It is obvious to most consultants that keeping an on-line presence in networks like Linkedin is beneficial. You grow your business network with colleagues you have worked with and provide a profile for future clients/employers/partners to peruse. You can also join communities and forums from the same environment. You can pose and answer questions, enter into professional discussions and be noticed by others lurking in the forum. In marketing terms you are creating brand recognition, the brand being you as a professional.
The upside of forum activity is that it expands visibility, the downside is that when you take a position some people will agree with you and inevitably some will not. What you can’t control is the reaction. It’s public, it’s global and it’s permanent. It’s like getting a tattoo on your face, you will want to think really hard before that post, everyone will see it.
What about Facebook?
Recently a business colleague of mine started making strong political commentary from his Facebook page. His FB “friends” are business contacts, employees, colleagues and of course some actual friends. Not that all of us were unaware of his politics, but now it becomes discussion fuel. In a recent post he quoted (incorrectly) from a newspaper article showing a graph that the current federal government was on a growth spree and suggested that his political party would stop this travesty. Unfortunately, the graph clearly showed that the rate of growth was significantly higher when his party was in office and the current government had successful slowed the runaway growth. (oops) Rebuttals, some very unflattering appeared in other blogs and social media and he ended up damaging his overall business credibility, which is too bad because he is one of the smartest people around anywhere. He was leveraging his combined personal/business network to influence an agenda and in the process accidentally damaged his business network.
Some people suggest dual personae. Get an account for business, get an account for personal. Create a fence between them and keep them distinctly separate. I suppose it will work, but I also think that it is a bit Jekyll and Hyde for me. Sooner or later some people will end up in both networks and wonder who you really are. I don’t know about you but I really dislike getting asked by a business colleague in Facebook to help them get a cow for Farmville and then have to look at them on Monday morning without giggling. I personally think that self-policing your actions on Facebook, limiting your fascination of farm animals and treating your posts as if every person in your network could be a future client is wise.
What about Twitter?
I subscribe to a number of people who Tweet. I watch Bill Gates because I know that when he sends a tweet it is going to be something really worth looking at. He does not tweet “I’m going out for Sushi now!” followed by “Almost at the restaurant!” 10 minutes later. Twitter is one where I clearly see advantages to dual accounts. For the true friend network,those who are truly interested in your dinner plans, status of a hangover or opinion of the final score of the game. Go for it. Tweet away. For business, keep it succinct, keep it 100% professional and keep it rare. People cannot possibly process thousands of tweets and associate value to them.
What about Blogs?
All blogs are searchable. I am amazed by how many people forget this. They will create two Blog sites; one business and one personal and think for some reason that a prospective employer/client cannot enter attributes into Bing, Google or Yahoo that will not return both. In today’s environment, create a post, establish a public profile or put pictures or videos in a public space and you might as well have tattooed it to your face when going in for an interview. Don’t forget that it’s also materials that your friends can publically post.
“Sue was tagged in this picture – Click Here.”
Blogs that provide business value and perhaps entertainment to the reader are IMHO the best vehicle for building networks and establishing a “brand”.
What about Technical Networks?
Today whether is TechNet, MSDN or many others, they all provide forums for discussion and query. The people who join to answer queries can quickly become acknowledged as Global Experts and propel their consulting careers. The opposite is also true. In a recent recruiting review, I scanned a few sites for participation from the applicant. Their resumé showed 5 years of expertise on a certain technology, however the questions they asked on the forum were clearly those of a novice. Again, these are all searchable and they are all global and they are all permanent.
Do – use professional networks extensively
Do – participate and offer solid, well thought-through answers in technical/professional forums and communities
Do – Split Twitter accounts into personal and business
Do – Tweet when it’ clearly has value to the reader in your business network.
Don’t – Add business colleagues to your personal Facebook account
Don’t – Post anything that a client or prospective client could see in a negative way on a any public blog
There is tremendous value in leveraging Social Networks for the consultant but you must always be aware of the potential perils also.