Dear Bev: Is there such a thing as social media etiquette?
For job hunting and personal branding, social media is a free and easy way to network and communicate, but as more and more sites are bombarded with business banter, it's essential not to cross the line between strategic networking and shameless self-promotion.
Social networking began, as its name suggests, as a purely social tool, and while some sites target the professional pack, such as LinkedIn and Plaxo, most still retain a social aspect that should be respected. For those who want to take the leap and combine social and professional, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Keep it Social on Facebook and Twitter
Facebook's professional potential is being realized far more than in the past and having taken to the Twittersphere in recent months to engage with readers and answer more career questions, I've learned that many users aren't looking to engage; they're looking to sell, sell, sell.
·Your contacts are friends, not an audience
It's important to remember that when you invite someone to connect on Facebook, you're sending them a "friend request," not a business contract. Send friendly notes and wall posts, not robotic blurbs filled with advertising jargon. Too much advertising is viewed as obnoxious on these sites, where the core goal is friendly and mutually beneficial interaction.
·Don't bombard people with too many links
Linking to your blog or Website is the best way to make interesting content you have to offer go viral, but sending out 50 reminders a day is overwhelming to readers and likely to get you ignored or worse, "de-friended" or "unfollowed."
Networking is a two-way street and only working for yourself is a quick route to isolation. Read what other users post, comment, re-post or re-tweet it if you like it. In other words: converse with people, don't just talk at them. When you do promote a service, ask your connections what they think about it, for suggestions and opinions.
·Unite the personal and professional
While some might find it strange that people update their status with their every waking thought or action, posting more personal messages humanizes your digital presence and lets your connections in on your life, not just on your business. People are much more likely to be interested in what you're doing if they understand your endeavor and the person behind it.
·Control Your Twitter Impulses
Follow someone, they'll follow you. It's pretty much how it works on Twitter. Many users want lots of followers, but don't want to deal with sifting through tons of useless messages. But don't follow people, just to un-follow them once they've returned the favor. They'll notice and do the same. Use an application like Tweet Deck to sort your contacts into groups. Seek out people who would benefit from your product or brand. Creating the perception of popularity won't get you ahead.
Be Polite on LinkedIn
It might sound obvious, but some people forget their manners in virtual interactions. LinkedIn, as the premier professional network, can serve job hunters as a gateway to a pool of potential employers. But pushing yourself or your brand on practical strangers won't get the kind of attention you want.
One important feature of LinkedIn is the ability to request introductions to second- and third-degree connections. But do as you would in real life; don't just assume someone will do this for you. Ask nicely and be sensible. Asking a direct competitor for access to a connection they have doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
·Don't Make it Awkward
If you met someone once at a networking event or symposium and want to connect with them, be sure to write a personal note reminding them who you are. Without some context, you put them in an awkward spot and might be deleted as spam.
·Keep away from strangers
Don't try and friend people you don't actually know in real life. Some sites, like Twitter, are more accepting of this kind of interaction, but LinkedIn has a gated-access policy that requires you to have had a previous interaction with your connections. Don't try and connect without an introduction. You'll be viewed as intrusive.
Learning to engage most effectively on the Web is a process, especially as new innovations and techniques arise. Ineffective techniques, however, will lead you to networking dead ends.