There was a huge internet furore at the back end of last week over the fact that Mark Zuckerberg dared to wear a hoodie to presentations to talk up Facebook’s upcoming IPO. Parts of the media labelled him as arrogant, disrespectful and immature. And it set me thinking not so much about multi-billion dollar pitches (for which I admittedly only have a modicum of experience) but more about the online comms world in general, and whether its informal nature means we’re doing ourselves a disservice.
The way we now communicate in business is increasingly casual, especially in terms of tone. It’s more colloquial; more friendly; more social. And for someone like me, who hates formality and stuffiness with a passion, that’s fantastic. But can it mean that we’re losing sight of professionalism? I had lunch recently with someone who’s pitching out a large comms account. She told me that some of the email responses she received to the initial announcement were bordering on presumptive in the casual nature in which people introduced themselves. It’s as if we’re forgetting that there’s a difference between how we address business contacts and how we address our mates. Because as much as we might like to think that social media makes us all one big, happy family, it doesn’t. There is a difference.
How Much Does Initial Impression Matter?
The same is true when we meet in person. For personal business meetings I tend to still wear a suit, albeit with no tie and a more casual style shirt under my jacket. The whole jeans thing just doesn’t sit well with me, no matter how many creative comms types I see having adopted this dress code. But I have in the past been asked to dress both more casually and more formally for two meetings within just a matter of days by different people. So where do we draw the line? IS there a line?
Looking at the bigger picture, I’d like to think that it doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) matter what one wears to a business meeting or what email salutation we use. If Zuck feels comfortable in a hoodie, then why shouldn’t he wear a hoodie? If I think it’s suitable to start my introductory email with ‘Hey Richard…’, then why shouldn’t I? What’s the harm? But that’s not the real world that we live and operate it – not yet, anyway. Social media is new, business isn’t. And until the business world fully catches up with the tone and language of Twitter, those of us working in comms have to know when we can be informal and when we just have to suck it up and have a little bit of respect for old-fashioned professional values. As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression.