To Friend or Not-Friend With Clients on Social Media?
Practice Management & Professional Services & Strategic Issues

To Friend or Not-Friend With Clients on Social Media?

June 14, 2021

by Tony Vidler  CFP logo   CLU logo  ChFC logo

social-media-friend-requestConnecting with clients on social media can lead to closer relationships and even genuine friendships , which equals greater lifetime value of the client, right?  But then….it can kill professional client relationships too.

 

So what is the right thing to do when it comes to befriending clients on social channels; Friend, or not friend?

 

Well it depends doesn’t it?  Because “friend” on some social media channels doesn’t really mean “friend” at all…but connected…which is a whole different level of personal relationship.  So it depends on the channel we are talking about to begin with, and then it depends on your own degree of extroversion or desire for privacy and separation in your professional and personal lives.  Then maybe a further consideration is the potential value you place upon the client relationship, and what you are prepared to do in order to make money from relationships.

 

Whoa….that sort of sounds a little like prostituting oneself…however it is a genuine consideration for some advisers.    It is after all an intensely personal decision about whether to connect with clients on social networks, and what your reasons for doing so might be.  How much “value” do you place upon the commercial elements compared to how much value you place upon maintaining your own privacy? 

 

It is a question I wrestled with some years ago:
Where is the line in my life between building business and having a private life?

 

Whether to “friend” business colleagues and clients on social networks must be an intensely personal decision, and there are 2 serious considerations:

  1. How much you are comfortable revealing YOU, and,
  2. How much of your family and friends you are comfortable revealing.  

 

How much of YOU can literally mean just that.  Being seen by your clients in your swimwear….be that bikini or boardshorts….or out partying big on a New Years Eve.

 

Those decision points are immensely personal and there is just no right or wrong rule on it: some people are totally comfortable with full-on naturism and happy to literally put it all out there for anyone anytime.   Some folk feel a burkini is the minimum level fo public indecency.  For most of us swimwear is somewhere in between those two, as is being seen having fabulous holidays in exotic locations that some of our clients might only dream about, or sharing pics of your latest acquisition – which in turn may raise unnecessarily awkward questions about your personal income with clients…the list of awkward things just goes on really.

 

There is no absolute right or wrong, and there is no “rule” on what an adviser should or shouldn’t do in this respect.

 

Some research a couple of years ago on the relationships between advisers and affluent investors suggested strongly that getting more social led to higher levels of client satisfaction and more networking or referral opportunities for the adviser.  Something like 65% of those “doing lunch” with their advisers had provided referrals…This is consistent with most professionals’ personal experiences over the years: spend more time getting to know clients and letting them get to know you and more business opportunities follow.  Sometimes genuine friendships grow out of that process too.  

 

Sometimes.

 

Sometimes weirdo’s get into your personal life too though.  Or clients get weird about things you didn’t expect.  And personally, I believe you should be very very wary about letting people that you really don’t know all that well getting to know your family members and what they get up to.

 

That same research showed that only around 12%  (I believe) of those affluent investors were friends with their adviser on Facebook….what wasn’t clear of course was what proportion of either the advisers or the clients had sent friend requests to the other. So it is unclear whether there were attempts at befriending on social that were rejected, or whether in the majority of instances neither party wants to take it that far.  Whatever the reason for the low level of social media be-friending in relation to the relatively high level of actual physical social interaction, it seems clear that the majority of advisers and their clients have largely veered away from be-friending on social so far.

 

friend-clients-on-social-media

Of course we are going to connect with clients on LinkedIn – that IS a professional networking site.  It is the whole point of being on LinkedIn for both the client and the adviser.  Following on Twitter is fine too…and maybe TikTok…after all is forgotten or lost within 24 hours anyway.  Maybe not so much with Instagram, Facebook and so on where content lingers for years.

 

These are the platforms where the pictures of our kids are, and where the passions and life events are shown to those who matter to us.  It’s the social network where we share emotions and thoughts and philosophies on often contentious issues perhaps…and where the silly photo’s of people doing dumb things are laughed at by their friends. Those friends who know the real person and who are not judging the professional by a photo of a moment in time…which is not necessarily the same reaction from clients is it?

 

The problem with connecting with clients on Facebook is that you are effectively inviting them into your very personal life.  Or you are asking them to let you into theirs.  Awkward all round is my feeling.

 

That new client you “friend” can now trawl through your old photo’s going back to school days and teenage years which includes quite a few dumb photo’s from wild nights out probably. They can read comments, complete with atrocious language mixed in with some “private” and politically-incorrect arguments with your old mates about politics, sport, religion and controversial topics of the day.  That can change clients perceptions of you.  Just as awkward for clients is that they know you can do exactly the same thing with them….and do they really want to run the risk of their new financial planner or insurance broker suddenly trying to buddy up on-line and get to know all of their friends and family via Facebook?

 

Do they really want you making inane or jolly-happy-chappy comments on everything they post?

 

Do you want them continually making jolly-happy-chappy comments on everything you post?

 

I think not on both counts.  However, as I said earlier this is a very personal decision and I don’t think there is a clear rule for any professional in reality.  For myself (after quite a few years now of being pretty active with social media and having made quite a few great mistakes along the way), this is pretty much how I play it with the main social media channels:

  • Twitter & LinkedIn & Youtube & Pinterest: happy to have anyone follow me (or connect) unless they exhibit troll-like behaviour.  Trolling or abusive stuff gets people immediately blocked and shut out forever.
  • Twitter & LinkedIn & Youtube & Pinterest: happy to follow (or connect with) anyone who is genuinely sharing stuff that interest me.  Equally, I am happy to ignore everyone who doesn’t interest me (note to those  with a religious/political zealotry agenda of any persuasion, or the thousands of recruiters/web designers/SEO specialists/social media guru’s trying to connect on Linkedin especially: You’re wasting your time with me)
  • Twitter & LinkedIn & Youtube & Pinterest: the above rules work for me because I am clear on the purpose of these social media channels.  They are business networks, or information sources. But they are not personal networks.  They are not my life. They are just business.
  • Facebook:  I separate Facebook into 2 realms – there is a “company page” and my personal one.  The company page is deliberately kept light-hearted and really exists to cater to Google’s search algorithms, and as a place to “connect” in an informal way with business peers and colleagues and clients.  THAT is where I am happy to connect in an informal network with clients and business peers.  But I have my own rules around some “no go” zones for that page and am quite deliberate in what vices I allow people to assign to me.
  • Facebook Personal Page: not for clients.  Unless those clients do in fact become friends and who are people that I am happy to sit in the sun in my boardshorts drinking beer and discussing the woes of the world with.  Because that’s the benchmark for connecting with clients in my own mind…and while it might sound a silly test it is an easy one for me to answer on a case by case basis:

Are we both going to feel comfortable sitting on a beach in just our swimwear a fixing the worlds problems while we have one or two drinks too many, and laugh while we are doing it?

 

If the answer is “no” then do not “friend” on the personal social media channels.

 

For me it is has become that simple.

 

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