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November 12, 2009

How You Use Social Media Can Kill Your Business

The social media movement has expanded the number of people we can reach and connect with on a personal level. The new relationships and connections we create with people all over the world can have a profound effect on our personal and business growth. We learn about cultures and nations that we were, perhaps, previously ignorant of. None of this is a new concept, but what may be is how quickly you can destroy your business by using social media incorrectly.

Transparency is a Utopian Concept

Not too long ago, Michael Fortin wrote an article titled “Don’t Be Transparent, Be Authentic Instead”. That article is an important read for any social media wrangling business blogger and you can search for it online.

That article is the tip of the iceberg in the concept of ‘transparency’ being too Utopian to work within the jaded confines of our society. Of course, true transparency is ideal. Many things about a perfect world are. Unfortunately, as a group, most of the world isn’t ready or willing to accept true transparency without penalty.

When Transparency Fails

Let me give you a couple of examples of transparency failure we’ve seen.

Failure 1: We had a copywriter who was posting on Twitter about the work he was doing. He made several posts within a few hours which were ugly complaints about a client and how ‘stupid’ he felt that client was. We obviously considered this unacceptable and immediately removed him from our list of subcontractors, but think about this: If he was hoping to use Twitter to get more client work – how many potential clients just read that and thought… “I’m not going to risk being badmouthed on here, I’ll find someone else.” Everyone gets frustrated, but what if the client he was working on read that? Put it this way, if you wouldn’t say it to your client directly – don’t post it either.

Failure 2: We had a designer who was a day late returning her design phase work. When we contacted her, she said she had a family emergency the night before and was unable to send in her work because she wasn’t home. A quick check on Facebook showed that she was actually out at a party that night and posted multiple times while drunk talking about how much she was drinking and even hinting at wanting to bring a man she met there home with her. Obviously, we relieved her of the design work, handed it to another designer who caught up on the time schedule, and never again worked with her. In this case, people are allowed to have a life, we understand that. But if you cannot get your work done and have to lie about why – it’s a problem. If you do not have enough class to not post details about your ‘wild nights’ to everyone on your social networks — that’s also a problem.

How We Monitor Social Media Conversations

My business has been around for over a decade and is very focused on client satisfaction and excellent treatment of our web design clients. We have a network of hundreds of copywriters, designers, and coders who work with us on projects. However, even with screening of those experts when they come on board with us – you don’t always know someone until you have observed them over a long period of time.

That’s why we monitor what they say online.

How do we do that? Well first we get as many of their social profiles as we can. Usually, we ask for a list of them. We’ve also found that most people won’t provide them all. We then Google search the usernames of the ones they have given us because most people use the same usernames over and over. We also monitor blogs, and check for listings of social networks on those.

We have a system set up to consolidate all their social media comments into one master feed. That master feed can then be browsed directly to see what they’re up to, but that’s a lot of things to read each day. What we do is take the master feed, run it through a filter that creates two sub-feeds based on certain things we think are important to monitor. The first sub-feed is created by running the master list through a keyword & synonym filter that pulls out words related to business – for instance, “client” “business” “work” etc… The second sub-feed has a filter that runs their posts through a check for foul language and words like “sex” “drugs” “drunk” etc… There are hundreds of words in each filter.

Seem a bit ‘big brother’? It probably is – but reputation and client treatment is very important to us.

Here’s the thing: If we can read it and you can lose work with us over it… how many POTENTIAL clients did you lose also?

7 Ways to Edit Yourself

We’re not suggesting you stop having a life and stop making mistakes. You can post about those things and it simply makes you a more interesting person to read about. Just use common sense:

  1. If you wouldn’t say it to a client or boss – don’t say it where they can read it either.
  2. If you wouldn’t say it to your grandmother – don’t say it on your public posts.
  3. If you wouldn’t say it to a police officer – don’t post it on your social networks. For that matter, don’t do it either.
  4. If you plan to lie to your boss – don’t put the truth where they can see it.
  5. If you plan to go out and get drunk and know you have a tendency to post while drunk – give your phone to a friend to keep for you.
  6. Learn how to use privacy settings and understand how visible your posts are on different social networks.
  7. If you want a place to vent – create a completely different identity for yourself to do that. Name no names in your posts, and make no connection to your other profiles or email addresses.

Consider it all part of Internet Etiquette. Social networks are great to hear more personal things about someone and we encourage people to share a bit of themselves online (using normal cautions etc..). In the long run, full transparency is too Utopian for our modern world to handle well. We’re still at a point in our societal growth that when someone seriously calls a client an idiot – they tend to get a bit upset about it.

Nicole Hernandez is a web developer with a specialty in web standards and accessibility. She is the owner of Website Style and publishes technical articles on her blog called Beyond Caffeine.

13 Responses to “How You Use Social Media Can Kill Your Business

    avatar Carla Caso says:

    Thank you for your advice. I always felt there is something wrong about all these social media conversations, when it comes to business. Why? because your private garden should stay private?!and it’s difficult to target your potential clients on these ways. If someone wants something that you only have, they search for you?!
    Have a nice day.

    avatar Renagade says:

    Good points everyone should take to heart.
    An occasional ‘Grrr, I am mad at Walmart, or my ISP” is fine, but to vent about your clients, your business or other businesses is not such a good idea.

    I personally have a few other pet peeves on what I see:

    1. Overpromoters –
    dont mind you selling …but please do more than just that. Don’t be Spammy
    2. The ‘potty-mouths’ –
    Really? is that language necessary?
    3. The ‘Way Too Much Information’ –
    Please, I AM interested in what you are doing, but I DON’T need to know the intimate details.
    4. The RT’s on Twitter of @ ‘Lists’-
    Great!! someone threw out a list of nothing but @so-and-so’s and YOU are on it! Thank them …sure .. but don’t ReTweet it …that means everyone on that list is getting that list all over again.
    5. The Gamers –
    You want to play Mafia Wars? Great! I really dont need the invite, nor do I need a blow by blow of your game. Are you playing when you should be working? I bet your boss or clients will enjoy finding out you just got up to the next level of play too!

    Socail Media is simple … It is Common Sense and Common Curtesy… Sadly something that is becoming scarce in the name of transparency.

    Excellent article. Very well written.

    I agree with a huge amount of the article.

    Our company has used social media vastly which has help us rapidly gain a foothold in the Recruitment sector.

    My concern is the big brother issue, yes you shouldn’t bad mouth clients on social media sites but are your employees aware they are being observed in such a way.

    The good thing about twitter and Facebook is that you can share things openly even when you are a bit drunk!!

    It would be better to educate people how to use privacy setting on their social media, and warn them of the consequence of their actions.

    We are very aware that anybody could be reading our posts I have a facebook account for work and one for private use and I don’t cross the two.

    avatar Collection agencies says:

    Great information, most of it is just common sence and using good judgment. Its never a good idea to put others down when your trying to sell something.

    avatar Scott Lovingood says:

    If you are going to be in business, everything you say counts toward your brand. Be honest would have stopped the second problem. She was being dishonest and got caught. I would much rather work with a professional honest person any day.

    Never say anything in social media that you would not want on the front page of the NY Times..because it may end up there.

    Remember that social media is public social media. It is not a private conversation with a close friend. Respect the power it brings but also the responsibility that comes with it.

    Present your brand in a consistent way in everything you do and you will create abundance in your life. Inconsistencies cause chaos as seen by the results above.

    avatar Laurie says:

    I understand your position, especially in relation to clients. However, overall, your approach is worrisome, and too “big brother” for my liking. In fact, if I were a potential client, I would worry that you would perform the same spying techniques on me. Worry, not because I’ve got something to hide, but because i dislike the approach and find it an affront against me.

    avatar Bob Marx says:

    Yes, by all means, let’s “edit ourselves.”

    That way we won’t offend you, the all-mighty employer, with our “opinions,” or our “political beliefs” or, for that matter, our “personalities”.

    We’ll all be good little clones, to satisfy our corporate master.

    avatar Ellen Zucker says:

    I agree that one should either learn to use privacy settings and many comments are best left unposted. Nonetheless, I have to agree with Bob Marx. Chilling. But I do appreciate your being upfront with your policies so that potential subcontractors can decide if they are willing to subject themselves to such a high level of scrutiny.

    avatar Greg Milhem says:

    Well – a lot of good points here. It is good to know that companies are doing that – a lesson to us all. As service or product providers it would probably be a good idea to check our clients prior to committing as well.

    The problem with our revealing ourselves.. i.e. transparency, like some do online, is that we may not like what we see or hear from you, and this may have nothing to do with one’s ability to deliver quality service or product but rather a political or social preference that turns us one way or the other.

    If you are willing to only work with those who agree with what you say or what you do… have at it, go-off. With so much division between social, political, and religious views becoming public and heated these days (in large part because of “web 2.0”), those of us who have convictions one way or the other are far more likely to consider this before doing business with someone.

    Some peoples conviction is, “I should be able to say what I want..and do what I want and not be judged for it” Good Luck!

    It’s not evolution, it’s human nature, and that will never change!

    So please… get online and let us know who you are and what you think! I’d much rather know that before working with you.

    avatar Brian Grove says:

    Do you listen outside their homes as well? Or have someone follow them to see if they are going out drinking?
    Frankly your attitude to privacy stinks. I’m glad I don’t do business with you.

    avatar Viky says:

    Thanks a lot.. very useful and excellent.

    avatar Kim says:

    This is a very interesting topic, but the reactions to your company’s practice even more so.

    I may not choose to look for possibly negative behavior patterns before working with them, but I also can’t imagine people being so against the act. Social forums are accessible by nearly everyone. The behaviors and ideas people choose to share are there for everyone to see. In fact, parading around social networks is like parading down the street of everyone you know. If you are ashamed of your behavior, keep it private. If you don’t care who sees your behavior, this shouldn’t worry you.

    How we choose to behave in public (social networks are very public) reflects our character. I do not hire or work with people who behave badly…at least not publicly. I can’t know how they behave in private settings, but social networks are anything but private. I do not work with people who will reflect badly on my business, because there is always someone else to hire.

    How I work, the work I produce, my ability to work with clients, maintain a positive image for my clients, the language I use, even the things I write about on facebook or our blog…these things are shaped by my character. And those things are just some of the ways my clients have used in deciding to work with me.

    If your boss isn’t looking at your social network, their clients might.

    I explain this to the people I work with, so that they know…we encourage our clients to get to know us so they will choose to work with us.

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