Sage Social Business Advice from an 11-Year-Old
My daughter and I are both at a wonderful age: she's at the age where I still matter, I'm one of her heroes, and all that fun stuff.
And I'm at the age where I can be a very real and present risk of causing her incredible amounts of embarrassment.
I am also at the age where I love to play the embarrassing dad role.
Recently, prior to a parents' council meeting at her new school, I was given (more like begged and pleaded) a few warnings. You see, I have a well-stocked larder of potentially embarrassing behavours upon which I can – and frequently do – draw. From busting out some hip-hop-tic-tac-tician moves to loudly regaling her with my dramatic renditions, I have a tonne of Dad Tools at my disposal.
Most importantly, I have the willingness to use them.
As we discussed the ground rules that would help to prevent her from my ability to turn her teachers and administration against her (not to mention the social stigma), I realized that these 'warnings' could also apply to businesses – especially those trying to find their voice on social networks. So, without further ado, some business communications advice from the mouth of an 11-year-old.
"You are not 'street'"
Oh, it's true that I often regale her with stories of my days growing up on the mean streets like Cote-St-Paul's de Maricourt and London's Burlington Cr., where I augment my middle-class reality with tales of taking it to the street and breaking out into random raps. It's all in good fun (and, hey, the music is amazing)
But I'm fully aware of how ridiculous I am.
Sadly, many brands aren't. On social networks, they try to talk to the "kids" using their lingo and jargon. And there are few things more uncomfortable than a group of middle-aged marketers and ad people trying to sound like youth. It's awkward, it's painful, and – most importantly – it's transparent.
You can have fun, but in the end be yourself. If you try to be something you're not, it will come shining through. And that can only serve to undermine your customers' trust in your brand and its message.
"Don't be weird"
It's a companion piece to the above, but it goes without saying. When you're representing a brand, it's important to stay within a certain realm. Straying too far outside for no discernible reason is off-putting. It can also damage your brand.
If you're a hospital, a financial advisor, or a bank, you want to project an air of trust. Retweeting kitty photos and showing your CEO twerking may not send the right message to your client base.
"Remember I have to go back to that school tomorrow"
Everything you do in a corporate social environment reflects upon your brand. We've talked about this in the past, but it bears repeating: for the most part, leave the politics, religion, and social commentary out of your social feeds.
It can alienate potential customers and, equally as important, you can put your employees in the uncomfortable position of representing a stance or belief that they may not hold.
There are exceptions, but you must weigh them on a case-by-case basis. If you want to take a social stand and deem the risk of losing potential customers is off-set by the potential for doing good, then more power to you. But remember, what you write doesn't just reflect upon you, but colours the perception of those who work with you.
"Be You at Work; Not You at Home"
It's safe to say that we all have different personas. Jay at Work is different than Jay Covering Hockey. And both of those Jays are different from At-Home Jay, who is in turn different than Out-With-Friends Jay. At the foundation, we're all the same, but there are ways of presenting yourself that are more appropriate than others.
For example, I am a staunch advocate of not swearing on social feeds – either personal or professional. I don't believe it adds anything to the conversation and, in fact, it frames your otherwise-potentially-compelling argument in a negative light.
But outside of work? Yeah, my language can run a little blue.
Maybe it's the way I grew up. I still have a hard time not using Mr. or Mrs. when referring to people. I was taught to show respect through language and behaviour, and that should be amplified in a professional environment.
Your social and on-line behaviour should be the same. You can be casual, but be respectful. Don't engage in flame wars or take pot-shots at critics. Embody the discourse in which you want to engage.
"I love who you are, but there's a time and a place for everything"
Celebrate who you are. Be everything you want to be and enjoy yourself to the fullest. Life's too short to not explore whatever makes you happy.
That said, you don't have to be all-Hedonist all the time. We have a term for people that only do what they want, when they want, and say what they want without respect for others.
So if you're representing your brand on-line, it's important to weigh the value of your efforts. What are you really going to accomplish with your snarky, off-topic Tweet? Is what you're about to write truly representative of the company's beliefs, or your own?
If you want to share your own thoughts, start your own blog, post from your own Twitter account or other social network. But do it under your own name – don't hide behind someone else. Or, worse, conscript a larger brand to promote your own agenda.
It's not about being fake. It's not about lying to your customers. It's about acting professional, showcasing your brand or company in its best possible light, and providing true, relevant value to your readers and/or customers. It's about influsing your business' social efforts with personality without allowing your personality to dominate your business' social eforts.
In the end, your responsibilities in a social environment extend beyond yourself. You are honour-bound to consider the needs and beliefs of your co-workers; you must focus on the customers' needs first and foremost; and you have to subjugate your ego for the greater good of your brand's goals and reputation.
After all, whether you're dealing with an 11-year-old daughter, your clients, or your brand, the last thing you want to do is embarrass them.
And now I'm happy to open the comments up to you. What are your thoughts? Have you learned any lessons from your kids (or friends' kids) that you can apply to your day-to-day business life? We'd love to read them.