by Larry Williams
Without a doubt, the Facebook craze has created an amazing interactive community of friendships, opportunity and connection. It’s a place where we can share great conversations and enjoy endless hours of amusement and entertainment. On Facebook, we can get answers to our questions, make new friends and even interact with businesses and celebrities. We can console a friend, support a cause and make other people feel real good too. Overall, the benefits of this on-line community are endless. It’s no wonder it is so popular and enjoyed by millions. But like anything else that is so good, there is also a downside.
Many of us use social media to advance our presence in the business world. If not careful, your interaction on Facebook can also greatly compromise your relationships with colleagues and potential customers. First rule of thumb – exercise restraint and proceed with caution!
A perfect example of this is when we talk politics on Facebook. It is quite popular these days. In America, most political opinions either support the liberal or conservative viewpoint. This means you have a 50/50 chance of irritating someone who is reading your post. Is that worth the risk? Your colleagues, friends and potential customers do take your political and personal beliefs seriously. Don’t believe me? Just ask Dan Cathy – the President and CEO of Chick-Fil-A. While controversy can fuel free advertising, it might not always generate positive publicity.
In recent months I have noticed a trend on Facebook that finds business people openly engaging in very pointed political dialog. I agree, it is very tough to resist this temptation. But I have come to learn that on-line customer relations are every bit as important as face-to-face ones. It requires the same level of self-discipline, good judgment and proper decorum.
Think of it this way, what’s the first thing you think of when you see a political bumper sticker on a car? After reading the sticker, your focus immediately shifts to the person driving the car. If the bumper sticker supports the other party, you immediately form a negative opinion of the driver. It’s the truth. We all do it!
Now apply that same rationale to the postings on Facebook. We generally agree with about 50% of them. If we don’t like the post, we tend to raise an eyebrow towards the person who made it – just like seeing that bumper sticker. Be honest, your worldly viewpoint on politics (or any other controversial subject) is never going to change anyone’s mind. When was the last time someone switched political parties because of a post you made? You see my point?
This is not to say that we should compromise our principles and suppress our feelings. To the contrary, we can and should express our individual beliefs and engage in productive debates and dialog. This is what has made our country great. But these kinds of discussions when aligned with a business audience, changes the dynamic completely. Expressing personal beliefs and hoping for a positive acceptance (that won’t cost you business), is like playing chicken with your reputation. The outcome might not be pleasant.
Most businesses never know why they lose customers. That’s because most customers are not bold enough to tell you why they aren’t coming back. When a business experiences sluggish sales figures, they often blame it on the economy, the time of year or other factors not related to customer satisfaction. We don’t like to believe it’s because of our personal behavior. You could be losing customers and referrals and never know it.
There is nothing wrong with being passionate about your work and your beliefs. In fact, most people will respect that. But one should also recognize the importance of exercising common sense when publicly expressing opinions. Your postings on Facebook are creating perceptions that affect your reputation. These perceptions matter! So does your reputation! Your friends and relatives might read between the lines, understand your opinions and love you unconditionally – however, your colleagues and customers might not.