Confessions of a Social Media Stalker

Is there such a thing as an Emily Post for Social Media?  Someone we can turn to for guidance on what is appropriate and what is not appropriate when it comes to dealing with others on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.?

The whole concept sounds vaguely stalker-ish (or is it stalker-eaque?).  At least on Facebook you have “Friends” and “Fans”, which sounds very nice, but on Twitter you have people “following” you.  I am not normally a paranoid person, but there are circumstances that can raise the hair on the back of my neck. 

Last year I decided to join Twitter when a cleaning owner forum I subscribe to put out an article on why cleaning service owners needed to be on Twitter.  They were right, by the way.  Every business owner should be on Twitter.  And Facebook and LinkedIn.  Social Media is the wave and you’d better be riding it or you are doomed to drown.  Anyway, I was new to Twitter and decided to post cutesy little ads wherein I would do a take-off on the Jeff Foxworthy “You might be a redneck if…” routine.  The difference is, I would say, “You might need a cleaning service if…”  I posted exactly two of these ads (I use the term loosely) when I opened up my email to find a notice from Twitter; “Bill Engvall is now following you on Twitter”.  I ran to the window and peeked through the shades.  This crazy notion started running through my head that Jeff Foxworthy had called Bill Engvall (they’re friends, I hear) and told him to keep an eye on me.  Bill Engvall is no longer following me.  He must have figured I was safe.

But it’s not the people who follow me or fan me or friend me that has me confused.  It’s how to use this technology in a business way without abusing it.  For example; when we go to a networking event and we get business cards, I usually go back to the office and look to see who may or may not be on Facebook or Twitter.  If they are, I usually friend them or ask them to follow me or to become a fan of my business, and I gladly return the favor.  I think it’s understood that this is an acceptable business practice, that by meeting these people and maybe (or maybe not) discussing Social Media you have opened the door to the fact that you may connect with them.    But the line becomes blurred when it comes to customers or potential customers.

With so many people on Social Media these days, it is naive to think that your customers aren’t on at least one, if not all, of the sites in either a personal or professional aspect.  We know that some of our customers are on Facebook.  We would like them to be fans of our page.  For our part, we have a fan page for the business, but we also have our own personal page and we try to keep the two somewhat separate.  It was my opinion that inviting these customers to be friends was an invasion of their personal space, but I still wanted them to be fans of the company.  The method I chose to invite them was simply to send them a message and respectfully ask them to become fans and provide them with a link to the page.  Most have done so without taking offense.

But what about potential customers?  Yes, I will admit, I will check Facebook to see if someone we have given a bid to is on it.  I believe that our fan page on Facebook or our Twitter site gives a fair representation of who we are as a company.  Our beliefs and values.  Would that not be a good selling point?  Might that not be a way to persuade someone to choose your company over another?  But how do you let the person you are trying to persuade know that they can find valuable information about your company?  We have mentioned it casually during estimates, but what if you want to make a more direct impression?  Is it acceptable to send someone an un-solicited message on Facebook, for example, saying, “In case you’re on the fence, check out our fan page.”?  For the time being, we have decided that this would be crossing an ethical line, but I’m curious to know what others think.

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