Things are about to get personal.
Social media has made it easier than ever to connect: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and other services have greatly amplified everyone’s personal brand message. This is fun, and beneficial inasmuch as we can get a sense of someone’s professionalism, character, and personality before we ever meet them in person.
Recently, though, I’ve had some less than pleasant experiences with people who seem to be interested in professional networking, but ultimately just wanted to use me to sidle up to someone else I know. Here are some tips from me and some of my social media friends on how to connect with people (as opposed to using them):
Don’t be creepy. If we’ve had a professional phone call, don’t use my number later for personal reasons. Texting me at 10 p.m. to ask “what’s up” is going to make me uncomfortable. My significant other won’t appreciate it, either.
If I accept your friend request on Facebook, don’t message me telling me I forgot to post to your wall for your birthday, as though I should have remembered. My mother didn’t call me on my birthday. Get over it.
Don’t come on too strong. I appreciate when people are helpful, and offer to share my posts or promote my upcoming appearances. This kind of professional support should show that you value my work and share my passions. Unless we’ve met in person, however, please don’t ask for my home address and, say, mail me gifts. That’s a little too personal.
You don’t owe me anything, and sending unsolicited gifts to me or my kids makes me feel as though you want me in your debt for some reason. Maybe this is unfair, but the fact is, it creeps me out, and I’m probably not the only one. Social gifting via Facebook and other networks has started to change public perception. A small token of appreciation given via Facebook is probably fine, since it won’t require that you know my home address or other vital information, but don’t go overboard.
Let things unfold naturally. That’s the only way a genuine, lasting relationship can begin.
Don’t ask for favors immediately. Nothing says “I’m using you” like friending me, then immediately asking how you should go about getting my close friend, Mr. New Media Celeb, to endorse your forthcoming project. Immediately, I will realize that you only wanted to step over me. That’s not a pleasant feeling, and will actually undermine your ultimate goal of “getting in” with my close friend, who is sure to value my opinion about pitches from “mutual connections.”
Consider how well you know someone before asking for any favors at all. As travel blogger and social media consultant Ann Tran observes, “I’m not automatically your friend when you need your book promoted or reviewed. ”Controlling the influx of pitches is a challenge when you have nearly 400,000 followers on Twitter, as Ann does (@AnnTran_), but she remains open to connecting with people in a genuine way. “Social Media is all about collaborating and cultivating relationships, just like you would in any real-life situation.”
Don’t overstate our relationship. Please don’t send my high-profile friend a request to connect, indicating that you and I are good friends. We aren’t. Calvin Lee, designer, Twitter personality (@MayhemStudios), and Klout phenomenon, has more than 80,000 followers on Twitter, and has some experience with people overstepping boundaries. “They try to friend you online and IRL, talking you up like you’re the best friends in the world. They try getting on your good side by commenting, liking, sharing, or retweeting your posts and updates on all your social networks. “They’ll also friend everyone in your circle of friends on your social networks, adding as many as possible, then try to be their best friend. The next thing you know, this person will have snaked and faked their way into your network.”
I agree with Calvin that frantically friending my friends is a no-no. It’s fine to say that you know me, if that’s the case, and ideally to explain how. For instance, “I met Kerry at the NASA Social in D.C. last week and she had some great things to say about you. I’d love to connect, if you’ve a mind to.” This gives an accurate representation of our connection, and my friend can decide whether or not they want to accept your request based on what they know about you, rather than thinking I’m “vouching” for you without having been asked.
An emoticon is just an emoticon. ;) Don’t assume that someone you know on Twitter wants to take the relationship offline just because he or she engages with you or your posts. Actress Casey McKinnon recommends maintaining appropriate boundaries when connecting with the opposite sex on social networks. “The best way not to be creepy online is to treat every female on the internet like she’s your sister… unless you’re into incest, then you should just stay off the web altogether.” So before you send that friend request or ask for a “shout out,” think about how you’d feel if the tables were turned. If you’d be creeped out or annoyed, chances are I will be too.