There was a time not so long ago that businesses looked for ways to keep their staff away from social media. Concerns with how it might waste employee time and decrease productivity, as well as fears that you could not control what employees posted, meant it was simpler to ban these activities. All that has changed, of course, with corporations now investing in social media to help with everything from recruiting to building their online “Brand”. In fact, more and more companies are training employees to be social media brand ambassadors, while ensuring that they put some parameters around the content.
But what if you are an independent contractor? We all know the benefits of social media in helping you to get your credentials out to the market. But what are the dangers and behaviors to avoid and what strategies can you apply to ensure you don’t leave yourself and your business open to the risk of unwanted attention.? Here are three rules I believe are in every independent contractors’ best interest to follow:
Libel occurs when one party writes something damaging or insulting about another party which acts to harm that party’s reputation. Today, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media expose business owners to that risk. So Rule #1: Never, ever put anything on social media that could be construed as an accusation, criticism or complaint against a client, vendor or business associate. A well-documented case of a Freelance Contractor who tweeted a complaint against a client who hadn’t paid him resulted in a lengthy court case. The client had deeper pockets and was intent on protecting their reputation. After a year, the case hadn’t even gone to court but the time spent preparing their case cost the contractor dearly. While no one would argue that they didn’t have a case and that it would have cost them money to go the traditional route to sue for their fees, opening up their anger to social media likely triggered the client to go on the offensive and ultimately worked against the contractor.
As social media use increases, it gets more and more difficult to stand out from the crowd. Many advocate that you use the “wow” factor to make yourself more unique. But how do you do that? I was recently browsing LinkedIn and came across a posting from an individual who was flogging a solution to a particular business problem. The solution looked reasonable; however, the individual posting decided that a picture of a scantily clad woman would really make the article pop. It was not surprising and certainly deserved that the article received a large number of negative comments. So Rule #2: Understand your audience! It’s being seen by EVERYONE so keep things professional and if you are not sure that you might be insulting someone, ask a colleague or associate for some insight… once you hit send, it’s too late.
No one would argue that the line between professional and personal social media has blurred. As an independent contractor, your tweets, Facebook posts etc. all fall under your name and you don’t have the protection of separate corporate and personal identities. And as mentioned previously, companies invest a lot of money in ensuring that their social media content is controlled. As a small business it is even more important that you invest in a strategy to ensure that the message that goes out to the market is consistent and will enhance your branding. I recently ran into a contractor website that spoke to that individual’s passion outside of work and while the activity described wasn’t illegal, it was “personal” and would certainly impact how others might view them. It’s a free country and I’m not advocating censorship, but just as in rule #2, you have to be aware that if a potential client is looking at your LinkedIn page, they may get drawn to other pages or social media sites with your name. So Rule #3: Protect your professional and personal identities.
Social media is an extremely useful tool and it can be leveraged on many different levels to enhance your business. As a small business with a limited marketing budget, social media represents the opportunity to reach a massive number of potential clients but you have to be careful and it pays to determine a strategy. Once you’ve figured that out, stay consistent, be smart with the content and try to keep your professional and personal lives separate. Do you have any other social media rules you follow? Have you come across a contractor on social media who perhaps should have followed some rules.