Technology like social media sites make it much easier to keep up with friends and family, make new connections, and find long-lost acquaintances than ever before. Facebook, Twitter, and numerous other sites are great for managing your personal as well as business contacts, and even open small businesses to potential customers in markets they might not otherwise have been able to reach before. The world is definitely a much smaller place these days. I’m perfectly fine with that, but one thing just troubles me about the whole thing and it seems to be a growing trend, particularly with professionals and small businesses.
Chris Voss once wrote a piece describing his efforts to vet his 5,000 Facebook friends and followers. Now, Mr. Voss is a world-renowned marketer and entrepreneur, so it is possible that he actually does have that many real friends who he actually knows and with whom he has true relationships. But for the purposes of this posting, I’m referring more to regular, everyday people who are entrepreneurs, running small business. I started paying more attention to the people I know, and I realized a shocking trend (at least to me):
Some people were using their personal profiles to network with people they had just met!
You may be thinking to yourselves, “Wow, that was pretty lame, I thought he was going to drop some kind of bombshell on us.” Well, the truth of the matter is, if you consider the points I am about to lay out, you may just change your mind because you never thought of it in this way before, or you may just come away from reading this shaking your head. So, why am I so shocked that people are using their personal profiles as their main way to network and connect with others they just met? Consider this:
People generally put personal information about themselves on their Facebook profile. Information such as birth date, where they are from, where they live now, familial relationships, photos of their kids, information about their daily routines and where they are at any given point in time.
Now ask yourself, do you want this information accessible to complete strangers with whom you have no real connection to, other than meeting them for a few minutes at a networking event or through another person? Do you want these strangers being able to see intimate details about your life? Do you want them knowing your kids’ names, where they go to school or camp? Do you want complete strangers knowing when you are out to dinner or away on vacation, or even at home alone?
I sure as heck don’t want people I know nothing about having that kind of information about me or anyone else I know for that matter. I wouldn’t want to expose my children or family members to that kind of public exposure. Now, let’s get away from the personal side and take a look at the business/professional side:
It’s a personal profile for crying out loud!
Isn’t developing and presenting a professional image one of the first things you are supposed to do in business? Get a website that doesn’t look like it was thrown together in 5 minutes, use a custom website and e-mail address (not AOL, Gmail, Yahoo!, etc.), get business cards and letterhead that portrays they image and characteristics of your business. These are all some of the first things anyone would advise a new entrepreneur to do before even considering contacting clients. So, why is it that on a free platform, people can’t be bothered to create a business or fan page and continue the trend of establishing an online business image. I mean, personally, I would have a hard time taking someone seriously if their “business” was running a website and email on a free account, whose business cards looked like they were typed on a sheet of plain copy paper, or whose phone was answered by their kids (but that’s just me), so I definitely would have a hard time taking them seriously if they couldn’t create a Facebook page–which, by the way, costs absolutely nothing except a little bit of time.
It would also stick out in my mind that they are also pretty careless about their personal information, and that of their family and friends. It would lead me to wonder if they are so reckless with that information, and those are the people closest to them, how secure would my information be? Would my credit card information be left laying for all eyes to see? Would any private information be broadcast to friend on their wall? Sure, call me paranoid or whatever else you can think of, but I do like my clients to know that I am professional and will treat them and their information in such a manner. Plus, my friends and family deserve to know that I won’t allow our private interactions to be seen by strangers or anyone who happens to stumble across any of my pages.
The bottom line is that this is as much a privacy and respect issue as it is a professionalism issue. You need to be able to keep your two worlds (business and professional in case you needed help) separate for everyone’s benefit, especially your own since you are in the middle. Screw up making the distinction and you can piss off a friend or lose a business client/partner…either way it won’t be much fun.