As the saying goes, you only get one chance at a first impression. While the importance of a firm handshake, eye contact and a smile have been drilled into us, these days a first impression can happen without us even knowing. So much of our work lives are now online, meaning that professional first impressions aren’t what they used to be. If you have client-facing employees, it is much more likely that a Zoom call, an email, or even a Google search will precede any real interaction with your firm.
And it doesn’t stop there. The stats from our January 2021 Google Consumer Survey targeted at professional media sites show that social media is becoming an increasingly common part of getting to know a new professional contact. When 300 U.S.-based professionals over the age of 25 were asked about how they build a first impression of a new contact, 59% of respondents reported checking Facebook, coming close second to Google at 60%. LinkedIn was used by a third of respondents, whilst 15% use Instagram and 9% Twitter.
Social media first impressions are a sign of the times, and for employers can be a reflection on your firm’s brand. Here are some of the potential negatives and positives of your employees’ social media presence, and how to approach this shift in professional networking:
Social media as a risk
Social media is often assumed as just that—an extension of our social life. It is likely your employees’ accounts were made years ago, without the assumption that they would be looked up by colleagues or your clients.
This assumption of privacy means that your employees’ social media may harbor unsavory photos, less-than-professional statements, or generally misleading content. Professionals often don’t realize how much is externally visible on their social media—can they be sure that those university photos from 2010 aren’t the first thing clients see?
It’s a harsh reality, but social media can have a very real impact on your business. A jarring first impression can prevent the client from furthering the professional relationship, even if your employee is excellent at their job.
Social media as an opportunity
While your first instinct may be to ask your employees to make their accounts private, this is hardly a beneficial (let alone fair) idea. Good first impressions are important, after all, and the lack of an online presence can be a red flag in itself. Think about it: would you trust someone who you couldn’t find online?
When used in a constructive way, social media allows your employees to communicate who they are outside of their roles. Hobbies and interests are what make a well-rounded person, and these may be what makes them stick out to clients (in a good way!)
Perhaps a shared love of golf or a local band is the thing that sets your employee apart and is the support for a trusting work relationship.
How to take advantage of social media first impressions
The way you communicate with your employees about their personal social media presence is, and should be, a nuanced conversation. There is no need to be “big brother,” rather a dialogue should be encouraged about the impact of social media on both their own career path and your firm. The reality is that it’s likely your employees will be looked up, so it is fair to ask them to keep a semi-professional image in mind. It’s important to remember that it is still their social media, so try to take a proactive rather than fearful approach.
Equip your employees with tools, such as IDShield’s Reputation Management, to make it easier for them to be sure of how they look online. Our service allows your employees to quickly and easily scan their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, review potentially damaging content, and swiftly approve or remove it. The process is simple and is a way to empower your employees to take control of their online presence.
While a firm handshake and friendly smile are still important professional skills, true first impressions are happening increasingly online. As social media becomes only more ingrained, it is ever more important to create a dialogue with your employees about the impact of their online presence. By opening up the conversation and providing the tools, you can encourage your employees to harness the power of social media, create meaningful connections, and represent themselves and your company in the best possible way.
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