Heather Harper

G. A. Finch interviews Heather Harper, associate executive director of the John Marshall Law School Center for Real Estate in Chicago.  Harper formerly practiced law at Paul Hastings and Sidley Austin.  Finch and Harper both presented on Networking 104: Navigating the Social Web at the John Marshall Law School.  This interview follows up on Harper’s presentation.

FINCH:  Heather, I really learned a lot about the business potential of Facebook and Twitter from your presentation on Networking 104: Navigating the Social Web.  I know that Your Executive Life Blog readers will benefit from your insights as well.

First of all, like many professionals and executives, I do not use Facebook or Twitter for business purposes.   In fact, I do not use either at all, but do use LinkedIn and I blog.  Many people are looking to be convinced of the business utility of Facebook and Twitter. Let’s talk about the social medium Facebook. Why should an executive use Facebook for other than personal purposes?


HARPER:  I think executives, like all people using Facebook professionally, need to be strategic and thoughtful about whether to use Facebook professionally and how to be effective.  Executives should keep in mind that Facebook started, and is still for many people, a purely social site for connecting with friends and families.  However, many industries have strong presences on Facebook for commercial purposes.  For executives, I would follow your customers.  Customers prefer vendors who understand and respect their business.  If your customers are tech-savvy online businesses that have a strong presence on Facebook, your company’s absence may convey that you are out of touch.  If your customers are like some customer clients who are not on Facebook and look at it as a risky medium, it could be detrimental for you to be on Facebook professionally.

In all areas of social media, executives should continue to learn about new tools and think strategically about using them to achieve specific goals rather than jumping on the bandwagon because everyone else is doing it or eschewing the tool without much thought.

FINCH:  What are the most interesting features of Facebook to know about and utilize?

HARPER: I’m a pretty standard Facebook user.  I watch the News Feed (the scrolling list of status updates, pictures, etc.), upload pictures, write on people’s walls, and I “like” many group/organization/business pages. 

Although I don’t often use many of the interesting features, I’ll give you one example of a recent use.   Facebook has a check-in feature that allows a user to broadcast his/her location to a large group, presumably to meet.  I don’t use it.  However, the other day I noticed that some family friends checked in at Little Beans Café.  The couple that checked-in has an infant son who is a little younger than our son.  We thought it would be fun to meet them at this play location, so we hopped in the car and went to this local business.  I’m sure the owners of Little Beans Café appreciated the free advertising for them.  I discovered a great place, and I’m sure I’ll return!  

FINCH:  What are the boundaries between personal and professional use?

HARPER: Everyone will have different boundaries between personal and professional use.  Whether you use Facebook professionally, personally, or both, it is prudent to look at every posting through the eyes of someone you respect.  In my case, that’s my father.  If I post something that would embarrass my father or make him cringe, it’s probably not the best thing to put out there for the whole world to see.  Even if you use Facebook personally, you want to make sure your online presence is a positive and accurate representation of you.

Facebook has been known to change privacy settings, so something you thought was totally private could end up being broadcast to a larger audience.  In my opinion, it’s always in poor taste and bad judgment to openly ridicule people on Facebook, especially people related to your career, such as co-workers, employers, or clients.  Try to keep it positive and about you. 

In my opinion, personal profile pages should really be primarily personal.  If you want to use Facebook professionally, it is best to create a separate company profile that people can “like”. 

For personal Facebook pages, the issue becomes who should be your Facebook friend.  It is certainly easiest to limit Facebook to personal use.  You will be able to speak and share with friends and family only, without having to worry about blurring professional lines.  However, there are limitations to this approach.  Are you friends with some of your co-workers?  Are you friends with some of your customers or clients?  Professionals often make friends through work contacts.  I can’t provide an easy answer for this one.  It all depends on the user’s comfort level.  As long as you are mindful of your friend list and obey the general rule that you should only post things that you would want someone you respect to see, you should avoid most uncomfortable situations.  Remember it’s always appropriate to tell professional connections that you use Facebook personally and would like to connect on LinkedIn.

FINCH:  How would a business page work on Facebook and would it be appropriate for every industry?

HARPER:  This question is a long one to unwind.  First, it’s not appropriate for every industry.  I think people in industry should continue to check back and reevaluate, but right now I don’t think Facebook is appropriate for some of the more traditional industries (law, financial services, consulting, etc.).   Here are just a few businesses/organizations that really do well on Facebook:

–          Companies that make something.  If you make a product, you better have it on Facebook so I can “like” it.  For instance, I found this great product called Way Basics.  They have a page on Facebook:  I instantly liked it on Facebook because I wanted to share this product with my friends and because liking it on Facebook says something about me (I like eco-friendly products).  If you make something, you should be on Facebook.

–          Advocacy groups, non-profits, and/or political groups.  If you are political, Facebook is a great way to get the word out.  Obama famously used Facebook during his election.  You can check him out:  If you’re trying to organize, it’s a great way to get people on-board.

–          Companies that are trying to drive traffic to a site online.  If you’re a company that is trying to drive traffic to your website, it’s a good idea to be online.  One caveat – if you’re an executive  and you’re trying to drive traffic to your organization’s site, try to think if the people you want visiting your site are on Facebook and/or expect to find you on Facebook.  If the answer is no, this is probably not the place for you.

Right now, I don’t think it makes sense for very traditional businesses to be on Facebook.  There should be a reason for being there.  Here’s a great example – ComEd.  This utility’s Facebook page is peculiar:  Why is it there? 

FINCH:   What are your thoughts on privacy filters?

HARPER:  I think privacy filters are a nice way for people to set boundaries.  One word of warning – although it hasn’t happened in a while, Facebook did change privacy settings without letting everyone know.  Don’t assume that privacy filters are 100% or that they will never change. 

I personally don’t worry too much about filters because I use Facebook for personal use and I don’t post anything embarrassing or inappropriate.  I give full access to my friends and very little access to people outside of my friend network.


FINCH:  For the uninitiated like me, what are the mechanics and features of Twitter?

HARPER:  There are people who spend a lot of time on Twitter who could give you a much better answer.  I’ll just touch on a few features.  For those who want to figure out how Twitter fits in the larger social network spectrum, it’s easiest to think of it as a conversation.  When you tweet, you are participating in a conversation.  Tweets are also relatively ephemeral – people see them and then they disappear into people’s feed.  While someone could go to your Twitter page and read old tweets, I don’t think this is how most people use the tool. 

In Twitter, people (or companies) follow other people (or companies).  If you follow someone, their tweets show up on your feed.  The most basic way to use Twitter is to follow people who have interesting things to say and to tweet things that interest you.  Simple tweeting is limited in scope; you will only reach those who follow you.

If you think of Twitter as a conversation, it becomes easier to see how the use of @ marks and # tags makes your conversation more tailored and interactive.  You can direct a tweet at a person or organization by using “@” before that person’s Twitter name.  This increases your Twitter reach in two ways.  First, you show up in that influential person/company’s feed, so if you want to talk to someone who is influential in your industry, this is an access point.  Second, your tweet will appear for all followers of the person you are speaking to on Twitter.  If you use @[insert influential person here], your tweet will be read by more people.  Identifying well-respected Twitter users in your industry is essential.

Another way to increase your interactivity is to engage in topic-specific speech.  Topics are denoted with # before the name of the topic.  For instance, I went to a conference last fall – GreenBuild.  While I was there, I followed #greenbuild.  People were discussing the event as it happened.  This is a good example of people coming together to “talk” on Twitter about a relevant issue.  You should also know the most relevant topics areas in your industry.

Once you know the hot topic areas and Twitter users, you can craft your tweets to be directed at people and topics, giving them more visibility.  For instance, instead of saying “check out my new website”.   You might say “@person1 @person2 @person 3 check out my new website #topic 1 #topic 2 #topic3”.

FINCH:   What are the bad uses of Twitter?

HARPER:  In my opinion, tweeting trivial personal details is a mistake.  When Twitter first started, I think people were wondering how it would be used.  I see less trivial personal tweeting and more engaged discussion on focused topics. 

FINCH:   How does an executive or professional effectively use Twitter?

HARPER:  You use Twitter to share information in your industry.  You can use it to promote your blog, comment on current events and news, and follow other people.  Twitter is a conversation with one difference – the conversation is broadcast for everyone to see.  If you engage in thoughtful discourse in your industry, and your industry accepts Twitter as a means of communication, you can establish yourself as an expert.

FINCH:  Do you have a recommendation as to how much time one should spend on Twitter as opposed to all the other available social media including Facebook and LinkedIn?

HARPER: Not really.  I think it is very idiosyncratic.  I don’t personally tweet much.  I participate by following.  It’s a personal decision.  I know some people feel overwhelmed by social media, but I’ve never felt seduced into spending ridiculous amounts of time using Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. 

FINCH:  How often is too often in tweeting?

HARPER:  It depends.  One way to look at it is this – if you have thousands of tweets and only 25 people following you, you may be tweeting too much.  However, I see people who tweet pretty much non-stop during the day.  As long as you have something interesting or relevant to say or share, tweet away!  I personally get annoyed when people tweet obvious or useless statements.  I love it when people share links.

FINCH:  I worry that people are spending too much time in the virtual world of social media and the internet generally to the detriment of natural face-to-face interaction and live conversations.   Will good writing and speaking and social skills deteriorate as a result?  What are your thoughts?

HARPER:  I don’t think so.  Social media isn’t replacing in-person interactions.  We’re just communicating much more and much more quickly than people did in years past.  I find the interplay between social media and in-person events the most fascinating.  I love that I can attend a conference and also attend an online Twitter discussion of that conference simultaneously.  It is as if everyone in room had an opportunity to add depth and perspective.  I use Facebook personally.  I still call, Skype and visit my friends frequently!  Facebook allows me to skip past the boring “what have you been up to” because we already know.  Instead of updating each other, we’re talking about our lives.


Closed Networker

When I started using LinkedIn two years ago, I was a purist in that I only invited and accepted invitations from people with whom I had a business or civic relationship.  I did not “connect“  to acquaintances.  I also tried to keep my LinkedIn network to business and not personal contacts.  I did not want to mix the two. I was a closed networker. 

If someone whom I did not know sought to connect to me on LinkedIn, I would either archive the request or suggest that the requesting person come by my office to meet me when it was convenient for us both.  I wanted to evaluate the person and have a meaningful basis to be in each other’s network. I was a little self-conscious and sensitive about the idea of rejecting a requestor and coming off as being exclusive or self-important.

Open Networker

My thinking changed about seven months ago for two reasons: 1) I reminded myself that my business and personal worlds were not so compartmentalized and were in many ways seamless, so to limit my LinkedIn network to my business and civic contacts was artificial and counterproductive; and 2) I heard a LinkedIn presenter argue for his open, come one, come all policy.  As a result, I became an open networker and accepted anyone who wanted to connect with me. 

I received many requests from people in my various LinkedIn Groups.  The requests from some groups like my law school and college were no-brainers  – it made sense to connect with fellow alumni.  Requests from more impersonal groups like industry groups or city groups seemed more superficial, but I went with the flow of being an open networker.  I also received some random requests from people who shared  a mutual acquaintance with me.

Limited, Qualified Networker

My thinking has evolved once again and as I told another student of social networking, I am now a limited, qualified networker.  I was starting to get requests from people who ranged from pyramid scheme types to people I did not respect to people with whom I would never have any reason to sincerely and meaningfully interface.  I felt I was beginning to devalue the capital of my network.  Not a good thing. 

Developing and expanding one’s business network is not a popularity contest.  It is not like running for office and seeking as many votes as one can get.  Also, we all are both inspired and judged by the company we keep.  So quality connections do mean something and have real value.

So what is a limited, qualified networker?  It is a term I made up.  It means I will be open to networking with folks where I have an existing relationship or where there is a real opportunity to have meaningful interaction in the future.  It also means I will screen and be more selective about whom I will choose to connect.  My intention is not to offend, but to be more effective with the limited time that I have. 

The reality is that not all contacts are created equal.


By G. A. Finch

A fellow alumnus, Gene Killian, recently started a discussion in the LinkedIn University of Michigan Law School Group with the query: LinkedIn Use Violates Restrictive Covenants?

Mr. Killian alerted the group to a recent complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota captioned TEKsystems Inc. v.  Brelyn Hammernick, et al. 


Plaintiff TEKsystems Inc. is in the business of recruitment and placement of temporary and permanent employees.  Defendant was a former employee of the Plaintiff and had signed an employment agreement which contained provisions not to compete, not to solicit, and not to divulge confidential information.  Defendant went to work for a purported competitor of Plaintiff.

Plaintiff alleges Defendant violated the non-solicitation and non-compete provisions by soliciting Plaintiff’s contract employees and clients within the restricted geographic area covered by the employment agreement.  Specifically, the complaint alleges Defendant “communicated with at least 20 of TEKsystem’s Contract Employees using such electronic networking systems as LinkedIn.”  The complaint went on to allege that Defendant connected with several named employees of Plaintiff.  Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant specifically asked an employee whether he was still looking for opportunities and alleges that Defendant stated that she would love to have the employee come by her new offices and hear about the stuff she was working on.

These allegations are just allegations and, of course, Plaintiff will have to prove its case.

Social Media Bumping Up Against Employment Contract Provisions

What I find interesting is the intersection of social media and employment contracts.  We talk a lot about both of these subjects in this blog.  Now we see how one can affect the other.

People have gotten way too comfortable with social media like Facebook and LinkedIn. We forget 1) that what is sent into the internet never really goes away and 2) that it can be conceivably be read by thousands, if not millions of individuals.  Most disturbingly, much of it can be used in a court of law as evidence against you.

We don’t know what Defendant’s response and defense will be so we can’t speculate how a fact finder (judge or jury) might decide this case.

Medium Doesn’t Change Underlying Elements of a Cause of Action and  Use of Carve Outs

I do have a couple of observations:

A) The medium or means of communication may vary (e.g., telephone or email), but improper communication is improper communication.  You can’t solicit a customer or former employer if you have signed a valid non-solicitation provision.

B) If you already have pre-existing relationships with employees, customers, clients, potential customers and potential clients, then be sure to list those in a carve out provision before you sign non-solicitation, non-compete and confidentiality agreements.  There may be overlap between your existing contacts and your prospective employer’s contacts and you don’t want to be precluded from utilizing them post-employment.

The TEKsystems Inc. case is instructive in that we should not be lulled by the false sense of intimacy and instant camaraderie of social media like LinkedIn and Facebook.  Our communications, whether on the internet or face to face, can have unanticipated legal consequences.


Executives’ and professionals’ interest in learning about LinkedIn is accelerating at a brisk pace.  

More and more applications are being developed for LinkedIn users.  Just recently I signed on to two applications: Slide Share Presentations and Legal Updates. 

Useful Applications

One allows me to upload presentations on topics that I have spoken or written about.   The other allows me to upload articles, newsletters, blog posts and filings.

For example on the Slide Share Presentation feature,   I uploaded a power point presentation on public construction projects that I did for a seminar given to civil engineers.  This simple upload drastically increased my audience on that topic manifold and any LinkedIn connections can utilize it.  When you spend time preparing a presentation or writing an article, you do want people to read it.   

The Legal Update application is targeted to lawyers being able to broadly disseminate their written materials on legal subjects; I have not used it yet, but I have plenty of already published legal articles that are yearning to be read by a wider audience and have additional 15 seconds of fame.

Content for In-person Conversations

I have found that the LinkedIn content aggregated on my home page and profile prompts many offline, in-person conversations with my LinkedIn connections and non-LinkedIn contacts.  LinkedIn has become a repository of useful information that can be shared easily.  For example, at lunch today, I recommended to one friend who was interested in expanding his use of LinkedIn to read my blog posts about it.  For another friend at lunch, I pointed to certain LinkedIn groups that could be fruitful for a job search.

To Ask or Not to Ask, That is the Question

A different friend at the lunch brought up the question of whether you should seek people you know to connect or wait to be asked.  The overwhelming response was you should actively ask as that is the point of social media – it is after all, not a dating game or popularity contest, but a networking objective.  Being intentional rather than random about your connections is the idea.  You don’t want to seek or accept connections from people you don’t know or don’t have some affinity or affiliation.  Of course, for people you do not know and with whom you  want to connect, you can invite them to have a meeting or telephone conversation to learn about each other and then make the decision.  If you do not want to connect with someone it is more polite to simply archive the request than to click the “I don’t know this person” button because if a requester receives too many rejections, her account may be frozen by LinkedIn.

Having said all this now and before about the beauty of LinkedIn, we all should note well:  Although LinkedIn is a powerful tool and medium, there is no substitute for in-person, face-to-face dialogue with folks.


Recently, a partner at a professional services firm queried me as to the utility or desirability of connecting on LinkedIn to people with whom he works.  An excellent question. I told him that it was advisable because it is a way of learning more about what your co-workers do.  We think we know all the skill sets, expertise and work experiences of our co-worker across the hall or next door.   Assuredly, we do not know the extent of what our colleagues have done and can do.  Assuming your colleagues’ LinkedIn profiles are sufficiently built out, you will learn things you never knew about them.  For example, you might find yourself saying something like: “I did not know Bill spoke Turkish” or “I did not know Sally used to work for IBM” or “I did not know Abdul has a software patent.” 

Also when your colleagues post their updates on LinkedIn, you will learn what new civic, professional, and personal interests in which they are currently involved.  This gives you and your colleagues opportunities for discussion and connectedness and helps build a team culture – an imperative for successful organizations.   

Finally, seeing each other’s connections allows for and should promote opportunities to coordinate business or civic development efforts for your firm and to support each other.


This post is my second update of my 06/13/10 post captioned SOCIAL MEDIA: IGNORE AT YOUR OWN PERIL. Social media continue to be a hot topic among executives and professionals.   I have many conversations about online social networks with both master networkers and newbies.  Although social media comprise multiple sites like Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn, my personal experience has been limited to LinkedIn.  Drilling down further, here are seven more observations and useful things to know:

  1. You should comment on the updates from the members of your network as it increases your interactivity and communication with your network, which is the whole point of establishing a network.
  2. You shouldn’t forget to provide frequent updates on what you are doing as it will invite comments and messages from your network, and you and your contacts will discover an opportunity to chat about a mutual interest – again, this is the whole point.
  3. On LinkedIn, your updates don’t have to be 100% business or professionally related.   LinkedIn is not Facebook or Twitter, so you don’t want to post a lot of trivial activities or very personal information, but you do want to paint a multidimensional picture of your life and personality other than strictly business.
  4. You can integrate your LinkedIn to your smart phone so that you have 24-hour access.  My good friend Dan Cotter showed me this feature several weeks ago.
  5. If you use Microsoft Outlook, you can integrate LinkedIn to your contacts and email, and there are many neat features that are too numerous to describe for this post.  You can do this via the Tools button at the bottom of your LinkedIn homepage.  I tip my hat to Larry Kaufman as I was educated on the Microsoft Outlook application by Larry’s 06-16-10 presentation titled “Unleash the Power of LinkedIn” (see my 06-16-10 post captioned SOCIAL MEDIA: SIX MORE THINGS TO KNOW.)
  6. You can find LinkedIn affinity groups that you are truly interested in joining such as your college, industry, clubs, employer, etc. and this becomes an easy way to stay informed and to connect with people with whom you share something in common.    I limit the number as I feel I have only so much time to consume the information that they generate in terms of discussions, news, and so forth.  Other LinkedIn users have a different philosophy and believe that the more groups you join, then the broader and more useful your network becomes.  You have to decide what makes sense for you.
  7. Although this is stating the obvious, it cannot be stressed enough – triple check your LinkedIn profile to make sure it is correct.  Think of all the politicians who had inaccurate, sloppy, exaggerated, wrong, or false information about themselves on their online profiles and bios and the resulting grief that they endured.

I would love to hear your LinkedIn stories, observations, or tips.


This post updates my 06/13/10 post captioned SOCIAL MEDIA: IGNORE AT YOUR OWN PERIL.  Tonight I went to hear a presentation titled “Unleash the Power of LinkedIn” given by Larry Kaufman, a managing director of practice development at Blackman Kallick, an accounting firm in Chicago.  For me the takeaways from his talk were:

  1. Most of the 65 million members of LinkedIn are not paying members; if you are in the executive recruitment industry or an employer looking for executive or professional talent, then it makes sense to pay for an upgrade to enhance your searches.
  2. In your profile, you should be repetitive in the tag words you use to describe your areas of expertise or skills so that you will more likely turn up in a search on LinkedIn.
  3. Put your name in capital letters so that you will stand out more.
  4. All Fortune 500 C-suite executives use LinkedIn.
  5. You have to decide at the outset whether you will be an open networker (i.e., come one come all) or a selective networker (e.g., only fellow CFOs may connect).
  6. Use your LinkedIn common connections to warm up a cold call – e.g., mention mutual contact, same college, similar backgrounds, etc.