Why You Should Personally Connect with Customers on Social Media

Remember "What About Bob?"

It's a classic (yes, I'm declaring classic) comedy from 1991. Richard Dreyfuss is a psychiatrist with a maniacal patient named Bob (played by Bill Murray) who refuses to leave him alone. Bob even follows the doctor's family to their New Hampshire vacation bungalow, where he pushes the doctor to the brink of his own mental breakdown. 

It's kind of a warning about overstepping boundaries between business and personal. 

The movie has been on my brain lately, primarily because of a growing trend I'm seeing: customers wanting to connect online with the people they buy from. And not just LinkedIn, where we all have our business suits on, but on the more "personal" social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

To a lot of folks in my network, this trend is opening the door to something like "What About Bob?" where a client oversteps boundaries and gets creepy. 

Which is a possibility, I suppose. There's a bigger opportunity at stake when connecting with customers and clients on a personal level, however. It's for these reasons you should consider accepting (and even proactively adding) these folks into your personal networks. 

The Work/Life Stream

It’s becoming common knowledge that, for many, work/life balance is gone. There’s no separation of the two, just one mixed current of activity.

For better or worse, that’s bleeding over into our virtual lives as well. 70% of employees have “friended” their managers and coworkers on Facebook. Our natural curiosity about the lives of others, and perhaps a bit of our desire to “collect” followers and friends online, has led us to blur the lines between personal and professional.

Now it’s happening with customers. Especially if you’re in a B2B company, and interface with clients, eventually you’re going to have people reaching out you through Facebook, Twitter, even Instagram.

Loyalty Statistics The Ultimate Collection These connections used to only happen on LinkedIn, but now they’re spilling over to every network. Smart technology such as Rapportive or Sidekick allows pretty much anyone to see a list of profiles associated with an email address.

Plus, it seems like every social network has tapped into our address books, and they all like to suggest that we connect with those people. It’s becoming more common that people take that suggestion.  

To Connect, or Not to Connect

So what do you do? Do you add them and just toss them into the mix with Aunt Gladys, Best Friend Freddy, and the Guy You Talked to Once in Sixth Grade?

X3QttDo you reject their requests? Do you re-direct them to “professional only” profiles you’ve created? Or do you add them, but create boundaries around what content they can see?

The best answer is yes - you should connect with them. Rejection of a customer, in most forums, is rarely a great answer. Business, and customer loyalty, is all about relationships. Social media is a smart way to make a deeper connection to a customer, especially if it goes to networks beyond LinkedIn.

Dual profiles can work, but the reason people ask to connect on a network like Facebook or Instagram is they want to see more than just professional you. A profile that is all business, all the time, only risks making the client feel like all you want to do is sell them more stuff. It’s a missed opportunity. Plus, most people struggle to manage a single profile. Having more than one is a recipe for one to be abandoned.

Connect with people. Add them into your mix, with your friends and family and people you forgot you even knew. Get personal with your customers.

As our own Dave Bona has said, social media allows you to have conversations you would never get to have in a board room setting. You may see that a client loves college football or craft beer, and now you have a commonality - and a reason to chat casually - that you never would have known otherwise.

Remember the good old days of business, when a sales rep would take a client out for scotch and a football game in a suite, chitchatting the whole time? This is the same idea, executed virtually.

Brands don’t connect with brands, and in the B2B world at least, people don’t connect with brands. People connect with people. Showing a human side, pulling back the curtain on who you are outside the office, can have a strong effect on your business relationships. Empathy is a crucial element of a relationship, even one of a business variety.

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Think Before You Post

Smart social media usage goes across audiences. Sure, there’s been a evolution. People used to get fired for even accessing Facebook from work, now some offices outright encourage it.

Not everything has changed. People still get fired for what they post online. They can even get fired for comments their friends make on posts. But we also live in a world where a Presidential frontrunner regularly tweets out insults and jabs with little push back.

The key is sensibility, and knowing your audience. If you wouldn’t want your spouse or kids to see it, then you may not want to post it. It’s not just about customers - your future employers will be sniffing around these profiles as well one day.

If you really want to post things that are risque or potentially offensive, or you’re paranoid about strangers seeing your kids, then build lists on Facebook. Have a “red light” list that contains people you want to block from certain personal posts.

Otherwise, go out there and connect with people. Get close, grow empathy, and deepen those relationships. It’ll pay off for you, your brand, and your future prospects.

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Topics: customer loyalty

Written by: Brandon Carter

Brandon is a former writer and marketer for Access Development. He's a frequent blogger on customer and employee engagement & loyalty, consumer trends, and branding. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter at @bscarter

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