Revisiting The Power Of LinkedIn: 4 Etiquette Lessons From A Digital Crisis
With LinkedIn now connecting 300 million members worldwide and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman having just published his "The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age" book last week, it's clear to most of our PR agency's clients (particularly those with a business-to-business focus) LinkedIn is far more than a recruitment and job listing site. Whether you're aiming to engage with nanotechnology engineers, addiction medicine experts, electric utility consultants or Asian chefs, LinkedIn is a critical channel for lead-generating inbound marketing and engaging social media efforts.
Yet we continue to see businesspeople misusing and abusing LinkedIn protocols. We thought the time was right to re-visit a post we originally published last March – inspired by a LinkedIn-inspired crisis, but still offering powerful lessons for any marketer determined to leverage LinkedIn as a social channel. Read on, and disregard at your own peril...
Remember those glorious days before Twitter and Facebook, when a marketing executive could be dismissive, casually cruel and outlandishly rude without becoming a viral pariah thanks to social media? Alas, times have changed...
Consider the example of Cleveland-based job bank operator Kelly Blazek, who received an email and LinkedIn request in February from 26-year-old job-seeker Diana Mekota, a recent college graduate who was returning to the Ohio area to seek employment.
Would Blazek allow her to subscribe to her 7,300-member job bank and connect with her via LinkedIn, asked Mekota? Rejecting the invitation, Blazek fired off a lacerating response, which follows:
Whew! Stunned, Mekota actually sent this apology to Blazek: "I apologize if this came off as arrogant or invasive. I was hoping to join your very impressive job board but I understand your reservations." However, she then shared Blazek’s savage response on social media via Imgur, which flooded through Twitter, Buzzfeed, Reddit and Facebook. The story was picked up by traditional media such as the Cleveland Plain Dealer, New York Daily News and morning radio DJs, then rippled across the globe in stories by Britain’s The Guardian, NBC News.com, Time.com, Huffington Post and CNN.com.
To her credit, Blazek, previously named "2013 Communicator of the Year" by the Cleveland chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators, shut down her Twitter account and apologized profusely saying: "The note I sent to Diana was rude, unwelcoming, unprofessional and wrong."
But the Pandora’s box of social media sharing is unforgiving – she was even immortalized by a parody Krabby Blazek Twitter account. I expect Google searches for Blazek’s name will highlight her LinkedIn debacle for as long as radioactive plutonium remains lethal.
Of course, there are lessons that both experienced marketing professionals and early-in-career newbies can draw from this situation. What follows are our four LinkedIn etiquette lessons from this digital blow-up.
#1. You Can No Longer Be a Jerk And Expect To Keep It Private
Just as online reviewers are quick to blow the whistle on defective products, shabby service at retail stores, abusive pizza-makers, unthinking rental car clerks and baggage-crushing airlines, businesspeople can no longer expect that inconsiderate behavior of any type will remain private. As demonstrated by the viral sharing of Alec Baldwin’s answering machine message to his daughter (in which the actor called the 11-year-old a "rude thoughtless pig") and the exposure of "secret" emails sent by aides of Gov. Chris Christie about the closing of the George Washington Bridge, if it’s potentially embarrassing to your company and can be shared, forwarded, posted or emailed via a smartphone – it will be. As crisis counselors, we used to advise clients to avoid saying anything to a journalist that "you wouldn’t want to see above the fold on the cover of the New York Times;" today, that’s been replaced by "don’t do or say anything that could become a trending topic on Twitter."
#2. Never Forget You Were Once Young and Naive
I remember how vulnerable I felt while job hunting early in my PR career. I still have vivid memories of the day, more than 21 years ago, when I was turned down after my 40th job interview and convinced that I would never be employed again. So when sweetly naive marketing professionals, or even mid-career marketers freshly terminated from a job they thought was eternally secure, send me a LinkedIn invite today, I often pop them a reply noting that we’re strangers. I add that I’d be happy to talk by phone or meet with them over coffee to answer questions they might have about the Twin Cities marketing scene. After that coffee, we won’t be strangers anymore. . . and then we can connect via LinkedIn. Humility comes hard to all of us, but it helps when I remember the mistakes I made when I was young.
#3. When In Rome, Do As the Online Romans Do – Etiquette for LinkedIn
The codes of conduct followed by members of social media channels Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest and on hundreds of online chatrooms can appear strange, but it only takes a few minutes to learn what is acceptable conduct versus what will get you flagged and de-friended on your chosen social channel. The value of LinkedIn is that it enables you to curate which professionals with whom you want to be publicly associated.
The guiding etiquette of LinkedIn is that you’ll only connect with people you know. Of course, we all make exceptions when the chief marketing officer of a Fortune 100 company invites us to connect with her. Here’s good advice: customize your LinkedIn connection request if you expect your recipient may not recognize you. If you’ve heard them speak or met them at an event, tell them when your paths last crossed. Even better, if you think of a way that you could be of value to them, let them know that too. Don’t risk being a LinkedIn pariah - check out this helpful "Complete Guide to LinkedIn Etiquette," from Mashable.
#4. Indulge in Random Acts Of Gratuitous Kindness
As the great Otis Redding sang, we seasoned marketing pros have to "try a little tenderness" with job seekers who try to navigate the shoals of social media etiquette and occasionally get online egg on their faces.
People do not forget small moments of grace, kindness and forgiveness, especially during moments of crisis in their lives, from joblessness to other losses. Minneapolis-based author Harvey Mackay, of "Swim With The Sharks" fame, wrote that when he attended his father’s funeral, he memorized the faces of every mourner so he’d never forget which people took the time to celebrate his father’s life during that sad time. When I hear that a marketing pro in Minnesota has lost his or her job, I try to be the first person to let them know that my network is now his or her network – and that they’re not alone as they seek new employment. Adman Don Peppers used to tell his clients that if they were ever laid off from their company, he had an empty office at his agency that would be available to them as a free headquarters from which they could seek their new job.
Writing about Kelly Blazek's LinkedIn rejection incident, England’s Guardian suggested that a smart professional "would have suggested some job leads and likely earned the life-long loyalty of the college grad, something far more powerful than mere online connections." Every suddenly unemployed marketing executive (and there are hundreds now in the Twin Cities) provides an opportunity for the currently employed (that’s you) to share a moment of generosity. If for no other reason, it makes sense to be kind to job-seekers because someday your rock solid job will evaporate, and that young, naive, Facebook-crazed Millennial who asked to connect via LinkedIn with you today will be the Executive Vice President of Marketing and empowered to decide if you should be hired or passed over.
As soul singer Angie Stone says, "What goes around comes around, and karma kicks us all in the butt in the end of the day."
Paul Maccabee is president at Minneapolis-based Maccabee, a strategic public relations and online marketing agency.
Topics: Social Media Marketing