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Should You Be "Friends" With Your Clients?

  |  July 30, 2010   |  Comments

Is the trend of checking in on someone's social media profiles going to spill over into the client world?

As many of you know, I work at a full-service digital advertising agency, and have for many years. I'm certainly not of the Mad Men vintage, but I've been in advertising for most of my career and have had the chance to work with some great brands, great people, and great agencies. I fell off the turnip truck a long time ago.

And then, just the other day, I saw something brand new. A brand was doing a review of agencies that they intended to work with, putting out something called a request for information. These are fairly standard things, and it generally only takes an agency a couple of hours or maybe a few days to respond. A request for information is a chance for the brand to ask a standard set of questions of an agency about people, past work, and current capabilities. Occasionally there will be a pointed question, to see how the agency thinks.

In this particular request for information, though, was a twist. They requested links to the social media profiles of the senior staff on their account. They wanted links to the team's Twitter handles, LinkedIn profiles, Facebook pages, and what-not.

At first, this seemed like no big deal. I happily provide my Twitter handle to anyone who wants it. I even have it as a sticker on my bike. It's http://www.twitter.com/@garyst3in. (Follow!) But then, I started to get a bit concerned. I regularly post on there my opinions as well as updates on my life. Fairly often, I will communicate how I think certain companies are doing, or if a particular ad is good or awful. I pretty rarely edit myself, especially in Twitter.

Luckily, I remembered that when you post something on the Internet, it goes away almost immediately and is nearly impossible to find. Oh wait…or is it the other way around?

Getting Close: The Good and The Bad

We've all heard the stories of the person fired for posting the wrong thing on a status update. Or the poor schlep who did great in the interview, only to be outsmarted by his own picture galleries of college-age shenanigans. HR directors now make scans of social media a standard part of reviewing a candidate, and every college and job advisor cautions against oversharing.

But what about the situation where you are proposing to work on a project for a client? Or, flip it around and you are looking for a group of people who will build something for you? Is the trend of checking in on someone going to spill over into this world?

I reached out to a few networks of people inside the agency world to see if anyone else has had this question asked of them, and the answer was a resounding no. It's possible that I got an isolated incident. Or, maybe this is just the first of more to come. No matter, I think it's time to start thinking about what clients looking at agency-staff social media profiles could mean. After all, this business is about creative ideas, but - really - we are talking about relationships.

Thing about social media No. 1: Become a fan of the brands you are working on or pitching for. Take a minute to find the brands that you are working for on the main social media sites like Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, and Twitter. Not only does it look good, but it also can provide you with a great, quick introduction to the company and how they talk with their consumers.

Thing about social media No. 2: LinkedIn for everyone. LinkedIn has long established itself as the business social network, and you should take it seriously. Some in the agency world eschew it as simply not free or creative enough, but it has become a great way for anyone to find out more about a company. Make sure that there is good representation of the people in your company, especially the senior people. If possible, reach out to past or current clients and ask them to write recommendations of key people on the staff.

Thing about social media No. 3: Pay close attention to Twitter. Twitter is especially troubling in situations like this because it's so wide open and public. The nature (and pleasure) of the service is that everyone gets to see everything. You don't even need an account to see tweets. That means that people within the agency need to understand that anything they say - rightly or wrongly - could be tied back to the agency. The best way to prevent against this is to enforce the profile rule: if you put the company name in your profile (or in any tweets) you need to follow corporate guidelines. This isn't a solve-all, but it definitely is a good first step.

Thing about social media No. 4: Thought leadership! The single best thing that an agency can do in social media is to use it to demonstrate not only their mastery of social media, but also of the industry at large. I follow a few fellow agencies on Twitter, and they do a fantastic job. Check out: Big Spaceship and BBH Labs in particular. The really brilliant thing about this is that, if you go poking around Twitter to find these agencies, you are far more likely to find these interesting, valuable, and relevant feeds than you are to find the videos from the junior shipping and receiving intern's booze cruise.



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Gary Stein

Gary Stein is SVP, strategy and planning in iCrossing's San Francisco office. He has been working in marketing for more than a decade. Gary lives in San Francisco with his family. Follow him on Twitter: @garyst3in. The opinions expressed in Gary's columns are his alone.

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