Social Networking Etiquette – 7 Rules for Successful Online Networking

September 11, 2009

Building strong relationships is the cornerstone of professional success regardless of your chosen field.  Social networks are emerging as another channel to foster professional and personal connections with an expanded reach.  Although personal networking best practices have evolved over hundreds of years, the rules for social networking are just now emerging.  As well, online networks open doors for those who are not ‘practiced’ in the art of professional socializing.
Let’s talk through some of the obvious and not-so-obvious courtesies that will help you build a strong online persona. 
Rule #1 – Give first, then you will receive
Your social network is an extension of your live network.  In real life you make friends by learning about them and being interested in them personally as well as professionally.  You talk about what they are doing and by supporting, coaching and encouraging them.  You don’t call a friend to talk about you and then hang up – do you?  The same applies to social networking.  In order to build a network you have to earn trust, respect and be an interesting person.  You will build your online network over time – not overnight.  Make the investment.
Rule #2 – Carefully define your connection strategy
Your online persona might be separated by categories, for instance; professional, personal and pro-personal.  Your professional connections are reserved for professional relationships only (this is where your boss and other influential business contacts belong).  Personal connections are probably family members and close friendships (those who know about all your faults).  Pro-personal are likely close colleagues, work-related peers and business affiliates with whom you have a pseudo personal connection.  Your security settings within LinkedIn and Facebook for example should reflect these categories so that you can manage the information that each connection category will see about you.
Rule #3 – If you’re gonna be there, be there
Yes, it’s borrowed from a song, but it fits.  Social networks are built on a philanthropic foundation; people helping people regardless of status, position, location or culture.  This isn’t a country club or private elite membership.  No one is excluded from social networks so be prepared to share your wisdom with those who ask.  Ask for wisdom of those who have information you need.  Reciprocation and community involvement are what make social networks hum.  Commit to growing your network.  Find former co-workers, classmates, follow client blogs, send out unsolicited recommendations and endorse companies/products that you like.  The result will be reciprocal endorsements, recommendations and a bunch of people who want to connect with you. Remember this takes time, a long time.  Make the commitment
Rule #4 – Referrals are golden
People who reach out to you – and people who are referred to you by people you know deserve your personal attention.  ALWAYS respect, acknowledge and reply courteously to connections and referrals.  Even if you decide not to accept an invitation to connect (based on Rule #2) everyone who contacts you through social network channels deserves a graceful reply.  In addition, when you request a connection to someone, do not send a blanket invitation (please join my network on LinkedIn) and expect it to be accepted.  Finally, ask permission BEFORE you broker a connection with someone in your network.  Place a phone call to the intended introduction, give them some background and let them know its coming.
Rule #5 – Be Professional
If you don’t want it on the front page of the morning news, don’t post it online.  Like it or not social networks have created an incredible level of transparency for everyone.  The good news is that it’s easy (and inexpensive) to market yourself, build a following and become recognized as a thought leader.  The bad news is that everything you do online is a reflection of you, your company and your character.  Spelling and Grammar count, and certainly will contribute to readers developing image of you as a person.  When posting links and articles proudly give credit to the author or source – it increases your credibility and builds trust with your connections.  On final note, get permission before you post photos of others on social sites.
Rule #6 – Remember your Brand
The concept of personal branding is gaining a lot of attention right now.  Real Estate Brokers have been practicing personal branding for a long time.  The concept that you as a person offer a unique value proposition to a company or client is gaining popularity among executives, entrepreneurs, service providers and working professionals.  You can begin establishing a brand by making sure that all your online profiles are consistent. Using similar profile photos, a moniker that represents you personally (in a manner that you want to be perceived) and maintain consistent messaging across all networks.  For instance, your resume should match your Linked In profile, job titles on Facebook should match your Linked In employment history, etc.
Rule #7 – Praise publicly, rant privately
Build your networks with your online reputation in mind.  You are identified by the company you keep, the things you say – and the things your friends say.  A sloppy post about someone or something will absolutely reflect upon you in a negative light.  Remember, negative information on the web is as permanent as positive information.  The internet has a long memory, and what you do today may very well affect a future employer’s hiring decision years from now – and you probably won’t even know it.
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