When I was a twenty-something journalist I made a massive error by opening my big mouth, unwittingly, in a way that killed a business deal for my bosses. The magazine I was editing was in the process of being sold. I knew about the deal but not much about the detail. One day I got a call from someone at the company that was buying us. Her friendly chat included asking me what we would do once we’d sold the magazine. Stupidly, I said, “I don’t know. We’ll create another one I suppose.”
Thanks to that, they called the deal off and I got a big dressing down by my boss and his fellow shareholders. I learned a few things from that mistake. First of all, when it comes to business, keep your mouth shut when you’re not the one driving the deal. Second, if you are the one doing the deal, make sure any members of staff in the loop are clued up about how to keep their mouths shut, or what to say if questioned.
My professional error is something that companies are even more in danger of experiencing today, thanks to the proliferation of social media.
Several times over the past few weeks I have read posts by marketing people on Twitter and similar micro-blog sites that contain the kind of information I would have thought should be kept quiet. Would SuperCorp, for example, be happy to hear one of your members of staff tweeting that your company was advising them on how to improve their SEO strategy? Would BigCo be pleased to see one of your account managers revealing on LinkedIn that you had submitted a proposal for a new marketing campaign?
The big danger of social media, when it comes to companies, is that the big adopters of it are the younger twenty-somethings whose technophobe managers don’t keep an eye on what they are publicising. There’s a danger that companies and individuals can get caught up in a wave of excitement over the ability to share with all and sundry your every last move and thought, because it’s all good promotion and networking, right? The danger is that companies do not pay attention to the loss of the old fashioned way of doing business.
The best example of this I was told in the pub the other evening. Company A blogged the details of all their latest proposals to prospective clients. Not just summaries, but full details of business they had not yet won. Company B then got its account managers to contact all the prospective clients to say, “I hear you’re looking for this. We can do it for you.” They stole about half the business from the idiotic bloggers.
The key message here is, if you are a business owner, make sure you are aware what your staff are publishing about your business and make sure you train them in what they can and can’t say.