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How to deal with the unfriendly business of ‘unfriending’

I was speaking to a colleague the other day who had just been ‘unfriended’ for the very first time. Nothing personal, you understand, the unfriender had just decided to limit his Facebook activity to family and close friends. But lets face it, ‘unfriending’ seems just so, well, unfriendly.

Facebook UnfriendingAnd that got us talking about the myriad ways we maintain contacts these days, how we manage them, and how you go about compartmentalising the various parts of your business, social and family world.

It also highlighted one of the pitfalls of the social media world. Like the classic tales of career limiting email mistakes, mass mailed flames, and ill advised late-night comments which were so common last century – the #FAILs in newer social media channels and the online environment can have ramifications that reverberate from social to business life.

It’s clear that social media offers fantastic potential for businesses looking to establish a genuine conversation with customers, and reach not just the one, but an exponential many, with their message.  Many businesses have spent a great deal of time and effort defining and refining their online presence, to ensure their tone and manner meets the expectations of their audience. It seems this is “on the job” learning for many of us, sure you learn to “think” and critically review at business school, but where do you go to learn to perfect your own “Twitter voice”?

As business people, many of us now have social media personas – layers of business interactions that exist online and supplement many of the business relationships we’d form through traditional networking.  Some social media tools like Linkedin even complement face-to-face developed relationships.

And that got me thinking ― perhaps the rules of conduct for these “online” relationships should be the same as more traditional business engagement.

For example, would you ever ‘unfriend’ a business contact in the real world: walk up at an after 5 and say, “sorry Bob, but I’m going to change the basis of our relationship. You can no longer ask me about the kids, and I don’t care to know what you did in your holidays. Nothing personal, you understand, you’re just unfriended.”? As much as we might want to, I think most of us recognise this may put a strain on any future business dealings.

Just because the technological separation makes it possible to act in a way most of us wouldn’t do face-to-face, doesn’t make it a good idea.  Perhaps that is the test!  The tone and content of any business social media communication (or email for that matter) should be based on what you’d actually say to that person or community if you were taking face-to-face?

Until social media really redefines the business world, maybe it’s best we keep the old rules in mind when it comes to managing business relationships?

What do you think?  Have the rules of networking really changed?  And if so, what are the new rules?  What can you get away with and what will see you die an online social death?

What do you think?

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Julian Smith

Julian Smith

Julian Smith is responsible for MYOB’s corporate affairs, government and public relations in Australia and New Zealand and is also New Zealand general manager. The qualified lawyer has spent much of his career at large multinationals in a range of senior legal, sales, marketing and customer management roles. Julian is a regular keynote speaker and business commentator and sits on a number of government and industry boards and advisory panels. Julian can be found on Twitter <a href="http://www.twitter.com/JulianTSmith">@JulianTSmith</a> or contacted via email Julian.smith@myob.com

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