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 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 Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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