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Q As a service organization, we keep a strict professional boundary between our staff and our clients. Fraternization and socializing with our clients outside our studio weakens that professional relationship and is strictly prohibited. But what about social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook? Should the same rules apply there, too?
A Social networking sites offer a great opportunity for a firm's employees to connect and build important relationships with their customers outside of the work environment. While I respect your firm's policy on socializing, I would view the possibility of connecting with customers on social networking sites as an opportunity to learn more about them personally and professionally. Such knowledge may even serve as a competitive advantage for your firm.
I must note here that your employees should always be mindful of two things. First, service providers need to know that they are one of the few tangible elements in their value offering. Many times, it is during the interaction with service providers that customers' perceptions of service quality are created. Second, every element of service providers' behavior in the form of their communication and actions can affect customer perceptions -- no matter if they are in a traditional service context or online.
What this means for you is that while you may allow the use of such sites by your employees, you must also create a set of guidelines to which your employees should adhere. For example, you may specify the accepted elements of one's profile on such sites, what type of language they may use in their communications, and how they may conduct themselves online -- for example, what kinds of pictures they may upload and share, what topics they may discuss, or what online activities they may participate in.
In summary, clear guidelines may help you harness the power of social networking -- and still protect your brand equity.
ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF MARKETING,
UNIVERSITY OF ST. THOMAS
OPUS COLLEGE OF BUSINESS