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    Social Media Can Be Your Friend AND Your Foe

    Dec. 30, 2013
    For commercial and residential HVAC contractors, social media equates to brand-building and you have to be careful how you present yourself.

    Sometimes life just throws you a curve ball. Seemingly out of nowhere the entire technology behind social media sprang into being and immediately changed how we communicate. It's been on the scene for several years now and we've watched as tools like Facebook and Twitter became powerful aids in building brands, creating buzz, and finding customers.

    I've also watched as contractors in the HVACR industry grimaced, at first, with the onslaught of this "young-person technology," then slowly came to the realization that the world has changed and this is a major part of it. Each day the number of contractors using social media grows as they try to figure out how to make it work for themselves and their businesses.

    Social Media icons, graphic courtesy of webdesignsurvivalist.com

    On April 21, 2009, Chief Marketer magazine published an article titled, "To Tweet or Not to Tweet? How Twitter Can Further Your Brand." Authors Jonathan Paisner and Bill Westcott wrote about how companies were using Twitter in particular (but social media in general) to promote brands:

    Companies are using Twitter to reach customers directly. Salesforce.com built a Twitter-response tool into its customer-relations product. Taking that idea a step further, Southwest Airlines recently used Twitter to surgically poach a traveler from a competitor by listening to the tweets of a disgruntled JetBlue traveler and offering to lend a hand with a convenient flight. They did not manage to grab the fare in this case, but they garnered buzz and demonstrated their brand values and social media savvy.

    Remember, this is from 2009 and the sophistication in using social media to market brands has risen dramatically since then. Even so, back in 2009, the social media's dark side began making itself felt. After all, it was SO darned easy to use, people and companies began posting whatever they thought, whenever they thought it, and sometimes those posts came back to hurt them or their brand. As Paisner and Westcott wrote:

    The infamous cautionary tale referred of “Cisco Fatty” saw a new Cisco hire terminated before he showed up for work because of his tweet about the new “fat paycheck” he’d be getting even though he was less than enthusiastic about the job. Cisco’s response? “Who is the hiring manager? I’m sure they would love to know that you will hate the work.”

    There’s no such thing as anonymity today. People and brands must conduct themselves in the online social world with the expectation that their words will live indefinitely. Think of it as mixed company at a cocktail party—you never know who’s listening and who knows whom. So behave yourself.

    This is more important today than ever before. Case in point: I'd like to share the story of a young man from the Boy Scout troop I'm affiliated with and how social media could very well undo years of his hard work.

    This young man worked his way through all the ranks of scouting. He lived by the Scout Law and the Scout Oath: was generous with his time teaching younger boys everything from how to pack for campouts, to how to use compasses, tie knots – you name it. He was active in outreach programs, churches, and community groups doing charitable work for cancer patients, the homeless, battered women, and more.

    He really seemed to be one of the best scouts in our troop. And when the time came for him to become an Eagle Scout, he put together a terrific Eagle Scout project, showed true leadership, and did everything necessary to attain the highest honor that scouting has to offer.

    He passed his Eagle Board of Review and made all the adult leaders in the troop proud.

    And he posted his thoughts about the entire process on his Facebook page.

    Without going into too many details, he defamed the Boy Scouts of America by taking a very unflattering photo of himself in his Eagle Scout uniform and posted it with unsavory commentary about his troop leadership.

    And he did so thinking no one from the troop or the Boy Scouts of America would see it.

    Only they did. And his status as an Eagle is now in question. All that hard work could very well be down the drain.

    It's a shame really, because there was no reason to post these things in the manner in which he did. Now they're out in the cybersphere and he will pay a price. His brand as one of the best, an Eagle Scout, is ruined.

    Remember, social media is a wonderful thing, but it has a dark side. It can be both your friend and foe. So as actor Michael Conrad used to say at the beginning of every episode of the television show, Hill Street Blues, "Let's be careful out there."