The personal is professional…or is it?

Oscar Wilde wrote that “Life imitates Art”. That’s an accurate and properly attributed quote. However, if you read Tip #9, you probably noticed an inaccurate quote. Well, it’s correct if you attribute it to Lennon. But, he was misquoting McCartney (possibly on purpose).

Sir Paul actually wrote, “The love you take is equal to the love you make.” Unfortunately, that version doesn’t translate as well for the point I make in Tip #9. You have to be willing to “give back” to customers and consumers who engage with you in any forum, social media or otherwise. It sounds like a lot of work, but the beauty of the digital world is that technology makes it easy to give feedback [to quote my own words in Tip #5].

Joining the conversation represents another level, or at least a different kind, of engagement from posting “happy birthday” on someone’s wall or liking a back-to-school picture of their kids. When you join a conversation, you automatically raise your profile. Do you know who Dan Cathy is? Did you know who he was before his personal beliefs began impacting his fast food chain? Whether you agree with Dan or not, you have to admit that stating his convictions both raised his profile and directly impacted his business.

Fact is, consumers like to know who they’re doing business with. Why else would so many auto insurance shoppers walk into an independent insurance agency after getting an online quote? Raising your profile online and letting current and potential customers get to know you is a good thing. Alienating potential customers is not.

Dan Cathy, Chick fil A

Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A are networked together.

Therein lies the cautionary side of this tale. If you’ve succeeded in connecting yourself to your business, then like it or not, the personal is professional. Digital conversations aren’t like other forums. You can’t select who “hears” you. You can’t even control how many times your words are repeated, reposted, retweeted. In fact, if you’re doing your job right, your online actions will carry a lot of clout for you and your business.

Most of us don’t have the energy to maintain one engaging persona, let alone two. That’s why I suggest that you decide “who” you want to be online, lay out some rules for yourself, and stick to them. Take your professional and business goals into consideration when you decide whether or not to join a conversation. And, by all means, think about what you want to say and how it might be interpreted by others. That’s one luxury you do have in the digital sphere. If you want to, you can type and retype until you get it right.

You probably don’t have time to be an expert on everything. So, try to pick topics that are relevant to your business. If you run an independent insurance agency, you might want to jump into conversations about electronic auto insurance enforcement for example. As an industry expert, you may already subscribe to email newsletters and rss feeds. Another option is to set up Google Alerts for topics that interest you. You enter a search query, and Google will periodically deliver results to your inbox or news feed.

It’s important to remember that news stories are not conversations. They are merely conversation starters. You can post a link to a story and comment on it. However, if no one joins your conversation, you’ve accomplished very little. Try to pick engaging stories from reputable sources. I won’t tell you to stay away from potentially contentious topics like religion and politics. But, I will encourage you to “know your audience”. Once you latch onto a good topic, make sure you move it into your sphere of influence–I.E., repost or retweet so that folks can comment on your wall, in your blog, etc. Also, you can sometimes include links in your comments on other sites. This can be a good tactic as long as you have something to offer:

“Privacy is a major concern related to electronic enforcement of compulsory auto insurance. Visit my blog for more info on how California is addressing the issue.”

Finally, you don’t have to make a career out of this. You can build a lot of street cred just by jumping into one or two conversations per week. Just remember, for most of us, the personal ends up reflecting on our professional lives to one degree or other. And, “in the end, the love you get is equal to the love you get.”–Sorry Paul [thanks John].

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