Once upon a time, professional networking happened after hours while sipping an aperitif or while swinging your golf clubs at a charity event. Putting together your professional image in the privacy of your personal space before shaking hands with prospects or clients will soon be a thing of the past. Image used to be everything. But now, with the explosion of Facebook, they’ve all seen you in a messy tube top holding both ends of a beer bong.
Facebook and other social media sites have blurred the lines between personal and professional. It’s a strange tangle of ‘friends’ that you retain and it can be impossible to tell where one begins and the other ends. Times have definitely changed—and the shift continues at a monumental rate. For the new generations it will be all they know. The idea of an archaic professional image (that some of us continue to cling to) will be as important to them as an eight-track cassette of The Bay City Rollers—or as necessary as a pen.
The surest way to maintain your individual professional image is to show it to everyone. While that may take care of you as an individual, what does that mean for your business? As you move your company out into the social stream, the course of your professional actions are now muddied in a personal dance with your consumers—while the whole world watches. Gone are the days where you could interact one-to-one and if you gave a less than stellar customer service performance to one individual, then you had the opportunity to make amends before it snowballed out of control. Negative publicity was word of mouth. Now, your lurking prospects , customers, and stakeholders can see it with their own eyes. You start with the out-of-control snowball—and you must work backward and quickly melt it back down to nothing. You must make amends to the whole world—not just one unhappy customer.
The positive in this—and yes, there is one there—is that this new age of social networking will keep you honest. It will tighten and hone your professional customer service techniques so that each customer or prospect you deal with will be given the same courtesy and attention to detail as the next. It’s a win—win. To help you bridge this gap will be a great social strategist (hi, nice to meet you) that will coach and navigate for you, gently pushing you forward, building your brand up in front of the social eyes of your consumers, and helping you to organize yourself in front of your waiting audience. Make no mistake—it is important that you be there. Everyone is there. You’re already conspicuous with your absence. If you don’t steer your social reputation, your unhappy customers, disgruntled employees and crazy ex-wife will.
Now, as an individual, you’re completely on your own. It’s possible that nobody will be watching you. Maybe the only interaction you will have is on your birthday when your mom posts the obligatory “happy birthday” on your Facebook wall. I can’t help you with that.