As part of my blog training, I was asked to review my social media presence in general and in particular my LinkedIn account. My profile, admittedly, had not been reviewed in some time, so I updated my bio and skills section.
This made me think about “puffing,” which I learned about in my Contracts class in law school. For those unfamiliar with the term, it is something we experience daily in sales transactions and advertising. Puffing is the exaggeration of the positives of a service or product or anything else someone is looking to sell. Any advertisement that includes superlatives – such as “greatest,” or “best” – or statements that are clearly not intended as factual representations are not generally actionable if you buy the “product” and find it to be lacking. Consumers dealing with a salesperson should expect some level of “puffing.”
Professionals use social media to sell themselves, their experience and their abilities to provide whatever service they are offering. It is obvious that someone posting a biography or an advertisement will highlight their best attributes and ignore the negatives. In the same way auto manufacturers do not list their recalls, professionals do not post their disciplinary actions, malpractice claims or dissatisfied client complaints.
But are there dangers? I was involved in an arbitration in which the defense relied on the testimony of the client’s Sales Manager. The sophisticated plaintiff contended it relied on promises and representations made by the Sales Manager, when, in fact, upon a review of the contract documents, the plaintiff’s representatives could see for themselves that the product may not have been as broadly applicable to their needs as the Sales Manager suggested. The defense argued the representations made in connection with the sale by a “salesperson” were not relied upon by the plaintiff.
During cross-examination, the Sales Manager was asked whether or not he was, in fact, a “Manager” of his employer, with apparent authority to bind the company and back up his promises. After a number of denials, the plaintiff’s counsel provided a printout of the Sales Manager’s LinkedIn profile setting forth that he was the “Manager” rather than the “Sales Manager.” While this puffing of his credentials was done innocently and was not dispositive of the case, it certainly affected his credibility.
The lesson for all confirms something professionals need to remember every day – the Internet is forever. Whether it is your witness, your own biography or those of your employees, every “sales” statement you make about yourself, your business and your profession lives on. It is acceptable for professionals to market their skills, ability and experience, but be sure to consider the ramifications of excessive salesmanship.