Back in the eighties, when I started in the ad biz in New York, it was par for the course to take clients out for drinks, to dinner, the theater and other events. For many, such outings happened weekly or even more often. It wasn’t as excessive as in Madmen — those were really the good old days! — but there was quite a bit of it. It was part of the job.
I hated it. Once I got to the bar or restaurant, or whatever the venue was, I managed to get into the swing of things. But I always had to push myself, and deep down I resented it. Those after hours professional commitments were an unwelcome inroad into my time away from the job. And Lord knows, if you worked in advertising, personal time was a scarce commodity, even back then. But that was one way we cultivated closer relationships with clients.
Flash forward to 2009. Now there’s a new way to nourish that personal connection. It’s called Facebook. And I like it a lot more.
There’s much discussion about the social web breaking down the boundaries between our personal and professional lives. And for me this is true, not only in relationship to co-workers, but to clients too. I have several clients as Facebook friends. In the beginning, I wondered whether this was a good idea, or if it would come back to bite me. But so far it works. And I think one of the reasons it works is that there are some unspoken guidelines that we all seem to follow. For one, we never talk about business. That, of course, would be foolish, because everything on the social web is public. But there’s more to it than that. Facebook is about sharing the private and personal, and for most people it’s a social, leisure-time activity. So business talk just isn’t appropriate.
And it’s also that private dimension that I think makes Facebook a more genuine way of building bonds with Clients. In Facebook you and your clients reveal aspects of your lives that you’d never really get to see at one of those after-hour alcoholic meet-ups of yesteryear. My clients have seen me on video dancing with my parrot. And I’ve seen them playing with their kids. It’s those ongoing glimpses into the small, private, intimate moments of life that make possible personal connections with clients that one never would have imagined, with the occasional exception of course, 20 years ago.
One could argue this isn’t a good thing. That it’s an inappropriate kind of interaction with our clients. I don’t agree. The personal has always been a fundamental component of business. Facebook and other social media just enable it to happen more naturally, spontaneously and, I think, genuinely. And in a way that fits comfortably into a new kind of post-Lehman Brothers value set in which expensive client dinners and excessive nights on the town no longer feel quite like the right way to behave.