We all have occasions to drop the names of people we know when conversing with others. We might say something like, “Do you know Sally Smith? She really knows this space. You should check out her blog.”
We might also drop the names of well-known and respected people, to enhance our stature or credibility when making a point. When giving a workshop on startup funding, I am not above saying something like, “Startup capital will be scarcer in 2016. I recently spoke with [well known and respected venture capitalist]. He said they planned to make fewer investments in 2016, even though they still have plenty of capital to deploy. He expects they will use most of that capital to shore-up their existing investments.”
This kind of name-dropping is fair and reasonable, in my opinion. As long as the association is legit and the statement made about the name you are dropping is truthful, you’re on solid ground. Lately, however, I have seen more flagrant and egregious examples of name-dropping in my professional circles. Unfortunately, it is precipitated by social media.
Last week I got a call from a colleague asking me for some background info on a vendor who contacted him at my suggestion. Problem is, I barely know the vendor and did not suggest he contact my colleague, nor did I ever give him permission to use my name. My colleague was pretty insistent. He said, “The guy specifically said you told him to reach out to me because their solution is ideal for our company.”
A similar incident happened last summer. Another colleague mentioned to me in passing that a vendor told him that I endorse him. This particular vendor had sent me an email asking if I would “endorse” him for a skill on Linkedin, while reminding me that he had endorsed me for a skill on Linkedin. Knowing he had the skill, I was pleased to do so. But now telling people I endorse him in a different context, is over-stepping the line. While technically true that i gave him a skill endorsement, it’s disingenuous to suggest an endorsement of his character. It makes him look bad if/when people he tells that to round back to me. Should I now remove the endorsement I gave him on Linkedin? (Linkedin does provide that capability.)
These are both examples of shameless and inappropriate name-dropping, in my opinion. Yes, I have written recommendations for people who requested one via Linkedin. Yes, I have endorsed people I know have a particular skill set on Linkedin. But that does not give them carte-blanche to suggest to others that I recommend or endorse them in every instance. At the very least, I expect my connections to obtain my permission before using my name in that kind of context.
One of the draw-backs of social media is that it is very EASY to find out who knows who. It’s easy for anyone to use your name with another party, suggesting a relationship where there is none, or a very casual one at best. Most people simply don’t have the time to check out every representation people make to them. In the worst case scenario, a valued connection might be scammed by someone who said you referred them. How awkward is that? You would immediately be put on the defensive trying to prove that you did not make the referral — especially if you are connected to them.
I think this is common sense, but it might not be common sense to people just starting their careers, or doing business in the United States for the first time.These are some name-dropping no no’s to keep in mind:
1. Dropping a name by feigning a relationship that doesn’t exist, even if you are connected to the person on social media, is a no-no.
2. Dropping a name of someone who has recommended or endorsed you on social media out of context is a no-no. If someone endorsed you for a skill, it does not mean they endorse your product or company. The same goes for recommendations.
3. Dropping a name by implying a referral without expressed permission is a no-no.
4. Dropping a name for the sake of dropping a name when it has no place in the conversation is not just a no-no, it’s…well, shallow and vain.
Name-dropping is not altogether a bad thing. We all do it. Our connections and associations are an important extension of who we are. Let’s not abuse their good will.