More and more of us are networking online with multiple services (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Linked In). And the various services tend to be used in the same way by the majority, e.g. Linked In for business, Facebook and MySpace for friends, with Twitter achieving a nice mix of both worlds.
From my part I’m clear on who I need to be connecting with on Linked In and to what end. But when it comes to social sites, the lines are a little more blurred. Do the clients you are close to qualify as friends, therefore achieve Facebook friend status? Or not?
As with every grey area, there are definite advantages and disadvantages to opening your Facebook up to preferred clients. For one thing, it allows you to forge closer bonds. Several industries thrive on the strength of the supplier/client relationship (think public relations and advertising). The closer you are, the more synergy you have and the more you can achieve as a team, right?
Tim Hill, Senior Account Manager at a Cape Town PR agency agrees, “I use Facebook as a networking tool for both personal and business use. Networking online can be a powerful advantage in this very social industry. Of course you have to be sensible and exercise a bit of caution, so as not to negatively impact on your credibility or that of your business. But it’s no different to behaving appropriately in public – there are things you only say and do in the company of your closest friends, and in my mind it’s no trouble to make that distinction.”
The fake Stephen Conroy Twitter incident which put a Telstra employee under scrutiny is a perfect example of how your behaviour can throw your professional reputation into the spotlight!
This is enough to persuade many that work and pleasure simply shouldn’t be mixed;
“I think it’s essential to place a barrier between your work life and social life,” says Julian Ford, Manager - Sales Engineering, Australia New Zealand (@julianford) of Salesforce.com. "You have to maintain a level of decorum in business, which you don’t necessarily need to uphold among friends on Facebook. There are sites specifically geared towards business networking – I’m all for using those for business and reserving Facebook for my friends.”
So, what is the correct Protocol if a client approaches you and asks you if they can link with you in Facebook? Is it offensive to decline?
“As long as you make light of it, no offense can possibly be taken,” says Libby-Jane Charleston (@ljcharleston), PR Consultant and author of crime fiction Light Sweet Crude. “I just tell my clients that they don’t want to trawl through all of my family photos on Facebook and suggest they connect with my on Twitter instead."
At the end of the day, the choice is down to the individual. There many people who have a relationship with clients that more closely resembles a friendship and who benefit immensely from socialising in Facebook – I do it myself. But I do sometimes wonder- if one or other of us decides to end the business relationship where does that leave us?
My feeling is that, if when you talk to a client face to face about your life or your weekend you feel the need to offer the edited version, then maybe you should consider keeping business and pleasure apart… ‘one way or another, the truth will out’, so says my wise grandmother, anyway!