A Story About How LinkedIn Can Hurt Your Business

A Story About How LinkedIn Can Hurt Your Business
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“What does social media have to do with marketing?”

A client asked me that question a few weeks ago.

It’s not an uncommon question, either. And it’s a fair one. Most people who run businesses don’t have time to learn the nuances of social media because they’re busy running their businesses.

And while we often teach the benefits of using social media wisely, there are consequences to using social channels poorly.

I want to share a story of one such consequence, but first I’d like to ask you two questions:

  1. When was the last time you reviewed or updated your LinkedIn profile?
  2. When was the last time you reviewed the LinkedIn profiles of your employees?

A Sad But True Story

Last week a friend of mine that runs a local business (let’s call him Bob) was fired by a new customer. This surprised Bob, but not as much as the reason.

The customer had decided to review the LinkedIn profiles of Bob and his staff. As it turns out, there were mixed messages being presented and the nature and quality of Bob’s business came into question.

To be fair to Bob, a senior and highly paid employee was moonlighting on the side in violation of his work agreement and not making a secret of it on LinkedIn.

The customer’s faith had been shaken.

Bob was out of luck. Bob’s company lost a customer. And Bob’s employee was fired.

The Post Mortem

The practical reality is that the situation with Bob’s customer is not unusual. What is unusual is that the customer told Bob the reason for the decision to fire Bob.

What does that mean for you and your business?

It means that even if you weren’t fired because of a social profile, you may have been overlooked because of one. It adds up to the same thing.

Ultimately, all businesses need to recognize that the maturation of social media isn’t around the corner. It’s already here. Your colleagues, friends, coworkers, customers and old high school friends all have one thing in common; they are making judgements about you based on your online profiles whether you like it or not.

It’s incumbent upon you to be ahead of that curve.

LinkedIn Profiles Create A Chain

We’ve all heard the phrase “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” This is also true in marketing. The best and most well-planned marketing can crumble as a result of seemingly insignificant factors.

Bob’s company spends a small fortune on marketing, but like many business owners, Bob failed to recognize that marketing does not only encompass him and the business. His employees also create touch points to the outside world.

While Bob may not have any responsibility for the actions of his employees on the Internet, that’s not how his potential customers will perceive it. It may seem unfair but it’s true.

How Can Your Business Protect Itself?

I’m not an attorney. What follows isn’t so much legal advice as common sense advice. Use these guidelines as a starting point to strengthen your overall business profiles online.

Ask your employees for social profile disclosures. While the private lives of your employees are none of your business, the things they do publicly that can affect your business may be.

Asking your employees to disclose their public profiles may give you a better perspective on their behavior and give you a better idea of what your exposure is. You can go the route of searching without asking, but being up front and using this disclosure as a positive effort can be far better for morale.

Ask your employees to agree to standards of conduct. The story above illustrates that the zeitgeist has shifted. Competition is fierce and potential customers have lots of options.

Smart customers will use social media as a tie breaker of sorts. This means that anything said or distributed online can act as a repelling force to you potential customers.

I’ve found that asking employees to exhibit “common sense” isn’t good enough. Come up with a mutually agreeable set of standards on what your employees can and can’t say that can affect your business.

Ask your employees to agree to use accepted language about their employment with you. If your contract stipulates that your customer will get to work with a “senior project manager”, but that “project manager’s” social profile says “secretary”, that could create confusion for your customer.

On the flip side, it’s not uncommon for people to embellish what they do, but this can have a harmful effect if you’re sending mixed messages about skills, job status or roles.

Come to an agreement with your employees about how they can detail their employment with you.

Invest in your employees’ social efforts. It probably goes without saying that your employees do not have it on the top of their personal priority list to make sure that their profiles look good for your business.

That’s understandable. Your employees will recognize that asking them to compromise on their social profiles and behavior benefits your business more than them. To make the process worthwhile for them and for you, offer to invest in professional profiles to be created for them on all channels, even their personal ones. They end up looking good and so do you.

In the long term, when you customers do some digging on you and your team they will find fine-tuned content that puts your business ahead of the pack.

Put it in writing. It’s great to have this discussion with your staff, but it’s wise to have whatever you agree to in writing. It eliminates ambiguity and gives you something you can use to hold people accountable. In this day and age, every business should have a written social media policy.

Touchy! Touchy!

Let’s not wrap up this conversation without touching upon (no pun intended) the fact that this is a touchy area. People don’t typically sit around waiting to have their private online profiles encroached upon by their employers.

Let’s not delude ourselves into thinking this is an easy conversation to have.

When I hired my amazing production assistant Teddie, her online behavior was the first thing we talked about. Fortunately for me, she’s amazing, smart and has a good head on her shoulders. And fortunately for her, my company doesn’t have ridiculous requirements.

Ultimately it’s all about balance. You want your business to look good regardless of how a potential customer decides to evaluate you, but you don’t want your business to be a burden on the personal lives of your employees.

What do you think of this story and how that customer reacted? Do you have stories like this of your own? Let me know in the comments.

And remember that Web.Search.Social provides consulting services on this very topic. We can help you devise a practical social media policy and help you write and implement sound, well crafted profiles.

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Ralph M. Rivera
Hi, I'm Ralph! I'm a web developer and founder of Rahvalor Interactive, a creative marketing services company based in Holmdel, New Jersey. I founded Rahvalor in 1999 with my wife and business partner Carol Lynn, and in January 2012 we created Web.Search.Social as a branded service offering that brings enterprise-level services to small businesses in an affordable way. My primary role is programming and development, and with 25 solid years of marketing experience behind me, I write, consult and develop strategy for our customers. I'm also the CTO of Triberr and I teach web development at Manhattan College in New York City. Carol Lynn and I live near the coast in central New Jersey, less than an hour from the place of my birth – the island of Manhattan. We are at the constant beck and call of Ash, our 17-year-old American Shorthair cat. I'm also trying to build a flux capacitor, but that's not going as well as the other stuff I do.
Ralph M. Rivera
Ralph M. Rivera
  • http://cashwithatrueconscience.com/rbblog Ryan Biddulph

    Interesting Ralph. Generating good karma is always my goal on the reputation front, whether on LI or any network; I attract good matches and lose fast ones quickly ;) Thanks!

  • http://melaniekissell.com/blog Melanie Kissell

    Uh, oh. Right about now, “Bob” is not a happy camper.

    What an
    unfortunate ordeal this has been for him! But I’m certain it’s also been
    one hell of a valuable lesson. It boils down to trust, doesn’t it,
    Ralph? He most likely trusted the particular employee in question. It’s a
    sad shame when someone goes behind your back to line their pockets with
    extra cash … at YOUR expense! :(

    Off the subject but …
    Every
    time I hit your FB sharing icon, I get a “page not found” message. Been
    meaning to tell you and Carol Lynn about this for a while now. Doesn’t
    happen with any of the other sharing buttons. The only way for me to
    share your brilliant posts on FB is to walk through the steps of using
    their “debugger”.

  • http://www.psdnetwork.com/ @hsboggini

    This article is a great discussion starter. The lines between personal and professional online profiles is blurring. Employers being upfront with their employees about expectations for responsible use of social should happen early and often. And I totally agree that it should be in writing. How about designating the marketing team member as the point person to monitor (not police, but monitor) online activity associated with company’s brand?

  • http://sylvianenuccio.com/ Sylviane Nuccio

    Hi Ralph,

    I haven’t been here in a while, but every time I come, it’s good stuff.

    This is an excellent subject indeed. Employees can indeed have an effect, good or bad, on the company they work for. As someone wrote on their post not long ago, don’t share on social media what you wouldn’t share with your neighbors, so that will help you keep polite, decent and keep you from sharing too personal stuff that no one needs to know.