Digital Manners: Should Employers Make You Use Your Facebook Account To Promote Their Products?

Navigating the intersection of etiquette and technology.
March 20 2012 3:40 PM

Seizing My Social Network (Transcript)

A worker is annoyed she has to use her Facebook and Twitter pages to promote the company’s interests.

Farhad Manjoo:  My mother doesn’t need any body-building supplements, thank you very much!

Emily Yoffee:  I’m Emily Yoffe, Slate’s Dear Prudence advice columnist.

Farhad: I'm Slate's technology columnist, Farhad Manjoo. And this is Manners for the Digital Age.

Today’s question is from a worker who is peeved that her new employer requires her to use her personal social media accounts to promote the company’s products.  She writes, “Dear Farhad and Emily, I recently took a temporary freelance job for a marketing and event company.  My boss expects me to use my personal Facebook and Twitter accounts to promote events and companies with my personal social network.  I want to please my client so I’ve shared and posted several things.  But my boss is now pushing for more frequent updates and postings.  I feel like this is inappropriate spamming of my friends and family and crosses the line. I’m worried friends will drop me from their networks. How do I have a conversation with my boss about this?  How should I approach social networking requirements before taking a job in the future?  Signed, Seizing My Social network.”

So, Emily, do you think it’s inappropriate to force employees to use their Facebook pages for work?  

Emily:  Yeah, I do think it’s inappropriate.  I do think it’s spamming.  I do think your personal social media pages should be your personal pages and I think good luck trying to get out of it. I think we’ve crossed the line, unfortunately, where employers expect you will use your networks to promote the company. 

This woman does freelance marketing. I’m not sure she’s going to be able to not do this. I think if she’s already in, she probably should do one or two things. “Hey everyone, I wanted you to know I’m working at blah, blah, blah. Great product,” and leave it at that.  But I don’t know how she says no and keeps or gets the job.  What do you think?

Farhad:  I agree it’s inappropriate. I think it’s inappropriate for this reason. I don’t think it’s effective.  It depends on who’s in her network.  Like in my case, I use my social networks as public profiles, But that’s because a lot of the people who follow me on Facebook or Twitter, they found those pages because I write for publications and they're my readers. And so, I spam them with my articles. I assume that they want that content.  Really, there are very few people on my profiles that are friends and family. 

It sounds like this is a different situation where she has these networks that are composed mostly of people she knows and now her boss wants her to promote the product to those people. I just don’t think that’s going to be effective. If she is a marketing expert, I think the way she gets out of this is to explain to her boss that there are better ways to promote the product than to just spam her own friends who may not be interested. 

There are things like Facebook ads that target people in a certain demographic. She can go to specific websites. She could set up a profile for this company. There are many things she can do that will be more effective I think than using her own network. If her friends and family don’t care and they consider it spam, that WILL be bad for the company – not good.       

Emily:  I think that’s great and that’s the discussion she should have. But doesn’t everyone think their product should go viral and word of mouth is the best way to do it, so they want to access real people, even if it’s kind of ridiculous?

Farhad:  Yeah, probably.

Emily:  I’m also not so sure, if she does it in a minimal way, how offended people would be. I agree, You and I are in a very similar situation. My Facebook page is really part of my work. It’s not a private thing. But for most people, it is a private thing. Yet, everyone is promoting whatever. Maybe in the first years of Facebook, it would’ve been more offensive than it is now.

Farhad:  I agree. I think that if she uses it just now and then to promote the client, that’s okay and it probably won’t turn off her friends and family, and it might not help the client that much either. But it sounds like this client wants her to do it all the time and wants her to do it even more. I think that’s where she should step in and say, “It’s probably not helping the product and it’s not helping my Facebook profile either.” 

It sounds like she’s new in the business and if she doesn’t know how to use social media to market products, she should learn how to do that, become expert in that field, and then explain to her clients what the good ways are to do it and what the inappropriate and ineffective ways are.  

Emily:  I think you're totally right. The onus is on her to be the marketing professional and not at the mercy of half-baked ideas from her employer. In the current situation she could say, “I’ve gotten some negative response from people saying I’m sending work-related things on a personal network and they're being bothered by it,” to really explain why she’s pushing back on this. 

I totally agree with you. Instead of being the victim of this employer she should say, “I’ve got something much better to offer you. You will really have far more measurable results. That’s why you should hire me.”

Farhad:  Right. So my bottom line is she should be the expert in this situation and tell her clients what the right thing to do is and why their ideas about using her network might not be the best thing for their products. 

Emily:  I totally agree with you. She will be much better off if she takes the initiative and says, “Here’s a better way.” 

Send us your questions about shifting etiquette in the online age. Our address is digitalmanners@slate.com

Farhad:  You can also join our Facebook page where we carry on the conversation throughout the week. Go to www.Facebook.com/digitalmanners.

Emily:  And we’ll talk to you next time on Manners for the Digital Age.

Farhad Manjoo is a technology columnist for the New York Times and the author of True Enough.

Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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