Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Hazards of Social Media, Part 2: Online Reputation Management

As I mentioned yesterday, we have a guest poster today, Christine Pilch, partner at Grow My Company. Please welcome Christine, who will be talking about yet another risk factor of Social Media activity and what to do about it.

Hazards of Social Media, Part 2: Online reputation management - protecting yourself when someone puts you in an awkward position

You have likely worked hard your whole life to be perceived a certain way, and this has likely transferred from your offline to online life. You're probably careful about how you speak to people and the things that you say, so they are not misconstrued. You likely have your own personally acceptable code of conduct.

But what if somebody else threatens the reputation that you so carefully guard? What if someone asks you to do something that makes you uncomfortable and could possibly threaten your reputation?

I recently encountered a situation on LinkedIn where a connection of mine wanted to be connected to an author who was connected to someone that I am connected to. So the request had to follow this track:

My friend > Me > My connection > His connection

This is a relatively common request on LinkedIn, and in the spirit of the community, I didn't think twice about forwarding it to my connection, who was a LION (LinkedIn Open Networker.) Such people connect to as many people as possible on LinkedIn for the purported reason of being a resource to the LinkedIn community.

But it quickly became clear to me that this particular LION wasn't interested in doing a good deed without payment. He asked that I write a recommendation on his LinkedIn profile commending his willingness to forward the introduction request.

Huh? This guy wanted me to commend him for doing something that probably happens 10s of thousands of times daily on LinkedIn by people who are just acting in a decent human fashion, doing a favor? After all, this only requires the click of a button, not much effort.

I was uncomfortable with this request because if I recommend someone who treats others this way, then my reputation is tarnished by association.

I tweeted about his request, and once reinforced that indeed, this was an unreasonable request, I messaged him via the LinkedIn network that I only recommend people that I have worked with extensively and know well. But he wouldn't let go without two return emails.

In the first he mentioned that he has 2,500 recommendations from people like me that he has helped. And he's very busy running his own business, yet he still makes time to help others. "Okay," I'm thinking, "Just like all the rest of the LinkedIn community." And I didn't bother to respond.

A couple days went by, and a received a follow up email from him, stating that I must have misunderstood his request. "I was not asking you to recommend me as a person you know or trust, but "my service" as pay-it-forward advocate who helps others."

I still didn't respond. He apparently has a different view of courtesy than I do, and there was nothing to be gained by pointing that out.

In another circumstance, one of my clients had one of his LinkedIn connections request that he pass along a introduction to one of my client's connections. His connection was in the professional services field and he wanted to position himself as a resource. The problem was that my client didn't think very highly of this person's skills, and he didn't want to forward the introduction, thereby associating himself as an inferred reference. I told my client that his instincts were probably right, and he should trust them.

In both of these scenarios above, requests were made that could have potentially damaged someone's reputation simply by association. The people making the requests didn't seem to have a problem doing so, and they obviously had the confidence to do so, but they had not successfully impressed those to whom they made their requests.

The message here is to not allow anyone to bully you into doing something that makes you uncomfortable online any more than you would allow it to happen face-to-face. Like it or not, your reputation is affected by those you associate with, and a false recommendation can certainly come back to bite you.


Christine Pilch is a partner with Grow My Company and a social media marketing enthusiast. She trains clients to utilize LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media tools to grow their businesses, and she collaborates with professional service firms to get results through innovative brand strategies. 413-537-2474; linkedin.com/in/christinepilch; twitter.com/ChristinePilch; GrowMyCo.com; "Miracle Growth for Your Company."
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