An Australian, a Russian, and an American went into a bar in Moscow. It’s not the beginning of a joke, it’s just the beginning of an awkward situation at a business networking event.
You see, LinkedIn was blocked on the territory of the Motherland for violating Russian law. Facebook might get blocked too someday, but that’s a different blog post.
After LinkedIn was blocked, I heard that the more internet savvy and motivated among us used IP hiders, etc. to continue using business- and employment-oriented social networking services in spite of the block.
Personally, I was sort of sad that LinkedIn was blocked since I had spent a little time learning how it works and my article about Russia needing a new brand manager was getting some serious LinkedIn love and street cred. I had even made a half-serious attempt at a professional profile photo.
But then I quickly forgot about the now blocked LinkedIn, until I was at a university education networking event in Taiwan and realized that folks there were probably confused by my profile that had only been updated before the service was blocked in Russia. So, the people in Taiwan were probably wondering why the Director of Global Affairs of an Art Academy in Florence, Italy was also dealing Moscow real estate. But that’s the danger of not updating LinkedIn.
Ok, now that I think about it, keeping my LinkedIn updated would be a challenge anyway, since I do work with an art academy and deal real estate. Among other things.
Which brings me back to the awkward situation at the networking event in Moscow. We had been talking for maybe 10 or 15 minutes when the Russian asked the Australian if he would like to be Facebook friends. The Australian looked quite baffled. I guess he didn’t realize that things were now serious, and that he and the Russian (whose name he probably had already forgotten) would now be “going steady”.
Personally, I was already used to this sort of behavior. I remember my shock in times past receiving business messages from people whom I had never met who work for serious companies… via Facebook messenger. But just like the banya, you get used to it eventually. And then you begin to love it.
I mean, it was really funny sitting at the table with the Russian and the Australian businessman. I will never know what was going on inside the Australian’s head, but the look on his face was terror, as if my Russian friend had suggested they go home together that evening.
After this, I sort of started comparing Russian Facebook with American Facebook.
Now to be fair, Russians in general are more concerned with image than Americans. That’s not a totally bad thing. I was reminded of this while visiting a Wal-Mart in Alamagordo, New Mexico a few weeks ago. I mean, you can go to the effort of cleaning up a bit before going out. Am I right?
And it’s obvious that potential employers will check out your Facebook profile before hiring- regardless of where you live in the world. But Americans don’t seem to make the same effort at having a fabulous Facebook profile as Russians do.
Here is what I see on
Russian Moscow Facebook (I changed my mind- this is a big city Russia thing, not a blanket national phenomenon):
1-Professional profile photos. Ok, not professional in all cases, but clearly effort was made.
2-Lots of discussion about work victories. Also, personal motivational dissertations.
3-Photos from mind-blowing vacations. Alternatively, complaining about travel: “I decided to get my chinchilla pedicure at Abdul’s in Dubai, but our flight was delayed back to Moscow. So, we decided to buy a resort in the Seychelles for the weekend. Richard Branson came to hang out on Saturday.”
4-Very little discussion of controversial topics. (We are talking here about Facebook, not Twitter, mind you).
You get the idea. In other words, I don’t see my Moscow friends “let it all hang out” on Facebook, like you will see
in an Alamogordo Wal-Mart occasionally on American Facebook.
What you will see is status updates that they would like for everyone to see – not just close friends and family.
So, what’s the moral of the story? If a Russian approaches you and quickly wants to become friends on Facebook, you should totally say yes. You can always unfriend or unfollow (my favorite function on Facebook) later. The Russian is probably not looking to become your best friend, but just views Facebook as a way to stay connected.
And to my Russian friends, I might suggest a different way to adding new foreign friends to Facebook (and by “friends” I mean “potential business colleagues that you met at business functions”). Maybe preface your offer with “In Russia, we often use Facebook to stay in touch with our business contacts…”. This might provide some context and avert unnecessary concern. And if you found someone online that you are interested in some kind of work relationship with, make the effort to send a personal message explaining what you are looking for, before making a friend request.
In the end, Facebook might get blocked anyway. In that case, we will look for other social media options to fill the online business networking space. Like Vkontakte… or Odnoklassniki.