Let’s assume for a moment that MySpace is the bar, Facebook is a backyard barbeque, LinkedIn is the office, and Twitter is the café. If you’re like most of the people I know, you use at least two of these networks, often for different reasons. You hang with friends in one place, clients or colleagues in another. Just like in real life.
So what happens when you suddenly have business associates who want to join you for a permanent drink or invite themselves to the barbeque? Unlike the cookout, Facebook doesn’t end when the sun goes down. So do you accept them? Is it possible to refuse a request without getting someone upset or even jeopardizing a business relationship?
Let’s make it even more challenging. The company you work for wants you to use your social network to help call attention to its products and services, or perhaps those of its clients. Now what do you do? It’s one thing if you’re in the business of social media, and you’re trying to promote your own personal brand and expertise.
But you may have a network of friends and contacts with whom you connect on a purely personal level. It’s possible that neither you nor they want to pollute that relationship with the equivalent of advertising.
Or does it matter? Have all the lines blurred?
Inside my company, we encourage people to learn and master social media. We offer them the opportunity to do so on behalf of clients. But we never impose on anyone and respect an individual’s preference to keep his or her personal social networks exactly that, personal. Yet at the same time, when a team launches a social media program or puts up a new fan page on behalf of a client, they inevitably send out the agency-all email asking everyone in the company to get with the program and share it with friends.
So here are some questions. If you’re the employee, how do you feel about being asked to use your social networks for business purposes? Is it an imposition? Or do you consider your digital presence an asset that makes you more valuable in your job?
If you’re an employer, do you have a policy or is it a non-issue? Would you go so far as to consider the digital footprint of a prospective employee when interviewing job candidates? If you’re a marketer or ad agency, is a college graduate with 2000 followers on Twitter more interesting to you than one with 10 followers?
My prediction is that in the future, companies of all kinds will realize that their employees, who have always been their greatest asset, are even more valuable if they have the ability to help attract and mobilize customers and prospects. And it’s likely that social media — from Facebook to LinkedIn to Twitter to whatever comes next — is how they’ll do it.
What do you think?