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Etiquette for Professional Facebookers

When it comes to face-to-face business meetings, the rituals are clear. You shake hands, exchange cards, get down to detail. People have been doing it for years. Facebook though is relatively new and its use as a business tool even newer. So what’s the correct way to use Facebook professionally, maintain your audience and keep your market feeling friendly?

1. Split the Personal from the Professional

Before Facebook launched its “pages” Facebook users were forced to combine their personal accounts with the business profiles. It was a mess. Not only were accounts capped at 5,000 “friends” but there was no easy way to separate personal details from professional information.

Today, that’s no longer the case. It is possible to maintain two completely separate identities on Facebook. Friends and family no longer need to be bored by your product announcements and potential buyers don’t have to shift uncomfortably in front of their screens when you mention something cute your child just said.

That allows you to keep your professional page professional. You’ll be able to talk about your business, show pictures that only relate to the work that you’ve done and discuss industry news. You can still be friendly — small talk has its place in business too — but the main focus of the page will be professional.

2. Don’t Skip the Middleman

Keeping your professional page professional is fairly straightforward. Using your contacts is a little tougher. There’s nothing wrong with looking through the friends and contacts of your contacts — that information is public — but there is something wrong with approaching a complete stranger in the hope of developing a business relationship. You don’t know each other so the only reason you’d want to know that person is that you want something from him. That’s not how relationships begin.

You do have something in common though: the person you both know. So ask for an introduction. When you’ve got a friend to bring you together, the join is lubricated and both of you want to make your contact happy by making it work. It’s not just polite, it’s also more effective.

3. Keep Your Content Relevant

Part of maintaining a professional presence on Facebook is avoiding the temptation to not just post personal information but to share irrelevant information. When you’re chatting with your friends, it’s fine to offer links to content that made you smile and videos that you found shocking. It’s a social time so you can fill it any way you want. When people visit your professional page, it’s on their business time and that means you don’t get to waste it.  They can find fun content everywhere else on the Web.

You will need to post interesting content if you’re going to keep your audience engaged but that content has to be related to the subject of your business. That’s why people are following you.

And of course, you don’t get to spam either. Facebook is not the place to send a stack of unsolicited marketing emails to everyone who follows you. Even those who have “liked” your business page will still regard the Facebook mailbox as a personal space. They won’t want to see business messages in it. Assume that your Facebook friends are also your newsletter subscribers (and encourage those who aren’t to sign up) and send your marketing emails to their inboxes.

4. Look at Their Eyes When You Speak

In a face-to-face meeting, you’ll expect the person you’re speaking to look at your eyes. You can’t do that when you’re chatting on Facebook but what you can do is understand who you’re addressing.

A general status update posted on your professional Facebook page is addressed to everyone. You can use plural verbs, talk to an audience, refer to “you guys” or thank “everyone.” Readers know they’re looking at a public space so while people always like to feel that they’re being addressed personally, asking if “anyone is interested” or how “you’re all getting on” with your product update is fine.

When the replies come in though, respond to those comments personally. Ideally, you’ll want to do it right away so that your response sits under their message. Miss a few though and you’ll need to indicate who you’re replying to by mentioning them by name. It’s an approach that keeps a conversation personal even though it’s public and lets you “look” at the person you’re having a conversation with.

5. Be Polite, Not Clever

Real conversations are lubricated not just by small talk but with small jokes as well. They’re helpful at breaking the ice, creating shared experiences and bringing people together. But jokes are dangerous. It’s embarrassing when they fail and it’s even worse when the jokes themselves are offensive, rude or inappropriate. In a real social context, it’s possible to clean up quickly by moving the conversation on.  Online though, your misjudgment is likely to hang around where everyone can see it. Instead of being forgotten, it can be seen by everyone who stops by your Facebook page where it continues to do damage.

When the cost of being funny and failing are so much higher, you have to be much more certain that the risk is worth taking. In general, you’ll want to be at least as polite on Facebook as you are in real life, more optimistic about the future and more positive generally.

The goal of any professional Facebook account is to create relationships with people who like you. When they like you, they’ll do business with you. Smiling a lot makes people like you. Inappropriate comments though will quickly turn that like into a strong dislike.

Facebook’s business pages are both a new and a unique social environment. It’s a place that’s proven to be effective at turning leads into customers but it’s also one in which brands have made enough mistakes that have harmed their earning potential. Fortunately, it’s not difficult to get the usage right. Keep things polite and professional, understand who you’re talking to and work relationships rather than leapfrogging them and you should find that your leads keep liking you and buying from you.

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