Forget expensive dinners, Facebook is the new place to get to know your clients

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.

How my clients (and everyone) see me on Facebook today

How my clients (and everyone) see me on Facebook today

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.



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8 responses to “Forget expensive dinners, Facebook is the new place to get to know your clients

  1. shailia

    Hi Stephen,

    First off, don’t you just love Mad Men 😉 Secondly, I love this post about genuine encounters.

    Mixing personal and business contacts on FB isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. But for those who are able to get comfortable with the idea, it can be a great way to see the human being behind the business mask.

    To me, it is much more pleasurable to do business with someone I can really see. So, thanks for your pioneer attitude and for putting the subject out there.


    • Stephen Rothman

      Yes, I do love Madmen! And agree that this kind of interaction will not always be appropriate in every case. But somehow it feels generally right at a time in which the social web is almost demanding a more transparent, individual and yes, even personal, relationship between customers and companies. How we define relationships with our customers is evolving, so too, how we define relationships with clients.

  2. Andreas Zaremba

    I think you are making a really interesting point here – you definitely managed to turn me from hesitant to agreeing.

  3. Sue

    I beg to disagree. I think that my agency saw far more of the real me as a client in the 80s on lunches and evenings out than my clients see of me now on Facebook. I guess it all comes down to how you use Facebook. I use it sparingly – I would never post a video of me playing with my son on it, for a number of reasons. I can hide behind Facebook but it’s difficult to hide when you’re face-to-face over a glass or two of good red wine!

    • Stephen Rothman

      I can see your point Sue. I guess it really is a personal thing. For me, the person my clients saw at the latest, hottest lower fifth avenue NY restaurant back then was very much influenced by a role I felt I needed to play in that situation. I don’t suppose I was hiding, as much as exhibiting a persona that suited my role in that moment of an advertising guy out with the Client. The person who one experiences on my Facebook page and feed is a truer, and more muliti-faceted expression of who I really am.

  4. If only Facebook served cocktails!

  5. Hi Steve,

    First of all, I couldn’t get into Mad Men — tried at the beginning of this season, but it just didn’t sit right with me. And my husband was a creative in the ad biz for 20+ years! Any how…

    I do love Facebook, but I’ve consciously chosen to keep my personal profile (and those friends) separate from my off line mobile notary business’s fan page. (See Abbit Mobile Notary on FB). I believe in letting my clients get to know me in person and by what I decide to share with them on my FB business page, but I do not necessarily want them to hear about my high school reunion and my son’s college parties. 🙂

    Different strokes and all that stuff. Enjoyed the discussion on this topic. Thanks.

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