Project Management

Think hard before talking about clients on the Web

Chip Camden advises never post anything online about clients that you wouldn't say to their face. It could damage the client relationship beyond repair.

 IT consultants often find that social media provides a great way to build their reputation and their contacts in the industry. When you freely share your insights and experiences, you may be able to help other consultants avoid the same mistakes or benefit from the same wise (or lucky) choices. The more details you include, the better insights you provide -- and it makes for more entertaining reading. But consultants have to be careful about what we share out on the wide open Web to avoid damaging our clients or our relationship with them. Whether you're on Twitter, Facebook, your own blog, or even TechRepublic, here are some questions to ask yourself about your composition masterpiece before you hit Submit.

Does it breach confidentiality?

If you've signed an NDA with your client, its terms serve as a rulebook for what you cannot say; it usually includes anything that the client has revealed to you, but hasn't made available to the public. A broad interpretation of that could include things like a particularly humorous programming mistake, or even a political drama within the client's organization. To share the lessons you learned from these experiences, you would at least need to reframe them in general, hypothetical terms. If you don't have an NDA with your client, you still want to be sensitive to what information they would expect you to treat as confidential. Even though you may be under no legal obligation to keep quiet, the last thing you want to do is to betray your client's trust.

What is your motivation?

Why do you feel compelled to share this information? Is it just that you want to be helpful to others, or are you venting your emotions? Do you want your readership to rally behind you and vindicate you? Do you perhaps even secretly want your client to discover this post, along with all of the support you have for your view so they will repent of their wicked ways? You could get your wish, but what they end up being sorry for might be that they ever engaged you.

Could your client be identified?

Even if you don't name the client, the situation could give away their identity. If what you say about this unnamed party is not altogether glowing, that could sour your relationship. Even if nobody but your client could make the identification, you want to be very careful here. You might even talk about the situation hypothetically, but if your client can see distinct parallels with your shared experience, then you can bet they'll sift your discussion to find the tiniest grain of criticism. Not that criticism is bad, but if you tell the world what you didn't have the guts to tell your client directly that makes you a loose-lipped coward.

What would your client say?

If your client knew you were writing about your experiences with them, what would they think about it? Regardless of whether you think you can remain anonymous, you should never post anything online that you wouldn't want to have read by anyone, especially your client. As you write, assume that they will read it and that they will find out who wrote it. Better yet, if there's any question in your mind about the appropriateness of your missive, ask your client about it first.

Bottom line

In this new era of social media, we've become used to talking about anything and everything in front of the whole world. We enjoy getting things off our chest and expressing our anger and frustration through snarky comments sprinkled with LOLs and emoticons. While that may serve a therapeutic role for you personally, it could damage your relationship with your client beyond repair. Never say anything about your client that you wouldn't say to their face, in front of all of their customers. Because like it or not, that's where you are when you're on the Web.

Thanks to TechRepublic member AlexNagy (aka Joseph) for suggesting this topic.

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About

Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

8 comments
mikifinaz1
mikifinaz1

You would think that by this time people would have figured out that doing anything on the Internet is like running naked down a main street screaming at the top of your lungs. THERE IS NO PRIVACY! Even if you unplug from the wall, lock the computer in an electronically secure room and only work in a Faraday cage you are not completely secure. Security and privacy are illusions

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

If you have nothing but good to say, you should still ask the subject of the story if they mind it being attributed to them. It shows respect for their feelings, and gives them an opportunity to be magnanimous; as well as knowing where they can direct others to good reviews about them. When you have any derogatory information to disseminate, follow the Dragnet disclaimer, "The following story is true, the exact situation and names have been changed to protect all the parties involved." By the way, silence never speaks louder than words. Silence always gives approval of whatever happened, good or bad. And the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good people to do nothing.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... that you should never talk about clients online, but you have to be careful. My clients like it when I say good things about them -- things they wouldn't mind publishing about themselves. But then you run the risk of sounding like a shill. How do you balance it? Or do you just refrain?

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

If you don't have anything good to say about someone don't say anything at all. She was one of the most tactful and respected people in the community. Not to say she didn't tell the truth, but always in a positive way. So only saying good things doesn't imply "shill" in my book. Sometimes silence speaks louder than words.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

Unfortunately, that would mean most of us consultants wouldn't have anything to say -- ever! :D The truth is we need to excercise professional judgement in discussing a client. My rules are simple: 1. I am always bound by a non-disclosure - it's called my code of ethics. 2. I never reveal the company's name - good or bad. 3. I try never to reveal the company's industry and if possible will change the name. 4. If I reveal the company's name I will treat it as a case study -- meaning I ask for permission before doing the case study. 5. I always limit the negatives to those that are relevant to the discussion. (They overwork their people may be true but if I'm discussing the presence of personal agendas, I'm not going to mention it). 6. If something about the situation will reveal either the industry or the company, I change the facts or avoid mentioning that something. 7. Most stories can be transplanted ... change the industry and company. If Employer A did it, what if Employer B would have. 8. Never discuss a situation you're in or one that you have a high level of emotion about ... unless it's very positive. The key is to be tactful and not reveal more than you really need to. And to always remember that a guilty conscience will see personal criticism whatever you do. As long as a reasonable person wouldn't recognize them. Glen Ford, PMP http://www.trainingnow.ca http://www.learningcreators.com/blog

bboyd
bboyd

Do to others what you want others to do to you. Expect the rest of the world to do the reverse. That implies certain criticism is necessary. Please tell me if my fly is open, I will reciprocate.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

If you go on and on about how great your client is, then pretty soon your readers start to discount your opinion as biased. Even your client will begin to think you aren't saying what you really think. So, yes, we must avoid being negative about our clients, but not pour on too much sugar either.

Tim Heard
Tim Heard

I have a robotics question for you. Could you pull my email from LinkedIn and send me an email?

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