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What’s in a tweet?

twitter, tweets

What kind of an image are you creating for prospective clients, who check out your social media updates?

I received an interesting email from a reader last night, which I would like to share with you.  She asked if I would not use her name, so I am going to call her Barbara instead.  Her email was short but contained a very valuable message.  It’s something I have heard of many times and it’s becoming more and more common.

Here is the section, which Barbara agreed I could share with you:

I am writing this, hoping it will stop others from making the same idiotic error .  Ive just had what would have been my second largest ever project cancelled.  The client had verbally agreed to proceed and we had set a price.  Lovely.  I called today as agreed, to arrange the start date.  That’s when he told me he’d changed his mind. Over the holidays he checked my social media messgaes, and now had concerns that I wasn’t suitable.  He referenced that I sometimes sign-off from twitter after work saying something like “great, its wine o’clock.”

He told me he didn’t want to hire someone, who was so happy to finish work that they celebrated or someone with a drink problem.  Here’s the kicker Jim, I don’t drink much at all.  It’s what i see a lot of others saying.  I explained this to him but understandably he didn’t believe me.  I feel foolish for not thinking that potential clients would look at my tweets and reading them back its easy to see why someone would get the wrong idea about my drinking habits.

Our digital footprint

For me the interesting thing here, and the reason I decided to share Barbara’s email with you, is not whether it’s a good idea to tell people you look forward to drinking after work or not.  Thankfully, we each have the freedom to say whatever we like, because it’s us who pay the price if we screw up or get the rewards if we don’t.  No.  What interested me about Barbara’s email, is this:  More and more people are using our social media streams, as a way to check us out, before becoming one of our clients or customers or even recommending us to their contacts.

I used to follow someone, who was always tweeting about how stupid his clients were.  He never named them, but would tweet what he called the stupid questions they were asking him.  In other words, any of his clients reading his twitter stream, would know he was insulting them, from the questions he was making fun of with his friends.  Is he free to do that if he wants to?  Yes (thankfully).  Would I recommend him to one of my clients or contacts, knowing he may insult them in that way?  Not a chance!

The best advice on this subject that I know of, came from Brian Clark of copyblogger. Brian recently said that to be effective with social media, a businessperson needs to;

be authentic to the element of themselves, that meshes with their audience.

Seth Godin makes pretty much the same point in his book, All Marketers Are Liars.

That approach is how I use social media and it works extremely well for me.  On my Twitter account and my Facebook account, you get a more professional version of me then you would experience, if you and I were at a football match and my team were losing.  However, it’s still me.  My core beliefs and values are the same at the game or in the office on Twitter / Facebook etc.

Over to you

Have you ever researched someone’s social media activity before hiring them (or recommending them)?  Do you think it’s a good idea for business owners to think about the impact of what they openly share on social networks?  Maybe you believe it’s a better idea to just say whatever you like, and keep it real?

I’m keen to learn what you think about this.

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Image: Pete Simon

About Jim Connolly: I help small business owners grow their business, make more sales and boost their profits. To see how I can help you and your business, read this.

36 Comments

  1. It’s a fine line between being you and crossing the line and turning away business. It depends on the type of business you have, combined with what kind of client is your ideal client.

    For myself, if I’m typing on a public site (FB, twitter, linkedin, etc…) I always think about how potential clients, current clients, and vendors will interpret what I write. My personality and who I am comes through, but it’s not “raw” and “unfiltered”.

    When I need to vent, that’s what friends and family are for (in person). Just my written 2 cents (filtered of course). :)

  2. Keith Harding

    January 5, 2011 at 07:52

    I see that kind of dumb use of social media all the time.

    I even see so called business coaches doing that wine-o’clock stuff, without realizing they are painting a very negative pictire of themselves.

    If your business sucks so hard that you need booze to wash your day away, time to reconsider your business, not tweet about it. I’m less likely to use a provider who curses and tweets about being drunk, than one who displays a little more class.

    • I have seen that too Keith. It does seem an odd approach, and as my example above shows it can have harsh commercial consequences too.

  3. Hi Jim,

    As my media savvy niece, Kate Bevan from the Guardian Weekly put it, “considered openness” is the watchword when posting to Facebook or Twitter. I have found that most forms of texting (IM, SMS, Tweets etc.) seem to remove people’s natural caution. We want to project ourselves, we need the interactions to be compelling, engaging and natural because ultimately people buy from people. We just need to mind our Ps and Qs.

    Oh, and yes I use social media to get a feel for people I’m dealing with and where they are coming from. I’ve not been in a position myself to use it in a hiring situation, but that definitely goes on.

    • Thanks for the feedback Paul.

      BTW: I love the term your niece uses; “considered openness”.

      I have variously been told that between 80% and 95% of people check out a potential service provider online, before hiring their services. I can see this number increasing, if anything.

  4. This is a great point Jim.

    A few years ago it used to be email that caught people out – someone would make a bitchy comment in an email about someone else and surprise surprise, the insulted person would eventually see the email. Dumb.

    I think I’m more concerned for the current generation of kids – they live out their lives via facebook/twitter. When they grow up and they apply for a job, every adolescent comment will be on show to reviewed by their interviewer.

    • Your point about the way kids are sharing all via social networks is a good one, Andy. Google’s Eric Schmidt recently said he suggested kids should consider changing their name, when they go into the job market!

      Thanks for popping by the blog!

  5. Quite right, Jim. It is so easy to throw away our reputations with a few careless tweets, Facebook comments or an unwise blog post.

    Yes, generally before doing business with anyone I look them up in the various on-line places where they have a presence, and I am sure most web-savvy people do.

    I have written about this myself several times in my own blog. More amusing than my comments are these from Alan Rae whom I met through Ecademy. http://bit.ly/fnfdBx

    Like yours, my approach is to be authentic. I am myself but of course not my whole private self. Also, I don’t do politics anywhere in social media because people have strong views which over-ride their judgment as to one’s business offerings.

    • Thanks for the link and the feedback, Jon. Seems already that most people now really do use social media to check people out in advance.

  6. Thanks for sharing this Jim.

    I feel for ‘Barbara’ that what she thought were sociable comments have damaged her on-line personal brand and lost her a client.

    Her story is an important reality check to keep in mind before hitting the tweet button!

    • Good point Lynda. I think what makes it worse, is that she used that way to “sign off”, just to emulate what she saw others doing. She isn’t a heavy drinker.

      As you say, it’s usually a good idea for commercial users of social networks, to think before they hit that send button.

  7. I imagine there are many people who like to have a drink after a hard days work, and even if you love what you do there are days that may deserve a drink (maybe as a celebration).

    I do feel for Barbara, a glass of red wine and day is meant to have positive health benefits ;) But, the thing to remember is we have moved into new times and your followers/clients/peers may not share the same view as yourself.

  8. Bill Mc Cartney

    January 5, 2011 at 13:19

    Thanks for sharing Jim and it’s given me food for thought.
    I would say to Barbara though don’t beat yourself up so much over this. People change their minds and seldom give the real reasons why. Her client may have reflected again on the price, maybe their business is facing a sudden crisis, whatever.
    Barbara’s mistake is trying to defend and explain her actions, it is just digging a deeper hole for herself. Rather, thank the client for the opportunity to tender for work and ask a few open questions to try and find out any other issues.
    Remember “perception is reality” for many people.

  9. Really early on in my Twitter life, I was in Beaver Creek, Colorado with some girlfriends. We’d just finished hiking and, between a climb to 14,000 feet and our adrenaline, we were being goofy. One of my my very best friends LOVES Keanu Reeves and we always tease her about him because he’s gay and the whole point of having a top five list of celebrities is that if you met one of them, your spouse would have to give you a pass to do what you like with that person. So I tweeted something stupid and silly like “would someone please tell @usernname that Keanu Reeves is gay?”

    Well, a client we had JUST signed a contract with saw that and called me on Monday to say he didn’t want to work with a company whose CEO is a bigot. I had NO idea what he was talking about. He went on to say he saw that tweet and nothing I could change his mind.

    We lost the business, which ended up being OK in the long run, but it was an EXCELLENT lesson for me.

    • Hi there Gini. That’s an interesting story and another example of how we all see things differently. As Jeremy McMinn says in his comment here, other people seem to be able to act in a very different way, without obvious damage to their reputation. It all goes back to that quote from Brian Clark in my post – about meshing your profile with your audience. Maybe? Thanks for the comment, Gini!

  10. Jeremy McMinn

    January 5, 2011 at 14:33

    I will just mention there needs to be balance here.

    In a recent video that Dave Navarro did with Naomi Dunford, Dave was seen sipping on a bottle of beer whilst discussing marketing strategies for 2011.

    Is he going to have people cancel on him because he likes a drink? Maybe.
    Is he also highly sought after and an authority within the marketing industry? Yes.

    I have seen numerous videos of Frank Kern throwing bottle of Jack Daniels to his seminar participants. We all know Frank Kern likes to have a good time.

    Is he going to have people cancel on him because he likes a drink? Maybe.
    Is he also highly sought after and an authority within the marketing industry? Yes.

    I would have personally been glad to rid myself of a client that takes offence to me winding down after a long day with a glass of wine – obviously if she is mentioning that at the end of every day, there is a problem, but I do not see a problem with the one off comment.

    • Hi Jeremy. Thanks for an interesting perspective. I wonder if people view established figures differently, from people like you and me? Do we cut them more slack, because they have fans, rather than followers? I don’t know.

      Yes, in the full email she says she did sign off most days with that comment. No, she wasn’t drinking – it was a bit of fun. You may have been happy to lose that client, but it would have been her 2nd largest ever client apparently and a project she really wanted to do.

      Thanks for sharing an alternative opinion, Jeremy. THAT’S what I love about social media. Lots of different views.

      • Well Jim, let’s start thinking like these guys because they started off small once.

    • Oh my gosh, Jeremy … I had to go out after reading this post and have been thinking hard about it and wondering if everyone is going to just bow to people’s opinions. I totally concur with your views. I would consider myself blessed if a client turned me down because they took offence at something as silly as “wine o’clock” and I’m a Christian who doesn’t drink wine!

      My question is, what would it have been like to have to work for the maverick who turned Barbara down?

      Does anybody here think that Gary Vaynerchuk’s bank balance is destroyed because he’ll just come out with the “F” word during a seminar. Gary may not be on the list of my Pastor’s upcoming speakers but companies hire him for what he knows.

      On Facebook I have my personal profile where I want to speak to my family and friends. I have two fan pages where I speak business on one and ministry on the other. If a company doesn’t like me because I speak my lingo occasionally to my family on Facebook or, I say “I love Jesus” then so be it, but I will NOT change who I am because one micro manager might not like me for what could be a myriad of reasons … they’ll make up their reasons to suit themselves, as it pleases them.

  11. I fear I may be making a redundant comment here, but here goes. In a professional sense, I am very young (25), but in a social media world, very old. I became a Facebook user in 09/04. Both Twitter and Facebook have proven to be invaluable platforms for advancing my professional and personal ambitions; however, I am becoming increasingly confused ‘who’ I should be online. I feel like I derive (will derive) much of my success by being candid — whether by making sarcastic remarks, talking about over serving myself, opening up and sharing a personal story, etc. but I often wonder what impact such behavior will have on my future. When I’m 50, I’ll have a 31 year record of my social activities (think of kids being born today, scary). That’s the age when I should be in my prominence — running for public office, sitting on BoD’s, etc. but what if that 2am tweet or FB post surfaces and somehow I’m labeled as irresponsible because, heaven forbid, I partied when I was in college. It’s a blurred line, and one I have no idea which side I’m on.

    • The idea of a 31 year traceable profile is quite a thought, Jamey.

      As I said earlier, Eric Schmidt from Google has suggested people change their names when they get into the job market. I wonder if we will see adults doing the same, to erase tacks back to a version of themselves, which they have evolved from?

      Great point Jamey!

  12. Hi Jim,

    When I hire someone, it’s because they have a track record of getting things done – and references to back it up. Once I hire someone, I continue to pay them for the RESULTS they deliver. If I’m happy with the results, I continue to write checks – if I’m not, I don’t. I could care less what someone does on their personal time – all I care about is getting results.

    Barbara didn’t lose anything – she never had him; and probably saved herself from having to deal with an idiot – time saved as see it. Who makes their hiring decisions based on a Twitter stream and a glass of wine? Only an idiot!

    Having said that, it’s good business to be thoughtful and wise when participating on social networks.

  13. Hey, Jim… This is a GREAT post… So many angles to look at this from… I have students, as well as my own kids in their early 20’s who (like so many their age) don’t realize the long-term ramifications of their online presence…

    However, I also believe that in business, authenticity is one of the most important traits we can have. And if that means dropping an F-bomb or a wine reference here or there, because it’s part of what makes you “you,” then I think it’s OK… when used with temperance and responsibility. For instance, “Good morning! It’s wine-o’clock!” might not play as well… :)

    Like Trish mentions above, who knows what this guy might have been like to have as a client? It’s a bummer to lose the business, it’s true, but if having the business causes you to compromise who you are, then losing it might be a blessing in disguise…

    Then again, I’m in the media/advertising/broadcasting industry, so I tend to get away with being a little more “me” in public than most…

    Either way, a great lesson, and something business people should always keep in mind, whoever they are.

    Thanks, as always…

  14. This thread neatly touches on issues I’ve been aware of since starting on Social Media in earnest 15 months ago. Personal Branding is evolving, which for me means being positive and professional, adding value, respecting confidentiality etc. Good advice from a manager years ago applies too; never criticize, complain or condemn. And be careful with Politics, Race, Religion and similar. But advice is also to project Personality.
    PS. I know some in the public sector who choose to use ‘pen-names’ for Facebook, to maintain a ‘private’ life.

  15. I don’t think she did anything wrong and if the client is that uptight I suspect they would not be a good fit for most service providers. I know we all need to be mindful of our brands but there are plenty of great clients out there that would not be so easily offended. Just my $0.02 on the matter, but unless she is personally going to be representing the client with that Twitter account it seems pretty rash to me.

    We need to retain some semblance of being ourselves, if you stop doing that you are becoming fake and un-authentic. Eventually you’re going to disappoint someone. I say embrace who you are, which in this case ironically had she done that she probably would not have lost the client.

  16. As a person that deals solely on personal referral, I find this discussion interesting. I don’t know which side I fall on as I see points on both. I know, in practice, I tend to be more authentic in my tweets and Facebook posts. I will also say that over 90% of my tweets are @replies so my wording needs to be considered based on the receiver and who I know will see it as well.

    I’m certain that I have lost potential customers because of my feed and I’m also certain that I have gained customers from it. As the tech savy and social media raised youth enter the market place and start controlling it, I think the need to change your name will seem ridiculous. Once the generational tide has shifted, I think this idea will have less merit. Of course, it’s just my opinion.

    Now, the bigger question is what about in other countries? That may take much more time. As the USA becomes more and more casual, this may be something that creeps up again and again. Who knows?

    Surely, an interesting discussion none the less.

  17. I totally get it. Unfortunately, I think that some things are often taken out of context (it happens), but I get it.

    The way I see it is, if it’s not something that should be said at the dinner table with your grandmother present at the risk of offending her, then don’t Tweet it (or say it).

  18. The comments here have been both valuable and extremely interesting.

    Thank you to everyone who has taken time to contribute so far.

  19. As you know Jim, I’ve had this conversation plenty of times. The question of “True Transparency” is an interesting one in the social media space.

    I take a bit of a different approach here. Maybe I have that luxury since I don’t have clients. I do have customers though, and it’s something that I’ve thought about a lot.

    My social media accounts are exactly that…mine. Everyone has a filter when they speak or write. My filter tends to be a little more open.

    I figure, there’s a reason why I am who I am and I do what I do. This isn’t going to sit well with everyone. I get unfollowed by about 30-50 people every week… In the end, those aren’t people who I’d enjoy working with in the first place.

    Honestly? This dude is pissed that “Barbara” drinks a glass of wine after work? What rock is he living under? This isn’t someone that I’d want to have to deal with regularly.

    It’s okay to be selective in who you work and interact with. It’s okay to not please everyone.

    If you stay true and consistent to who you really are, you won’t just find success, you’ll actually be happy doing it.

  20. “Know your audience.”

    It’s the first rule of writing and it’s a good one.

    Unless I have developed an actual friendship with a client, I wouldn’t be FB friends with him or her. That gives me the freedom to say whatever I want on that platform because I know there is no working relationship at stake.

    I think Twitter is difficult for people to focus a “voice” in part due to the fact that there is a mix in your audience; some professional, some personal. So it can often be blurry as to who you are talking to.

    I tend to joke around a lot. I like to have fun and it’s a big part of who I am. I also make that pretty clear in bio… my hope is that acknowledging it gives people an idea of who I approach the platform. Does it inevitably take away from my credibility, even if just subconsciously? Probably. But like David, right or wrong, I guess I don’t care.

  21. I personally think you should behave in Social Media based on what type of clients/customers you are targeting, especially if you are just getting started and have not built a “name” for yourself.
    Certain individuals, who already have decades of experience and scores of clients or targeting an unique market, can communicate far more loosely on Social Media. A Penn Jillette can get away with risqué posts. So it is my opinion you’ll have to filter yourself in order to appeal to a larger market.

  22. You make a good point, Jim. The way I like to think of it is like this: Only post on Twitter or even Facebook (which you may think is private) those things that you would be comfortable posting in your local newspaper with your name and picture by it. It’s easy to think that only your friends and family are reading your Tweets or Facebook message, but there’s always the possibility it could be completely public. What if one of your Facebook “friends” decides to share something you posted?

  23. Last years message or Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Agree that this was the generic view as SM emerged but most people have progressed and want to deal with real people, who have real lives. Someone did’t want to do the project and found an excuse, this doesn’t become a truth or fact.

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