By Jennifer Guenther • September 08, 2010•Writers in Residence, Mentoring and Networking
We all like to think that it is one big happy family at work: that when we go to lunch with a co-worker, we are really having a conversation with a friend. And why not? As lawyers, we spend more time with our co-workers than we do with our families, let alone our BFF or old college buddies. Who else are we going to share a laugh with about the case we just won?
But what happens when we “friend” a co-worker on-line? Or a boss? Or a client? While it may initially seem like good business sense to respond positively to such a “friend” request—we are taught to never say No! to a client, after all—it can actually turn out to be quite damaging to any career reliant upon one’s professional reputation. Think about the school teacher who was fired from her job for posting negative comments about the principal. We are all too old to be sent to the principal’s office; the consequences are much greater.
Think Before You Friend:
Most of us do not really think about the overwhelming reach of social media. I have 79 “friend” connections on my facebook account, but I really only interact with about 10-15. The rest of my “friends” are people that I have only recently reconnected with, and whom I knew from high school. Seeing as how I skipped my 20th class reunion, it is easy to imagine them as I knew them at 18 and to ignore the fact that I really don’t know anything about who they have become. I rarely send anything directly to these people, although I do like to read about their lives and sometimes crazy shenanigans. Occasionally these shenanigans are of questionable taste, however, and it occurs to me that all 79 of my friends can see those posts if they really felt the urge to dig.
I also have my immediate friends and family that I speak with on a regular basis and with whom I like to share photographs and funny little stories. I may post a story and receive several comments. But everyone who commented now has my original post and all subsequent comments on their pages. Assuming that I have received 10 comments and each of those people has a similar number of “friends” as I do, 790 people now see my post and the comments. Facebook is even so kind as to email them to me and to make a permanent record so that I don’t need to take the time to log on to see them. I feel so popular!
Now, what happens when one of those friends who comments is a co-worker? I don’t really know who their “friends” are. My immediate supervisor? A client? Opposing counsel? A Judge? Do I really want everyone to know that I had a great time drinking a mango martini by the pool while my little ones took a naked night-time swim? Or to have them read what others say in return? I came down with shingles a year ago during a very stressful time and my darling cousin, whom I normally adore, jokingly sent me a public post asking how my “scabies” were. Given that scabies is a contagious, parasitic, skin disease, I was grateful that the post was limited only to my 79 friends online and not published to the people I was meeting with the next morning.
And more importantly, do I really want them to see the pictures from that party at college that someone I haven’t spoken to in years just posted and tagged me in?
Given that the only comments I can control are those that I write, it seems like a poor idea to allow my work and clients further into my private life than is necessary. My professional goal is to maintain my reputation as a competent, serious attorney that can be relied upon by both co-workers and clients alike. My private goal is keep work from walking in my front door with me at night and to enjoy my limited time with my family, watching my kids grow up way too fast.
That doesn’t mean never tweet your boss. Social media can be an incredibly effective marketing tool when used with your professional persona in mind. If you must use Facebook, set up a separate account for only work related “friends” and conversations. Or better yet, use some of the professional networking tools out there! LinkedIn.com offers a great opportunity to share connections, information, and career updates. AVVO also provides a great way to get your information in the public eye, share pictures, and send updates, as do many other such professional sites specializing in business networking.
Tools and Rules:
# Update your profile regularly, even if the change is only minor. This keeps your profile fresh and at the top of the search engines. Many of the professional networking sites send out notifications to its members when updates are done as well, keeping you fresh in your colleagues’ and clients’ minds.
# Write reviews and recommendations for others. One consultant recommends writing a recommendation weekly in order to keep your name out there and fresh. While this may seem counter-intuitive, acknowledging how great someone else is, it also has many benefits. You can write a recommendation in such a way that it profiles your own role in the task that you are praising. It also provides an opportunity for those who are not in your own network to see your profile and something about you. And finally, it creates good will with the person you are recommending, making them more likely to keep you in mind for referrals later.
#Join in discussions occasionally. You do not want to be the person who has to comment on everything, but if you have some specialized knowledge or personal experience related to a discussion thread, it is worth contributing. Keep it short and to the point, and provide information that moves the thread along.
#Respond. If someone sends you a question, requests a contact, comments on a thread you wrote, or otherwise makes an attempt to connect, it is important to acknowledge the person. Respond as if the person were standing in front of you in a room. Don’t leave anyone with half a handshake hanging out there.
#If you twitter, make it meaningful and don’t tweet excessively. There are more tweets out there talking about sitting in traffic than there are words in the dictionary, and most of them are very, very boring. If you must tweet while sitting in traffic, at least keep in mind that your clients are going to take the time to read it only if they can use it. Again, private tweets and professional tweets are two very separate things.
#Be careful about “friending” anyone you are obligated to write a work review about (secretaries, associates, staff.) It is pretty hard for subordinates to take the boss seriously when s/he just posted pictures wearing a lampshade and grass hula skirt.
And remember, if you know that someone you are posting to does have co-workers or clients as a “friend”, don’t ask them how their scabies are doing.