Burning Freelance Bridges: Watch Your Social Media Venting
Yesterday, I got very upset at a client. The reason isn’t relevant, but I spent part of the afternoon opening and closing the sites I use to communicate — my blog, Twitter, LinkedIn and so on — thinking about saying something about how upset I was, warning other freelancers off of this particular client and generally venting. In the end, I didn’t post anything, because I knew I’d burn plenty of bridges with just one unfortunate comment.
The client in question is savvy about social media and would have undoubtedly seen any comment I made. Even if this person would not have seen any remarks I made online, it still would have hurt me in the end. Negative commentary about clients in a public venue can’t help but cause a freelancer problems down the road.
Burning Bridges with Social Media
It’s easy to forget how many people can see a comment made on a blog or a social networking site, especially down the line. Even if the client I wanted to vent about wouldn’t have seen anything I chose to post, it’s very possible that a future client — someone I hoped to work with — could have. I don’t know about you, but personally I’m reluctant to work with anyone that publicly bad-mouths clients or other freelancers. I wouldn’t want to work with me and I wouldn’t have blamed any prospective clients that chose to avoid me after that fact.
Even posting about the client (or anyone else) without mentioning names can cause problems. I once got frustrated with a source and tweeted about the situation, carefully leaving out the source’s name. I got a flood of responses from people who had helped me with information for articles, each asking if they were the guilty party. I tried to reassure everyone that things were fine, but I know that some of my more enthusiastic sources rapidly became less interested in helping me after that one, little, frustrated tweet.
A Bigger Problem for Freelancers
Over the past couple of years, there have been plenty of situations in which people have made comments that caused big problems with clients. One of the best known examples is James Andrews, who insulted the city of Memphis on Twitter — while on his way to meet with one of his employer’s clients based there. It caused some consternation online, Andrews and his employer apologized and managed to make the client happy again.
But this sort of situation is a much bigger problem for a freelancer. There’s no way that you can point to an employee as the problem when you’re the entire company wrapped up in one person, making it impossible to claim that a comment you made doesn’t represent your freelance practice as a whole.
Worse, most of your clients are the size of Ketchum’s (the company Andrews works for). The client upset by Andrews’ tweet was Fedex. But a smaller client could have easily ripped up a contract on the spot — a concern that freelancers have to be aware of.
Keep It Under Wraps
I’m not suggesting that everything that you say online has to be carefully vetted and weighed, but when you’re talking about your clients — your bread-and-butter — it’s important to think before you blog. There are a few opportunities to vent anonymously (just reading Clients From Hell tends to make me feel better), but in the long run, venting offline is probably the best bet.
We don’t all have to be full of sunshine day in and day out, but freelancers do have to demonstrate our professionalism online far beyond what is expected for the average employee.