How to Connect on Social Networks

Posted on Dec 9, 2009 | 65 comments


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.

  • http://twitter.com/samirg samirg

    Well put. One small correction: I think you meant to write 'FB' instead of 'Twitter' here: “Twitter is a reciprocal (or symmetrical) network…”

  • http://twitter.com/samirg samirg

    Well put. One small correction: I think you meant to write 'FB' instead of 'Twitter' here: “Twitter is a reciprocal (or symmetrical) network…”

  • http://arnoldwaldstein.com awaldstein

    Thnx Mark.

    This is a messy subject with multiple opinions from everyone and warrants discussion.

    For me if I want to connect with you, I'll engage with you on this blog. Once we have a conversation, chances are we 'know' each other by name and gravitar face, and from there, a follow on Twitter, a link on LinkedIn are closing the loop of connection rather that opening a cold door?

    I'm more interested in following and connecting with someone I 'know' and yes, you do know someone when you are part of a blog dialogue to some degree.

    You agree?

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Yes, typo. Thanks for spotting. Fixed.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    I totally agree and appreciate your adding this because I was going to write it in the original post. Once I've been talking with somebody in the blog comments for a while I consider that I know them (provided they leave rational, intelligent comments). Several of these people I now follow on Twitter (although it takes a while for me to figure out everybody's Twitter handles) and I definitely accept these people on LinkedIn. Several of them I have accepted on Facebook. And a few have taken it further. At least one IM's me once/week and calls once/month. I'm totally cool with that. These are people I now know and consider friends. And several of these people I now know IRL.

  • http://arnoldwaldstein.com awaldstein

    Thnx Mark.

    This is a messy subject with multiple opinions from everyone and warrants discussion.

    For me if I want to connect with you, I'll engage with you on this blog. Once we have a conversation, chances are we 'know' each other by name and gravitar face, and from there, a follow on Twitter, a link on LinkedIn are closing the loop of connection rather that opening a cold door?

    I'm more interested in following and connecting with someone I 'know' and yes, you do know someone when you are part of a blog dialogue to some degree.

    You agree?

  • http://twitter.com/ericmjackson Eric M. Jackson

    Thanks for raising this topic, Mark. I also handle try to distinguish between FB, Twitter, and LinkedIn, but it's increasingly difficult given because many other people do not. (This is made worse by the people who blatantly use FB to market themselves or their company.) It would be nice if FB and other reciprocal networks had a product solution to address this — perhaps a setting that displays your desired contact preferences when someone attempted to connect with you. But I doubt we'll see any company do a product release that could hamper connection growth.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Yes, typo. Thanks for spotting. Fixed.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    I totally agree and appreciate your adding this because I was going to write it in the original post. Once I've been talking with somebody in the blog comments for a while I consider that I know them (provided they leave rational, intelligent comments). Several of these people I now follow on Twitter (although it takes a while for me to figure out everybody's Twitter handles) and I definitely accept these people on LinkedIn. Several of them I have accepted on Facebook. And a few have taken it further. At least one IM's me once/week and calls once/month. I'm totally cool with that. These are people I now know and consider friends. And several of these people I now know IRL.

  • http://www.unchained-entrepreneur.com Seth Elliott

    Arnold, your call on this is spot on. To me, blog interaction is becoming more of a “standard” for gauging the true interest in connecting that people may have.

    Mark, I think your commentary is not unusual – more of us are finding that our “convergence point” for interacting is via initial comments/discussions on our own and others blogs.

    Good points here!

  • http://twitter.com/PadduG Paddu Govindaraj

    You are right on target, Mark. Unfortunately most people go by the 'connections count' in social networks. I guess even LinkedIn will become overcrowded and the intensity of connections will go down significantly. As Arnold suggests, options such as blog comments need more time, thought and clarity on the part of the connection seeker, unlike Twitter and LinkedIn where you just push a button to request the link. Obviously we are all lazy at times and go for the shortcut, which ends up in short term or no relationship. BTW, thanks a ton for the good info on the blog for entrepreneurs taking the next growth step.

  • http://twitter.com/ericmjackson Eric M. Jackson

    Thanks for raising this topic, Mark. I also handle try to distinguish between FB, Twitter, and LinkedIn, but it's increasingly difficult given because many other people do not. (This is made worse by the people who blatantly use FB to market themselves or their company.) It would be nice if FB and other reciprocal networks had a product solution to address this — perhaps a setting that displays your desired contact preferences when someone attempted to connect with you. But I doubt we'll see any company do a product release that could hamper connection growth.

  • http://www.dantiernan.com/blog/ dantinpa

    I'm more selfish on linked-in. I use it a fair amount to try and help people (and myself), so I don't like to clutter up my connections with people I don't really know. Know means – I have had some kind of conversation and can actually remember them. With one exception. I will link to a handful of people that are hyper-connected. That enables me to at least FIND more people that are not in my network. I highly recommend this approach. In fact, there is a website that tells you who some of these people are http://www.toplinked.com/top50.html people on this list will link to ANYONE that sends a request. Adding a few of these people to your network makes Linkedin very effective, without cluttering up your own connection list. Thanks for sharing your views on this.

  • http://www.unchained-entrepreneur.com Seth Elliott

    Arnold, your call on this is spot on. To me, blog interaction is becoming more of a “standard” for gauging the true interest in connecting that people may have.

    Mark, I think your commentary is not unusual – more of us are finding that our “convergence point” for interacting is via initial comments/discussions on our own and others blogs.

    Good points here!

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/rajatsuri rajatsuri

    My thoughts on Facebook have evolved. It used to only be for personal networks for me, but I've recently tried to add as many business contacts on FB as possible – just because I think I can build a better relationship on Facebook through IM and commenting on status updates and reading about that person's likes/dislikes. I don't have 100% acceptance rates, but maybe as high as 80% with a 'cover letter'.

    I know it's not conventional, but for a guy just starting out with no pre-existing network, you have to do what it takes ;)

  • http://twitter.com/PadduG Paddu Govindaraj

    You are right on target, Mark. Unfortunately most people go by the 'connections count' in social networks. I guess even LinkedIn will become overcrowded and the intensity of connections will go down significantly. As Arnold suggests, options such as blog comments need more time, thought and clarity on the part of the connection seeker, unlike Twitter and LinkedIn where you just push a button to request the link. Obviously we are all lazy at times and go for the shortcut, which ends up in short term or no relationship. BTW, thanks a ton for the good info on the blog for entrepreneurs taking the next growth step.

  • kdelin

    This is a very interesting blog, Mark, given the timing of the change in FB privacy. Since it appears that FB wants to change their business model (e.g. have as much data in the open as possible), will this force a change in your views?

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/rajatsuri rajatsuri

    My thoughts on Facebook have evolved. It used to only be for personal networks for me, but I've recently tried to add as many business contacts on FB as possible – just because I think I can build a better relationship on Facebook through IM and commenting on status updates and reading about that person's likes/dislikes. I don't have 100% acceptance rates, but maybe as high as 80% with a 'cover letter'.

    I know it's not conventional, but for a guy just starting out with no pre-existing network, you have to do what it takes ;)

  • http://www.SensorWareSystems.com kdelin

    This is a very interesting blog, Mark, given the timing of the change in FB privacy. Since it appears that FB wants to change their business model (e.g. have as much data in the open as possible), will this force a change in your views?

  • caeious

    If only all people all across the world were taught these social gems in middle school or high school, well that just might cut down spam and spam connections significantly. With the rapid growth of the Internet, I am certain there will be some aspect of public education that will cover the basics of digital etiquette. Whether its a full fledged course or just a one hour class that occurs quarterly, one can't be certain.

  • http://stickyslides.blogspot.com Jan Schultink

    What is interesting to me is how more confident people have become to “size someone up” based on:
    - How you write blog posts, comments
    - Your education/position
    - Yes, the way your profile picture looks

    The old way of doing this would be one-on-one meetings: limited by geography, limited by time.

    People are developing a new sense of intuition in addition to the one you have when you shake hands with people. “This person seems all right”, a la Malcolm Gladwell's book “Blink”, a call you make in a few seconds, now also online.

  • caeious

    If only all people all across the world were taught these social gems in middle school or high school, well that just might cut down spam and spam connections significantly. With the rapid growth of the Internet, I am certain there will be some aspect of public education that will cover the basics of digital etiquette. Whether its a full fledged course or just a one hour class that occurs quarterly, one can't be certain.

  • http://stickyslides.blogspot.com Jan Schultink

    What is interesting to me is how more confident people have become to “size someone up” based on:
    - How you write blog posts, comments
    - Your education/position
    - Yes, the way your profile picture looks

    The old way of doing this would be one-on-one meetings: limited by geography, limited by time.

    People are developing a new sense of intuition in addition to the one you have when you shake hands with people. “This person seems all right”, a la Malcolm Gladwell's book “Blink”, a call you make in a few seconds, now also online.

    A really good thing I think.

    I start making these calls now for business projects across borders with people I have never met in person. “Can I do this project?” “Will it be interesting?” “Will this person actually pay me?” So far, my intuition has been right, but I am sure I will “burn” my hands at some time.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Agreed. And the funny thing is – you can join a conversation on a blog without having to formally “link” to anybody. For that reason blog comments are perhaps the best way to build true links with people when you don't originally know them and if your circles aren't likely to immediately cross each other.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    If anything Facebooks seems to be chasing Twitter with their recent privacy setting changes.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    You know, I don't understand the point of being “linked” to somebody if there is no connection. Seth Elliott made a good point above that got me thinking. You can be much more connected to people through blog comments and without being “linked” than you can be getting them to accept your Facebook connection. That interests me.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Yeah, you might be right. I started on Facebook by using it to connect to my friends & family. So I'm more protective. If I started today I guess I would use it more as a social connection tool. If they fixed the symmetric following problem maybe I would.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Yeah, I've been thinking about that. I'll see how Facebook evolves. The problem is that I started by using it with friends & family so it's harder to expand. That may be Facebook's ultimately challenge. We'll see.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Interesting. Yeah, I think schools will need to teach this but many of the lessons need to start in the home. And the challenge is that the norms are changing so quickly that perhaps our kids will need to eventually teach us!

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Jan, you're totally right. I now make “blink” decisions online all the time. I don't have time to personally reference everybody but by reading their Twitter profile, checking LinkedIn, clicking on their website or blog, reading their blog comments, etc. you can quickly size somebody up. For me you're the perfect case in point. You had written on your blog about my blog once. I saw the link on Google Alerts. I clicked through. Only 2-3 / 10 sites that cover mine interest me. Yours immediately did. So we've never met but I feel connected. Digital life is funny like that.

  • http://www.dantiernan.com/blog/ dantinpa

    I'm with you on Facebook approach, but different on Linkedin. I don't like to clutter up my connections with people I don't really know. Know means – I have had some kind of conversation and can actually remember them. With one exception. I will link to a handful of people that are hyper-connected. That enables me to at least FIND more people that are not in my network. I highly recommend this approach. In fact, there is a website that tells you who some of these people are http://www.toplinked.com/top50.html people on this list will link to ANYONE that sends a request. Adding a few of these people to your network makes Linkedin very effective, without cluttering up your own connection list. Thanks for sharing your views on this.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Agreed. And the funny thing is – you can join a conversation on a blog without having to formally “link” to anybody. For that reason blog comments are perhaps the best way to build true links with people when you don't originally know them and if your circles aren't likely to immediately cross each other.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    If anything Facebooks seems to be chasing Twitter with their recent privacy setting changes.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    You know, I don't understand the point of being “linked” to somebody if there is no connection. Seth Elliott made a good point above that got me thinking. You can be much more connected to people through blog comments and without being “linked” than you can be getting them to accept your Facebook connection. That interests me.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Yeah, you might be right. I started on Facebook by using it to connect to my friends & family. So I'm more protective. If I started today I guess I would use it more as a social connection tool. If they fixed the symmetric following problem maybe I would.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Yeah, I've been thinking about that. I'll see how Facebook evolves. The problem is that I started by using it with friends & family so it's harder to expand. That may be Facebook's ultimately challenge. We'll see.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Interesting. Yeah, I think schools will need to teach this but many of the lessons need to start in the home. And the challenge is that the norms are changing so quickly that perhaps our kids will need to eventually teach us!

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Jan, you're totally right. I now make “blink” decisions online all the time. I don't have time to personally reference everybody but by reading their Twitter profile, checking LinkedIn, clicking on their website or blog, reading their blog comments, etc. you can quickly size somebody up. For me you're the perfect case in point. You had written on your blog about my blog once. I saw the link on Google Alerts. I clicked through. Only 2-3 / 10 sites that cover mine interest me. Yours immediately did. So we've never met but I feel connected. Digital life is funny like that.

  • caeious

    Right on. Seems as though some new tech is coming out everyday. It's tough for even the developers to keep up. So is the way of the modern man and in time (sooner than we may think), man and tech may become one. Ray Kurzweil predicts this technological singularity will happen before 2050.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_sing

    Physical immortality anyone?

  • Pingback: How to Connect on Social Networks | CloudAve()

  • http://stickyslides.blogspot.com Jan Schultink

    Thank you for the kind words Mark, hopefully we will get to meet up “for real” sometime in the near future.

  • http://stickyslides.blogspot.com Jan Schultink

    Thank you for the kind words Mark, hopefully we will get to meet up “for real” sometime in the near future.

  • lydiasugarman

    On my Facebook page for more than a year, I've had a request in the sidebar asking people to give me the courtesy of including a short note when asking to connect. It's been an interesting experiment as, still, less than 10% comply.

    What's been frustrating about Twitter is the limit on how many people I could follow. It's a little disconcerting that people will follow, then unfollow within days if you don't follow them back, but then again, they're probably into list size over any other measurement.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    I only want people to follow my on Twitter if they're interested in what I say. If it requires an immediate reciprocal arrangement then I'm OK if they unfollow.

  • lydiasugarman

    On my Facebook page for more than a year, I've had a request in the sidebar asking people to give me the courtesy of including a short note when asking to connect. It's been an interesting experiment as, still, less than 10% comply.

    What's been frustrating about Twitter is the limit on how many people I could follow. It's a little disconcerting that people will follow, then unfollow within days if you don't follow them back, but then again, they're probably into list size over any other measurement.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    I only want people to follow my on Twitter if they're interested in what I say. If it requires an immediate reciprocal arrangement then I'm OK if they unfollow.

  • Charu

    I so very agree to u.. These days we get lot of such friend requests on different social networking sites without the name and whereabouts.. These things are more like a spam than a request..

  • http://twitter.com/kerryritz kerry ritz

    Mark
    I was under the impression that LinkedIn was supposed to be a “trusted network.” And, part of that trust is based on people you know or those who are “trusted” by people who know. It seems the concept has broken down to the extent that it's now just simply a “network”. Call me an idealist, but i still prefer to maintain some element of “trust” and I do that by having one simple rule: I need to have met or have had a conversation with you to Link. I won't send you a LinkedIn invitation just to 'connect” . If I do want to do business with you, I will try and use my network or simply send you a direct message.

    People are going to use these social networks in their own individual way, just as we do physical networks. As you say, etiquette works exactly the same way in the virtual and physical worlds.

    Thanks for highlighting lots of BGO's! (it's been a long time since I heard that expression!)

    Kerry

  • Charu

    I so very agree to u.. These days we get lot of such friend requests on different social networking sites without the name and whereabouts.. These things are more like a spam than a request..

  • tunguy3n

    i agree with your opinions, and i totally agree with sending friend invitation with no welcome message, its a no brainer..