending an email, making a phone call, or scheduling an in-person meeting.
In this post, I will address the broader topic of social media — not just whether to use it for business purposes, but how one’s personal postings can make a strong impression, good and bad, on their professional persona.
True or False: Social media is all about being authentic, expressing your personal views, and sharing imagery that exposes others to what is happening in your world. Salespeople should be able to freely post and tweet what they want.
Of course, salespeople can post what they want, where they want. That’s a right of free speech. The challenge, however, is understanding that social media opens up a whole new channel of information about who you are as a person — your lifestyle, your habits, and how you behave with others — which makes a long-lasting impact on professional reputations.
Consider this scenario: Jim is a young job-seeker who spends a lot of time on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. He is socially active and likes to attend parties with his friends from high school and college. In nearly every picture he posts of himself, he has a drink or cigarette in hand. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s just Jim. But what do you think happens when he applies for a sales position with a healthcare company? There is a disconnect that can easily thwart Jim’s chances of getting the job, no matter how strong his resume. Further, if Jim has conveyed in interviews that he is health conscious, this inconsistency will raise concerns with prospective employees about Jim’s character and integrity.
Recruiters and hiring managers check social media postings to get a deeper sense of job candidates. They want to read between the resume lines and get insights about character, lifestyle, and other interests that could raise concerns with a recruiter or an employer about how much time Jim actually spends working. This doesn’t mean Jim should publish only sanitized posts; it means that he needs to think seriously about the online image he is creating and reinforcing with every post.
True or False: LinkedIn is a business- and employment-oriented social networking site. Salespeople can use this site for their professional contacts and keep Facebook or Twitter for posting about their personal escapades, political beliefs, and party pictures.
Yes, LinkedIn should represent your professional brand. The trick is in aligning the professional with the personal. Social media is transparent and accessible by everyone. There are no walls separating who you are professionally versus personally. A good web researcher can easily find your LinkedIn profile — your official business persona — and your tweets. If you use Twitter to express strong political views or advance some hot-button cause, these posts can affect the perceptions of employers and clients, both current and prospective.
True or False: You search LinkedIn to see which of your clients have profiles there and then invite them to become connections. Salespeople should also “friend” clients on Facebook and “follow” them on Twitter.
This is a trick question. People have different values and sensitivities around their work lives and the privacy of their personal lives. I rarely cross this boundary on social media sites because I take this perspective: I never want to risk getting a client in trouble in their own company or jeopardize a close professional relationship by “friending” or “following” them. I always reserve sharing personal information with clients to conversation only. As much as I have developed personal relationships with clients, they are still rooted in a business relationship. Some clients may find it awkward, if not an invasion of privacy, to request to be Facebook friends with them. Remember, the term “friends” means just that.
The questions I ask myself include these:
- How intimately do I want to be by sharing my personal life with my client?
- What leverage might I be surrendering?
- How much do I want to know about my client’s personal life?
- How much exposure does my client have?
- Would it put my client in a compromising position if personal relationships with suppliers were discouraged or against company policy?
- If the relationship is too personal, what happens when I have to deliver a tough message or negotiate?
- What if my client has to deliver a tough message to me?
Sensitive issues are at risk, and the rewards are minimal. I can connect with clients through LinkedIn, no problem. Further, you have no way to control what your friends and followers post or retweet. As the saying goes, “You are known by the company you keep.” That’s where I draw my boundaries.
All social media questions fall into a gray area because strong business relationships are often personal. Carpenters have a rule of thumb: measure twice, cut once. The wise person posting on social media also has a rule of thumb: since posting and tweeting tend to be impulsive behavior, often with unintended consequences, write whatever you want, but don’t hit “send.” Revisit your post the next day; if it still seems like a good idea — and you can live with the consequences — then click to post.
The safe approach is to avoid the practice of friending and following clients and make sure your social media brand is consistent with the image you want to project, particularly with your LinkedIn profile. Otherwise, social media may have unintended consequences that may hinder your relationships with clients and your career.
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