It’s hard to distinguish social networking hype from reality. Should you prospect on Facebook? Reach out to referral sources on LinkedIn? Tweet on Twitter?
Perhaps, but don’t let social networking “gurus” persuade you to jump in before you’re ready. Instead, let your ethical values guide your decision and subsequent actions online. To that end, here are five commandments to consider.
- Thou shalt understand the reach and power of the social Web. Sites such as Facebook (500 million active users) and LinkedIn (55 million members) give you cost-effective access to more prospects than ever before. They also give you the opportunity to share information without having to “interrupt” people with e-mail blasts or cold calls. If you’re looking to build strong, real-time relationships, at a lower cost and with greater efficiency than conventional techniques allow, then social networking is for you.
- Thou shalt not become a Satan of Spam. Once you’re in a social network, never spam your fellow members or use automatic friend-adding software. Offering helpful ideas and links will win you more adherents than flooding the site with unwanted advertising messages. Also, don’t make everything about you. Focusing on helping others will position you as a “giver” not a “taker.”
- Thou shalt not mix business and pleasure. To avoid confusion, participate online using a professional identity rather than a personal one. In other words, don’t set up a Facebook page that engages with personal friends, clients and business colleagues simultaneously. Instead, set up a personal Facebook page and a separate fan page for your business. This will prevent you from sharing irrelevant and potentially inappropriate personal information with business contacts.
- Thou shalt be 100 percent transparent. When you’re networking online, be totally up front about who you are, whom you represent and why you’re there. Never pose as a prospect or client and never, ever leave a positive comment or testimonial for yourself. If you get caught misrepresenting yourself or masquerading as someone else, the viral Web will destroy your reputation faster than a spinning hard drive.
- Thou shalt be kind to others. Online communities can be nasty places, with people feuding, hurling insults and spreading lies and innuendo. When you’re online, follow the “golden rule”: Treat others (including competitors) as you want to be treated. This will assure your online activities will be as enjoyable and productive as possible.
Be as ethical online as you are offline, and you will surely reap the rewards.