Sunday, December 13, 2009

#114 - TMI = Too Much Information

Your business called. It said you're over-sharing via social media and scaring away clients in the process.

I’m just going to come straight out and say it: social media is good for business. It’s a chance to connect, develop and nurture relationships, cultivate “expert status,” and grow a successful enterprise. But, there’s one HUGE problem. Propriety has gone out the window.

In a sense, a computer is much like a security blanket. People say things online that they would never say in real life. You would never share your intimate relationship details with a business acquaintance. You wouldn’t call up a potential client and tell him or her you’re bored today. Just because you feel like you can share anything on the Internet doesn’t mean you should.

If you want to make a good impression online, try to avoid the most common social media pitfalls:

Getting too personal

Sometimes, I think people forget that sites like Facebook and Twitter are public. They broadcast information that’s better kept private. Take this recent Tweet from a blog colleague:

“Going to have my yearly pap smear today. Be sure to schedule yours!”
Really? I don’t know about you, but the last thing I need is a visual of that client or colleague in stirrups. Even worse than the unflattering mental image is that the personal information over-shadows a larger, more helpful message about women's health. This status update could have raised awareness and motivated people to set up vital health care appointments. Instead, it just made everyone cringe.

Don’t get me wrong. Sharing personal information can work for you if it’s done carefully and with purpose. For example: “October is breast cancer awareness month. I know the value of yearly examinations first-hand. Be sure to set your annual appointment today.”

The general rule is this: If you wouldn’t stand up in the middle of a networking meeting and announce what you plan to say in a status update, then don’t do it. In real life, you filter yourself, and you should always do the same online.

Posting boring updates

I must confess, I’m guilty of having written a boring status update or two. (That’s the conservative estimate.) The problem? These updates insidiously attack your overall reputation because they don’t help anyone or convey necessary information.
Common offenders: “I’m bored,” “Going to lunch,” or “Watching TV tonight.” You get the idea.

These updates were what made business-owners slow to adopt social media in the first place. Remember the days when we would say: “Who really cares if I’m drinking coffee. No one cares to know that.” Well, we were right: no one cares. If you’re now using social media to tell people you’re drinking coffee or doing the laundry you might want to re-think your online strategy.

Boring updates are usually posted for two reasons.

1. You feel guilty if you don’t post something. (People are following you!)
2. You can’t think of anything clever, inspirational, or informative to say.
The root of the problem is that we are operating without a plan. We sit down to the computer, stare at the blinking cursor and rack our brains for a bright idea. The result? We share these mundane details that no one really cares about. Instead of wasting 15 minutes every day, create an idea folder. Spend two hours a month visiting other blogs, collecting inspirational quotes, and writing 30 status updates that help your clients or friends (that’s at least one good update each day). Every time you come across a great idea, throw it in the same folder. When you have a fresh source of inspiration, you’ll never write another boring status update.

The play-by-play "tweet" is a cousin to the boring update. For example, a series of tweets like: “I’m at the coffee shop,” “Just ordered a mocha latte,” “It’s fantastic,” “I’m sipping on the mocha and waiting for Jill,” “Jill just got here!” Refrain from this, everyone. I beg you.

Being passive-aggressive online

While some status updates are amusing, if you’re an offender in this department you’re probably causing some irreparable harm. What am I talking about? Updates like these:

“Why can’t my clients be more cooperative?”

“I love it when I get stood up for a meeting.”

“The president (or other government official or some company) is #$%#%^.”

Believe it or not, people will know who you’re talking about, and very often, the situation that led to you write the update or tweet. And, if they don’t figure it out, they’ll worry that you’re talking about them. Twitter and the Facebook news feed are not the best places to vent your frustrations about anyone or any issue.

When it comes down to it, airing your dirty laundry via social media is just a bad idea. YOU come off as the bad guy: you sound like a whiner instead of a problem-solver, you risk alienating people you work with, and possible future clients. (Who wants to live in fear that the next nasty note will be about them?)

On the opposite side of the coin, and just as bad is being outright rude, offensive, or belligerent about any issue. It’s social media – not the editorial page.

Ultimately, the goal of social media is to stay in touch with friends, colleagues, co-workers, classmates, family members afar, or to expand a business, positioning you as an expert and helping your clients. You can do all of these by providing helpful information and avoiding the common pitfalls.

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  1. I agree with you - I only follow a few twitter posts regularly. One of the authors is a regular runner. Many of his tweets are about that -- those I easily skip using Google reader. The good ones are ones that connect me to a blog or article. I do not follow any companies on Twitter or blogs (although I do visit them ocassionally. Individuals who twitter status updates unless it is a select group of friends staying in touch that way-- are boring and will soon be defriended or unfollowed.

    Does every tweet need to be "inspirational" - not unless it is that type of feed. Feeds that have business followers need to be informative and your advice for those is right on target.

  2. Thank you, Edie. Interestingly, I had to delete my Twitter account today because it was hacked by a spammer and even with Twitter's help, I was unable to stop the spam messages from going out under my name. it was really quite disturbing, and embarrassing! I think we must all err on the side of caution when it comes to these very public forums. At the same time, I am a huge supporter of social media in general. Blogging has become so important to me, and I love the new connections I've been fortunate to form through the recent Blog-Off competition.

    I'm planning on revising the focus of this particular blog in the New Year. Now that I am no longer a student, I hope to re-vamp my posts to reach a wider audience. Your comments have been very helpful!

    All the best,