Clients and colleagues often ask us the proper approach when business associates start requesting to be “friends” on Facebook. Since many of our client’s personal brands are strongly tied to their businesses (examples: Diana Nyad, Gavin McKay of Unite Fitness, even us), this tends to come up often as social media allows for multiple connections and the ability for customers to directly interact with service-providers, celebrities, or spokespeople. But, it is important to think about who is connecting with you, what they are seeing, and how they may react. Many people use Facebook to express political opinions, social views, religious beliefs, personal humor, or emotional reactions. They should do that. But, a client may not share the same beliefs as you and your
friends, and it could affect the relationship. Or, they may find those updates to be up-lifting and intelligent, and strengthen the business/personal connection. So, you have a business Facebook page, but a client has tracked you down and sent you a friend request. What are you going to do? I believe you have two choices:
Bite the bullet… accept their friend request.
This means they now can see: your old baby pictures, when your boyfriend tags you at a bar, your occasional demands for more shows like Friday Night Lights. You have given them access to your life – in FULL. If you opt for this, adjust your privacy settings. Facebook has realized this is happening, and now allows you to create “groups”. You can create a FAMILY group, a FRIEND group, a BUSINESS group. Then, when you post or share information – you can designate WHO this goes to and WHO it does not. Want to share religious beliefs, complain about politicians, or post your bestie’s birthday pics? Then – make it so it can be seen only by FRIENDS (or any group – you could create sub-groups upon sub-groups). This is targeting at its best It requires a bit more thought and careful posting, but, it would allow you to post pics of you at a frat party and NOT have them go to your clients. Likewise, you can feel free to post pics of your favorite clients and you won’t have to bore your cousins.
Deny/Ignore their friend request
Keep your private life private. Don’t let them connect to you. Decline their request. Send a polite “Please follow me on my Business Page or Business Twitter – this page is just for my family and non-Business Friends.” Make that come from the heart and be honest about it. People understand. To make it a bit harder to be tracked down, many people change their displayed name by using a middle or maiden name as their last name. It’s like social media witness protection! Keep in mind the initial request is because these clients crave some kind of personal touch, so make sure they get it. If they comment or ask questions, answer them as if they were talking directly to you. Give them the warmth they are looking for, which leads into my final recommendation. Instead of connecting on Facebook, make sure you are utilizing all of the valuable assets of platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter, where you can carefully curate your persona AND maintain professionalism. Divert those people who come to your website to a social media platform you have vetted, approved and help to moderate. Find a social media site that will give your clients the feedback they need, but still give you some element of anonymity or privacy.