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A weekly look at Wyoming business questions from the Wyoming Small Business Development Center (WSBDC), part of WyomingEntrepreneur.Biz, a collection of business assistance programs at the University of Wyoming.
By Brett Housholder, WSBD market researcher
"I am ready to use social media, but am not sure how I should portray my business online. I would love to show some personality and have fun with it, but I do not want to seem unprofessional. What should I do?" Scott, Lovell
If you are just venturing into social media and have not yet gotten comfortable interacting through tools such as Facebook and Twitter, it can be a bit nerve-wracking at first. How should you conduct yourself? Is it OK to make jokes? Where's the line between having fun and being unprofessional? These are common concerns and are much more important than many folks think.
The best advice I have heard on having a "social media persona" is to envision your business as an actual person. If you own a surf shop in San Diego, you might go to work in shorts and sandals. If you are a partner in a law firm, your clients expect a suit and tie. The same guidelines apply to how you interact online.
One of the biggest challenges of interacting solely through the written word is interpreting the tone of somebody's comment. Not everyone shares the same sense of humor and what seems like a completely innocent and lighthearted comment to you could be offensive or insulting to somebody else.
When we interact through social media, we only get to see the final product of somebody's thought; we see words and punctuation, but have no idea how the comment was intended to be interpreted. For example, an exclamation point can have both positive and negative connotations -- excitement or anger. Sometimes it's difficult to tell the difference.
There is certainly nothing wrong with showing your personality and having fun when interacting through social media. In fact, it can often enhance your relationship with potential clients. But remember that your persona still must align with the expectations your clients have of your profession. Be cautious with humor and always stop to consider how your comment might be interpreted, despite your intentions.
A blog version of this article and an opportunity to post comments is available at http://www.wyomingentrepreneur.typepad.com/blog/.
The WSBDC is a partnership of the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Wyoming Business Council and the University of Wyoming. To ask a question, call 1-800-348-5194, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or write 1000 E. University Ave., Dept. 3922, Laramie, WY, 82071-3922.