Winning Friends & Influencing People on Facebook

One of the most common questions about social media marketing and Facebook is “Should I link to my personal profile or create a business page for that purpose”? Of course, we could go into the purely technological issues – profiles do far better traffic than pages, have extra features that can enhance marketing – operate on a different model than pages, which might be more conducive to marketing, and that you’re not limited to one or the other, but you have to have a profile to have a page and, if you have both, you should maintain both. These are all topics we provide consulting on.

But those aren’t really answering the question, are they? The question is really about “Should I let people see my personal life? Because, I have things like photos of my dogs, music I like, and just chatting with my friends on my personal profile.” That’s really what people are asking.

itsokI’ve spent a lot of years in instruction of various types, and I did a brief internship at a high school in a town called Broken Arrow. When I was there, the hotbed discussion was about a teacher being seen coming out of a bar. People were divided over whether that teacher should be allowed to continue teaching, and whether or not the school district could or should make and enforce a rule that says teachers can’t go to bars.

I left that district for a more urban one at some point, because they didn’t like my earring, that my hair came over my ears, that I dressed young (insufficient teacher-pupil barrier), and that I flaunted the barrier by sitting on the front of my desk (on the student side) instead of behind it. I just wasn’t conservative enough.

What I find interesting is that now we’re having a similar cultural debate over personal and public life in social media, and people are asking if they shouldn’t be even more strict. We’re not talking about hiding those drunken pictures of you at a frat party or on Girls Gone Wild, but about hiding your favorite color, your love of kittens, and the fact that you like Aerosmith.

Well, I can cater to any stated need by the client, but if they want my take on it unfettered, here it is: If you deal with the public, you already are a public professional, and you shouldn’t do anything in public (online or off) that you wouldn’t want your clients to see. You can’t hide it. You should have no more reasonable expectation of privacy in a social media network than walking around your community – it’s just not that hard to glean your habits, your preferences, your leanings – you’ve already given it to every marketing company out there if you’ve even joined a social network, so stop worrying about it.

I take the approach that companies and individuals involve decision makers and decision makers consist of people. And people respond to other people. In Twitter, using a personal portrait for an icon gets more responses than using a company logo. By the same principle, Facebook profiles – personal profiles – do vastly better traffic than company pages.

So, go ahead and talk about Aerosmith, like those kittens, and chit chat about nothing – it makes you real, human, and accessible. It’s amazing how people talk about “getting found” on the internet as the great goal – passive marketing “find me, please for the love of God find me” but then immediately erect barriers to that. They put the desk back between themselves and the audience. They start saying, “Don’t find me, find my business.” And why? Because they’re afraid of being caught liking porn? No, mostly because they’re afraid of being caught acting normal, doing the things they’d do at a shopping mall – looking at clothes, liking a pair of shoes, giggling with some friends, getting their photo taken in a booth, seeing a movie, stopping at Starbucks. Come on, now.

At what point in the corporate orientation did someone drill into us the notion that we must hide every semblance of humanity from our prospects and clientelle?

The common points people make when playing devil’s advocate are as follows (I won’t answer at length – a blog post is no substitute for consulting):

  • “But they’ll be bored – they’re not interested in this stuff…” It’s still a challenge to grasp what social media has done and is, I know. But, the Twitter phenomenon demonstrates that, for everything or anything you can think of, no matter how small or banal, someone’s interested. Don’t rule out the value of being real just because it’s not the most obvious or shortest route to connecting with prospects and clients. Remember the insurance agent we all know who remembers details about your family, would be someone you could call to  bring you a sack of groceries if you fell ill or rescue you if you were stranded by the road, but doesn’t continually shove his services down your throat: “I sell insurance you know. Insurance for sale. Wanna buy some insurance?” He’s just a really nice, human, accessible, real person who can talk about local football, or a new restaurant that opened up. You think he’s hurting for business?
  • “But I have more important marketing stuff to put before prospects…” Sure, but remember –  it’s easy to only think that’s more important stuff – it doesn’t mean clients and prospects think that, not in practice, even if they ask for it in theory. And it’s not either/or – that’s the whole point of this article. Let’s go off of what’s currently working in social media, not what should have worked but keeps failing – the constant drone of pitching the sale. We can’t just bombard an audience continually with ad copy – that’s the antithesis of why people are in social media. Social media is an idealized community – a copy of the existing community, but with more emphasis on freedom, personality, distance from aggressive sales, and sharing information, insight, advice, etc. We’ve said that in every article on social media. You’ve got to deliver something a heck of a lot closer to observations about the weather, but infused (not in every post – stop that!) with content related to your services and locale.

Look, social media is not supposed to be what we’ve always experienced and taken for granted about our marketing – it’s new and different – it’s a cultural shift. The first web site users tried to treat a web site like a book (hence the focus on static pages which has now given way to dynamic posts), then they tried to treat them like physical appliances – radios, TV’s, car dashboards (which is why the first ones had graphical buttons, which have given way to the more search friendly and flexible text links). People had a hard time accepting that the world had changed with the technology, and the means of interacting with people was shifting because of it. Remember hanging flyers door to door, before the web? Good luck with that, now. You’re looking at 1.5% return on good flyers. How’s that phone book yellow pages ad doing? Sure, it’s still a good investment – one client probably pays for the darned thing. But heard of Google? Of course, we have. So why would we assume social media hasn’t changed things just as much?

And that’s just it – one of the things it has done is change the conversation that used to be controlled almost exclusively by employment-based rubrics – about what constitutes your person vs. the company, and your personal vs. your public persona. What’s happened is that the disparity, the contrast between them, has been reduced. It’s still a distinction, but not a direct opposition.

I use my personal profile for marketing, and I recently created a business page (reluctantly and bored with the process) just because an internet marketing company needs to be able to show that yeah we know how to do that, but I get vastly more traffic in any day on my personal profile than in any month on my page, like statistically most other people with business pages do. I tend to avoid discussion of politics and religion, the most volatile and fanatical areas of public endeavour, on my wall – though sometimes it leaks out or gets blurted out, and I simply chalk that up to again being human and not being isolated, just because I work and am deeply involved in work, from the other areas of life. If you get me, you get a person – you don’t have to like my bands, my TV shows, or that friend of mine with the mohawk, or even the apparent leanings I might have – based on what charities I support – that’s not what we’re talking about on your dime anyway. And frankly, anyone fanatical enough to disdain doing business with me, because of a philosophical persuasion, will be mitigated by the half dozen people who choose me precisely because they like the sense of that they get from me. You don’t have to “like” on Facebook the items that I have “like”-ed on Facebook, but you do have to accept that I’m an actual person, with an extensive and extensible life, and I get business partly because of that. If someone said, “my only experience in life is with my profession – I have no experience of the world other than that”, would you have them represent you?

The new way of doing things is self-moderation rather than a company kill switch that neatly divides your life. Self-control. Being responsible for your own standards of what you do and say in public, and not simply hiding everything non-“business” related. Social media is helping work out the answer to whether that teacher can walk out of a bar (better than being carried out). And it’s doing so in favor of ‘use good judgment’ rather than let’s legislate your public persona. I was a waiter, when I was a kid, incidentally, and on teacher’s day off, the biggest items on my tickets were the third cocktail. Not to say that’s all teachers, or that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that, but I’d rather they drink moderately in a place that has a handle on whether to let them get into that car and drive home past the school, than for a veil of ambiguity to create a truly harmful situation. And remember, the example they were setting, if that’s the concern, included me – young and impressionable as I may have been. But there you go, see, I’m stating a personal opinion.

I love that about what social media is doing too – it’s inspiring us to develop thicker skins and implement more tolerance. It’s making it more like a village where we might shake our heads at the local shoemaker, but we still buy his shoes, and less like 1984, where the slightest infringement or deviation from something I don’t like others to do casts them out. Facebook is making us less like a controlling ideology or organization dedicated to making sure other people don’t do anything. say anything, or be anything we don’t want them to, and more like a tolerant, forgiving, and understanding community of people that interact on more than just one level, more than just the level of preference and ideology. As much as Facebook ticks me off sometimes, I like the social media phenomenon overall.

Last bit: my own personal life is related to my business, you know. People need to know I have one, what I do with it (e.g. am I involved with worthy causes, am I a decent, responsible person) – that’s another shift that’s occurring (people are favoring businesses with social responsibility – i.e. with more than just a business-only dimension – and that should tell you what I’m saying about social media is accurate, and possibly that the two shifts are related). People need to know that I’m involved with the real world and the community (including, for example, the local coffee shop) – not merely with just a virtual “page”. I think it’s great that some employer is not making the decisions about whether I can go into a bar, or be seen listening to rock music – I think part of *graduating* high school is getting to make those decisions for myself. We all do every day. Welcome to the mall. It’s called Facebook. Be on decent behavior. But not rigid, inhuman, sterile, corporate-cleansed behavior. Frankly, people like that don’t win any friends or influence any people. All they can do is sell, but they can’t build the kind of connections that help drive a business, and a host of other things in life.

Even if all I do is work (that’s all I do, actually), my work is about something that’s much broader and is in a local, regional, or global context that is important, and so part of my work involves what I buy and where, what I like and why. This can be a challenging shift to undertake mentally, which is where it must occur, so you can truly adopt it in your business practices, but all cultural shifts are challenging at first. It’s exciting to see this train moving, even if, or perhaps especially, we’re not entirely sure where it will go – and even then, the train never stops, it just shifts direction. You can throw away your stubs – we’re not getting off – we’re going to ever more interesting places. 🙂