Am I judged based on who I know or what I know?

A year ago I presented at an Erfa Networking meeting. In the break, I had a discussions with some of the audience about their usage of LinkedIn. A woman in her mid fifties said she only had 25 contacts, and they were very well selected as someone she really trust doing business with. Her argument was that, since she worked as a professional board member (at the time I think she was part of 15-20 company boards) it was of out-most importance that she was never seen or connected with “the wrong guy”. She used words like “criminals” and “business screw-ups” as examples.

At the time I believe my comment was in the lines of “Yeah, but think of the opportunities you might miss out of?”
All these connections...

All these connections…

Fast forward to some weeks ago. At a party a friend of my wife comes up to me and asks “How do you know Joe Blogs from Company A? I can see you are connected on LinkedIn.” She had a sour face. I had to think. I didn’t recognize the name. I barely recognize the company Joe Blogs supposedly worked for. But after some time I did remember why I “knew” this person “Joe Blogs”. We had had a meeting some 3-4 years ago and not spoken since.

I asked why she was interested in this, and she told me a story about how “Joe Blogs” had delivered some really poor-quality work which they had contracted him to do. And Joe had not responded well to the criticism. It all turned in to a some what personal verbal fight, with side-orders.

Now, this friend of my wife is someone I would like to work more with in the future, she is someone I care for. I had to explain to her that I really had no affiliation to this Joe. We said sheers, party went on, and that’s it.

But it made me think on my way home. Am I judged based on who I know or what I know?  This time I was made aware of “the situation”, since she told me in person. But how often does it happen that people see one being connected with the “wrong” person? And how does that reflect on me — business wise as well as personally?

Sure I might not be as afraid of business screw-ups as the professional board member. But I do care about what people think about me — offline as well as online. And to date I’ve been quite ‘loose’ about who I connect with in various networks. I’ve done so to increase my network, because you never know when you need it. Right?

Is it coming back to bite me now? And what about my colleagues, who I evangelize for to build and use their network?

As we move along with our Social Business Journey at Grundfos, one area that we will for sure give more focus is Social Empowerment of employees (experts, thought leaders, regular workers, executives, etc.). Therefore this topic needs to be considered. I don’t believe the issue — if there is a real issue — is so much from a corporate perspective, but from a personal. Those employees who we look to enable and ‘set free’ as Grundfos ambassador, must understand and make their own judged decision how to handle this.

And yes, one way is to connect with only those that you trust; that you have met; done work with; or have some other relationship with. But in a globalized and connection driven world, it might not always be that simple. So do we need to guard our self someway?

Looking around the social web I’ve noticed various ways to at least mitigate this challenge (potentially). For instance have a look at how US Air Force does it on Twitter:

“Following does not=endorsement”
But I hope this is not needed of course! Can you see your own Twitter or LinkedIn profile if you have to take in account all various corporate and personal mitigation’s — in only 170 characters!
“I follow the corporate social business guidelines. What I write is my own opinion and not necessarily  my employers. And me following you, or you following me does not equal endorsement.” 
Ha! That leave little to nothing to explain who you are, what you work with, and so on. Sure, a bit ‘over the top’, but you get my point.
So closing up, I need to figure out if this is really a problem, and if so, what to do about it. Anyone out there with some insights and ideas?

Social Business Lead Consultant at Grundfos

Posted in Barriers and challenges, Empowerment, Reflection

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