By Sima Dahl
It never fails. Whenever I deliver a keynote speech, conduct a sales-training program or host a private workshop on social networking one of the very first questions I am asked is, “How do I keep my professional and personal contacts separate?” My answer, also without fail, is, “Why would you want to?”
I can count on one hand the number of people who I’ve met who have a valid reason for trying to keep their work and social lives separate. Networks, by design, are fluid entities. When we attempt to apply restrictions on them, we prevent the normal movement of its members, the natural flow that makes defeats the entire purpose of building a network.
Splitting our contacts into personal or professional categories is like asking, Agency or Client side? B2C or B2B? Corporate or non-profit? Employee or employer? At one time or another I’ve filled all of those roles, but that’s beside the point.
What matters is how you know me now, at this very moment in time. Consider the golden rule of networking: People buy from people they know, like and trust. The same holds true for job seekers and career-climbers; the best way into an organization or up the proverbial ladder is through your network. To that end, isn’t the goal of networking to make more “friends?”
Earlier in my career I made a concerted effort to take “one friend” forward from every job I held, volunteer role I filled or social group I ran with; this was when staying connected meant phoning someone on his or her birthday or dropping a holiday card in the mail. The advent of email made things easier for a while, but if your inbox looks anything like mine, you know it’s not a scalable solution.
Enter the age of social networking. Now we have an unprecedented degree of speed, reach and connectivity. We have six degrees of separation and also degrees of friendship. “I follow him on Twitter,” doesn’t hold a candle to, “We’re first degree connections on LinkedIn.” Or does it?
Allow me to illustrate my point with a story of my own. When I started my firm three years ago, it was a long-lost high school classmate who referred one of my very first clients to me. We hadn’t seen each other since graduating in 1985, but we’d recently reconnected on Facebook. If I didn’t talk about my “business” with my personal connections, he would have never been in a position to make that referral.
I contend that it doesn’t matter how people first meet you or how you stay connected; what matters is how they come to feel about you, and how they come to know, like and trust your personal brand. Social networks put this process on hyperdrive. You’re in my social stream; I’m in yours. Be it a tweet, a Facebook thumbs-up or a LinkedIn “like,” we grow closer together and develop an affinity for one another the same way we do any brand – through repeated, positive interaction.
Consider another example: A client of mine reached out to “friend me” on Facebook. At first, I paused, wondering what he might think about some of my candid snaps, smart-mouth comments and other online shenanigans. But I took a leap of faith and trusted that if he grew to know more about me, there was a greater chance that he would become one of my personal brand champions. So it was really no surprise when I was copied on an email he sent encouraging a colleague to invite me to speak at an upcoming conference.
Friend or client? Sorority sister or lead source? High school sweetheart or resume referrer? Yes, yes and yes. Not ready to let your worlds collide? Start small with three simple steps:
1. Find your Facebook friends on LinkedIn and get connected there
2. Drop little reminders on Facebook so your personal contacts know what a lead looks like for you, be it a client, an opportunity to volunteer, or even a new job
3. Consider how you can demonstrate your character, competence and charisma through your online interaction
Remember that we buy from, hire and refer real people, not pixels or blog posts. When we feel strongly about someone we go to bat for them, advocate on their behalf and act in their best interests. In the age of social networking, the endgame is to show your authentic self, professionally and personally. As I’m fond of saying, the brand is simply you.
Sima Dahl is president-CEO at Parlay Communications. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.