I sometimes think that certain advice is BGO (blinding glimpse of the obvious) and doesn’t warrant mentioning. But then people’s actions tell me otherwise.
I wrote recently about etiquette when you meet people at conferences or events so now that I have this done I feel I need to say some words about connecting on social networks.
Let’s start with a discussion of existing social networks and then how to approach people on them.
Facebook. I know some people link to anybody and everybody on Facebook – I do not. Facebook is a reciprocal (or symmetrical) network and therefore if you want to follow me by default I follow you back. The problem I have with this is two-fold. First, I send lots of private stuff on Facebook because that’s where I connect to my parents, my siblings, my classmates and my wife. Second, I don’t want to clutter up the stream of information that I have in my Facebook newsfeed with information on people with whom I don’t have a relationship.
What I love about Twitter followers is that we can have an asymmetrical relationship. There are some people I’ve never met that I choose to follow (such as Mitch Kapor, the founder of Lotus) and some people that follow me whom I’ve not met and don’t (yet) follow back. I DO read all @’s sent to me and I try to respond to most of them. I check many people’s profiles when they @ me or follow me. I’m curious who you are. Occasionally I will randomly follow people I don’t know just because they look interesting. Usually it’s because your conversations steam looks interesting, your link goes to an interesting blog or website or you work at a company that interests me. I read posts for a while and if I see stupid stuff I unfollow. That seldom happens. I am interested in a conversation with people of done professionally and respectfully. But I’m just not ready to clutter my stream with that of 4,500 people and lose the stuff I really want to see from the 450 people I follow.
LinkedIn. The old standard business networking tool. I used to guard my network here and only link to people who I knew. I felt that if people were contacting me to say, “so I see that you know such-and-such” that I really should. Now I know that everybody links to everybody so on LinkedIn I’ve become less selective. Why? Well first I never send any private information on LinkedIn nor to I receive any. Second is that LinkedIn has become a nice deflection for me since I’m not yet ready to connect on Facebook if I don’t know you.
So on to some FBGO advice on how to connect with people:
If you’re asking to “connect” with people you don’t know (or don’t know well), how should you go about it? Send people a personalized comment on the intro saying who you are and why you’d like to connect. I do this even for people who I know very well. Put in any info about people we know in common, places we may have met or some other relevant fact. Even if we don’t know each other – finding a common bridge increases your probability of getting accepted.
If you connect to me on Facebook and simply have an invite with no explanation and if I can’t figure out how I know you I’ll just hit ignore. On Facebook there isn’t even a standard “join my network” introduction. Sending a blank invite is the equivalent of sending your resume to a company with no cover letter. People do it, but it’s not professional.
On LinkedIn I have a higher tolerance now. If you connect to me with the generic BS message that, “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn” and I know you, I’ll add you begrudgingly and wish that you had better manners to at least say hello. If I don’t know you and there’s no message I’ll add people 50% of the time – begrudgingly. If you take the time to write me a small, private note on LinkedIn then I’ll add you 95% of the time.
The main message here is … if you REALLY want to connect with somebody show them some respect and at least write a one sentence original line to ask for the intro or say hello. The rest I just chalk up as social networking spam.