I received an email not too long ago from a professional colleague. It was a private email asking me to do them a favor. It was written rather tersely and almost demanded that I adhere to their request. The more I thought about it, the more it saddened me that their outward persona via their blog, Twitter channel and so on was upstanding and respectable, but just a ruse to disguise someone so manipulative and greedy.

Undecided by bertiemabootoo on Flickr

Undecided by bertiemabootoo on Flickr

Pulling back from that situation to the general business environment, corporations can probably blame 50 percent or more of their lack of execution or success on political in-fighting. Each department and department head wants to appear favorable to the executive in charge, so they throw up unnecessary road blocks to prevent other departments from getting credit or controlling this project or that initiative. I’ve had a number of clients tell me our work must be rapid and stealth so they can ensure to claim responsibility for social media within their organization.

These control struggles, too, are performed by people, like my colleague, who lack a layer of professional ethics. Sure, it could be argued that if all the other departments are playing politics, the only way to stay ahead is to play right along with them. I don’t agree, but it’s a choice many managers make. If everyone else is skimming money from the company, do you dive right in and just play along, too? You shouldn’t.

Put let’s come full circle back to the personal examples again. When young people are dating there are normally mind games being played. I’m not sure I know three men who haven’t had this happen to them: The date is over. She says she’ll call you tomorrow. She never calls. The relationship fades away. Later, you find out she was anxious for you to call her, then heartbroken you never did. She said she would call you, but that’s just the mind games foolish women play in youthful relationships. In this example, I would argue, the woman lacks a layer of personal ethics.

What does this have to do with social media? Everything.

Social media is as much about building relationships with your customers as anything else. And, like dating, navigating the internal channels in a corporation or even personal friendships with professional colleagues, relationships are built on trust. When your customers are told you’ll be there for them, they expect you to be there for them. When you say you care about their needs, you had better prove it or that trust deteriorates.

Professional ethics and personal ethics are intrinsically tied together. You can’t have professional ethics without a heavy dose of personal ones. And neither can be turned on or off. If you have them, others can tell because you are true to your word. You try hard to fulfill your responsibilities and obligations.

You are genuine.

There are a number of company executives out there motivated by the bottom line and the bottom line only. They smile and say they care about customers, but, behind closed doors, only see red and black numbers, not names and faces of people entrusting the company with their investments of time, energy and/or money. They get sniffed out pretty quickly. Like the toddler with the cookie crumbs on his face, they can be spotted a mile away.

All this is to simply say that people with less than respectable ethical grounding are going to find it difficult to be successful in social media. The audience on the social web sees through your B.S. and knows you’re up to no good. Those that are genuine, compassionate, honest and humble folks will succeed easily here because those traits are what your customers want from a relationship.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • researchgoddess

    Jason this just reaffirms to me the important role social media interaction plays in recruiting. After all, our business is completely based on building relationships with people. I love your writing!

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Gracias. I appreciate the compliments!

  • researchgoddess

    Jason this just reaffirms to me the important role social media interaction plays in recruiting. After all, our business is completely based on building relationships with people. I love your writing!

  • http://twitter.com/ScottHepburn Scott Hepburn

    Amen!

    I'm growing weary of money-grubbers, bait-and-switchers, manipulators and intimidators thinking of social media as just another way to fill their own pockets. Enough already!

    The socialsphere isn't a perfect protection against Machiavellian BS, but it's a start. Go ahead, inflate your own virtue. Strut. Admire your own feathers. Out here, everyone sees you for what you are: Empty.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Well said, Scott. I would caution us, though, to remember that there are degrees of everything. It's not a black and white world. But I hear ya.

  • http://twitter.com/ScottHepburn Scott Hepburn

    Amen!

    I'm growing weary of money-grubbers, bait-and-switchers, manipulators and intimidators thinking of social media as just another way to fill their own pockets. Enough already!

    The socialsphere isn't a perfect protection against Machiavellian BS, but it's a start. Go ahead, inflate your own virtue. Strut. Admire your own feathers. Out here, everyone sees you for what you are: Empty.

  • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

    It's a great post, Jason. Another thing I'd consider adding is that social media adds another whole level of crazy new and uncharted ethical questions to the mix that weren't there before. Hell, every day I'm stepping over someone else's tripwire. It comes with striking into new territory all the time, and with my need to learn faster than I can.

    So not only is social media a place that requires you come into it with a solid mindset, but it's also a place where you have to take into account the mindset of the digital natives and the “old timers.”

    Learning more about that every day. And again, thanks for a great post.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks for stopping by, Chris. You're right – there are uncharted waters and no rules to follow and such. There isn't a black and white in all this. My hope with the post is point out that the greater level of ethical standards you have for yourself, the greater chances of success you'll have. You are someone I consider of high moral and ethical character. That conflicts a bit with the experimentation you encounter — at least in some people's eyes — but we need folks like you experimenting to learn what the different tolerances are.

      Thanks for adding the perspective here. That will only help broaden the conversations.

  • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

    It's a great post, Jason. Another thing I'd consider adding is that social media adds another whole level of crazy new and uncharted ethical questions to the mix that weren't there before. Hell, every day I'm stepping over someone else's tripwire. It comes with striking into new territory all the time, and with my need to learn faster than I can.

    So not only is social media a place that requires you come into it with a solid mindset, but it's also a place where you have to take into account the mindset of the digital natives and the “old timers.”

    Learning more about that every day. And again, thanks for a great post.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Gracias. I appreciate the compliments!

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Well said, Scott. I would caution us, though, to remember that there are degrees of everything. It's not a black and white world. But I hear ya.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Thanks for stopping by, Chris. You're right – there are uncharted waters and no rules to follow and such. There isn't a black and white in all this. My hope with the post is point out that the greater level of ethical standards you have for yourself, the greater chances of success you'll have. You are someone I consider of high moral and ethical character. That conflicts a bit with the experimentation you encounter — at least in some people's eyes — but we need folks like you experimenting to learn what the different tolerances are.

    Thanks for adding the perspective here. That will only help broaden the conversations.

  • http://professionalrugbywoman.blogspot.com/ JennNull

    Jason,
    I agree wholeheartedly with this article (minus the WOMAN playing the game in your example…!!).
    I've seen that all too much, the infighting power struggles. I see it in corporations, and non-profits alike. How do you teach your company's manpower to work for the company? How do you create an atmosphere where people have the same goals in mind, and strive to get there together?

    I also believe that people who do possess those ethics will eventually end up in the right place, the non-ethics people continue to work for those large corporations that see bottom line only… then fail or do not reach maximum potential.
    It kind of reminds me of Billy Madison…??

    Have a good week!

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Great comparison, Jenn. Thanks for that. Teaching that passion and ethics isn't easy. I tend to think it's also not taught, but found in the hiring process. If you know what kind of employees you want behind you, you go out and find them. The enthusiasm and ethics are then inherent in the core of your company.

      That doesn't solve the problem of companies that need a facelift in those areas, but sometimes you have to start over.

  • http://professionalrugbywoman.blogspot.com/ JennNull

    Jason,
    I agree wholeheartedly with this article (minus the WOMAN playing the game in your example…!!).
    I've seen that all too much, the infighting power struggles. I see it in corporations, and non-profits alike. How do you teach your company's manpower to work for the company? How do you create an atmosphere where people have the same goals in mind, and strive to get there together?

    I also believe that people who do possess those ethics will eventually end up in the right place, the non-ethics people continue to work for those large corporations that see bottom line only… then fail or do not reach maximum potential.
    It kind of reminds me of Billy Madison…??

    Have a good week!

  • http://KolbeMarket.com BarbaraKB

    Jason, you have *no* idea how timely this post is for me. Thanks. Always.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      What can I say, Barb. Sometimes a guy gets lucky. Heh. You're welcome … always.

  • http://KolbeMarket.com BarbaraKB

    Jason, you have *no* idea how timely this post is for me. Thanks. Always.

  • ayselvandeventer

    Great post. It's refreshing to see someone speak up about ethical standards in social media. I definitely agree with everything that was said in this article. I think people tend to confuse the line between personal relationships vs. professional relationships on social networks. Clearly, if you are an ethical person outside of your work then it translates to ethical behavior at work. Sometimes people forget the purpose of ethical and trustworthy relationships in every aspect of their lives. Thanks for the reminder.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      You're welcome! And thanks for chiming in.

  • http://www.ashworthcreative.com ayselvandeventer

    Great post. It's refreshing to see someone speak up about ethical standards in social media. I definitely agree with everything that was said in this article. I think people tend to confuse the line between personal relationships vs. professional relationships on social networks. Clearly, if you are an ethical person outside of your work then it translates to ethical behavior at work. Sometimes people forget the purpose of ethical and trustworthy relationships in every aspect of their lives. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Erin McMahon

    The first thing I thought when I read this was wow- have I ever done that? (re: the terse email)

    Great reminder to be consistent across all forms of communication and that it's not about keeping up a facade, it's about dropping the facade altogether.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Amen to that, sister. No facades … faces. They're real.

  • Erin McMahon

    The first thing I thought when I read this was wow- have I ever done that? (re: the terse email)

    Great reminder to be consistent across all forms of communication and that it's not about keeping up a facade, it's about dropping the facade altogether.

  • RichBecker

    Maybe I spent too much time hanging around concierges a few years ago, but some of this seems to strike at the concept of who is the customer? It seems to me that the customer is everyone we interact with, and not solely confined to the consumer walking in the door.

    If we profess that we would not treat a consumer badly, then why on earth would we treat a co-worker or colleague badly? It doesn't make sense.

    Of course, I also think the numbers vs. caring executives is probably best served up as a separate conversation. Some of those numbers people are not only thinking about a paycheck or profit, but a payroll. It's important to make that distinction.

    All my best,
    Rich

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Great thoughts, as usual, Rich. You're absolutely right. It's everyone you come into contact with, internal and external. If you have a solid grounding in personal and professional ethics, you're probably set to be successful in social media. If you don't, you won't. At least in my opinion.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  • http://copywriteink.blogspot.com Rich Becker

    Maybe I spent too much time hanging around concierges a few years ago, but some of this seems to strike at the concept of who is the customer? It seems to me that the customer is everyone we interact with, and not solely confined to the consumer walking in the door.

    If we profess that we would not treat a consumer badly, then why on earth would we treat a co-worker or colleague badly? It doesn't make sense.

    Of course, I also think the numbers vs. caring executives is probably best served up as a separate conversation. Some of those numbers people are not only thinking about a paycheck or profit, but a payroll. It's important to make that distinction.

    All my best,
    Rich

  • http://thelostjacket.com Stuart Foster

    (Grats on #1ness)

    Political infighting has been responsible for driving me from the “Stu works 9-5″ ideal of yesteryear. I like getting things done. I like having C-level buy in. I love doing cool stuff.

    Don't really care how that stuff happens. As long as everyone wins in the end. Too often I've gotten thrown under the bus because I've blazed headlong into something without considering the political ramifications.

    I just like creating awesome. Why can't everyone be this way?

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks and thanks. I agree with you. But the reality of the world is that some people gotta be territorial and selfish. Navigating the channels elegantly is an art form. Some of us figure it out and succeed. Others have to crash and burn a few times before they find the right place to hang their hat. I've been on the latter more than the former, but that's okay, too.

    • http://www.webcommons.biz Steve Magruder

      There are many who would call this thought unrealistic at best.

      Nevertheless, I am in your camp of thought. Politics ruins jobs. A lot of us would just like to get things done and not have to deal with office politics.

      This is, of course, one big reason I'm a freelancer.

  • http://thelostjacket.com Stuart Foster

    (Grats on #1ness)

    Political infighting has been responsible for driving me from the “Stu works 9-5″ ideal of yesteryear. I like getting things done. I like having C-level buy in. I love doing cool stuff.

    Don't really care how that stuff happens. As long as everyone wins in the end. Too often I've gotten thrown under the bus because I've blazed headlong into something without considering the political ramifications.

    I just like creating awesome. Why can't everyone be this way?

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Great thoughts, as usual, Rich. You're absolutely right. It's everyone you come into contact with, internal and external. If you have a solid grounding in personal and professional ethics, you're probably set to be successful in social media. If you don't, you won't. At least in my opinion.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Amen to that, sister. No facades … faces. They're real.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    You're welcome! And thanks for chiming in.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    What can I say, Barb. Sometimes a guy gets lucky. Heh. You're welcome … always.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Great comparison, Jenn. Thanks for that. Teaching that passion and ethics isn't easy. I tend to think it's also not taught, but found in the hiring process. If you know what kind of employees you want behind you, you go out and find them. The enthusiasm and ethics are then inherent in the core of your company.

    That doesn't solve the problem of companies that need a facelift in those areas, but sometimes you have to start over.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Thanks and thanks. I agree with you. But the reality of the world is that some people gotta be territorial and selfish. Navigating the channels elegantly is an art form. Some of us figure it out and succeed. Others have to crash and burn a few times before they find the right place to hang their hat. I've been on the latter more than the former, but that's okay, too.

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  • Joshanderson

    I see you use webex. I suggest you try http://www.showdocument.com – its an alternative tool for webex that allows document sharing and web meeting in real-time. all the participants in the session see each others' drawing, highlights, etc. It is free and requires no installation.

    Josh

  • http://www.you-can-teach-writing.com/ Linda Aragoni

    In the absence of other information about your colleague, I wonder if there might not be some other explanation of the behavior than a lack of ethics.

    You said that the writer is “upstanding and respectable” in their blog, Twitter channel and so on. If the overall tenor of the colleague's interactions is good, is it not reasonable to think (or at least hope) the one e-mail might be an aberation?

    Perhaps the colleague realizes you are very busy and thought to do you a favor by keeping the message terse. The tone that sounded demanding to you might have been the colleague's attempt to respect your schedule.

    It could even be the colleague was having a bad day and unwittingly that irritation crept into the e-mail.

    Just as one swallow doesn't make a summer, I suggest one irritating e-mail doesn't make someone unethical.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Fair points, Linda. There's certainly more to my report than is being told, but you're right. One fault doesn't make someone unethical. Thanks for the perspective.

  • http://www.you-can-teach-writing.com/ Linda Aragoni

    In the absence of other information about your colleague, I wonder if there might not be some other explanation of the behavior than a lack of ethics.

    You said that the writer is “upstanding and respectable” in their blog, Twitter channel and so on. If the overall tenor of the colleague's interactions is good, is it not reasonable to think (or at least hope) the one e-mail might be an aberation?

    Perhaps the colleague realizes you are very busy and thought to do you a favor by keeping the message terse. The tone that sounded demanding to you might have been the colleague's attempt to respect your schedule.

    It could even be the colleague was having a bad day and unwittingly that irritation crept into the e-mail.

    Just as one swallow doesn't make a summer, I suggest one irritating e-mail doesn't make someone unethical.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Fair points, Linda. There's certainly more to my report than is being told, but you're right. One fault doesn't make someone unethical. Thanks for the perspective.

  • http://www.webcommons.biz Steve Magruder

    There are many who would call this thought unrealistic at best.

    Nevertheless, I am in your camp of thought. Politics ruins jobs. A lot of us would just like to get things done and not have to deal with office politics.

    This is, of course, one big reason I'm a freelancer.

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  • http://dealzbydesign.com Web Design Lexington

    Getting in-touch without the notion of doing business in return is something worthwhile to do although business is the main point of it all. This is a matter of how to tell-tale without being notice. Keep it personalized and be cautious with the words being use. Wanting to sell via social media takes courage, time and sweat. So make it sure to hit the nail straight.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Great points. Thanks for stopping by.

  • http://dealzbydesign.com Web Design Lexington

    Getting in-touch without the notion of doing business in return is something worthwhile to do although business is the main point of it all. This is a matter of how to tell-tale without being notice. Keep it personalized and be cautious with the words being use. Wanting to sell via social media takes courage, time and sweat. So make it sure to hit the nail straight.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Great points. Thanks for stopping by.

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  • Catrina Olson

    This is a very interesting blog but I respect it because it is so true. There are so many companies and buisnesses that only play the bottom line. They smile and say have a good day then roll their eyes if you take too long grabbing your stuff and leaving. I love going into good buisnesses where they do respect and care for their customers. It's a good feeeling to have someone say have a great day with a real smile when you know they really mean it.

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