The value of your social networks is largely based on the quality, and to some extent quantity, of people in them.
While nearly all social networks have a “Terms of Service” (TOS), the rules for participation (don’t post obscenities or copyrighted material, for example), the etiquette for adding people to each network is defined by the mores of those on the network. It’s also highly subject to change when early adopters (who tend to be purists) become outnumbered by “newcomers.”
When developing your strategy for adding people, you’ll want to consider who you are and why you’re on the network. For this column I am assuming predominantly professional use. Although I’m focusing on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter for this article, the same concepts apply to many other networks.
Some choose to connect with very few people, often confining their social networking to people they already know through other means. My strategy is what some people refer to as “promiscuous.” I will accept an invitation from nearly anyone, to connect on any network, because I am a social media professional interested in the efficiency and velocity of new media tools, and I want to be completely open minded about who I connect with in order to be open to new learning experiences and diverse viewpoints. You’ll need to figure out what’s comfortable for you.
- Connect with people with like experience and interests, the same schools and employers, or those who are potential mentors.
- Know and follow the rules (aka TOS) of the network you are on.
- Obvious attempts to curry favor with potential employers are just that.
- Male users should be particularly careful to avoid the appearance of flirtation and inappropriate comments and messages. Sure, it happens in the other direction, but not much. Use the same rules as you would in the workplace.
- Don’t send blatantly commercial messages. Business networking is OK. Shameless promotion and cold calling is not.
- If the network allows, give the person you are inviting some context for the invitation.
- Err on the side of conservatism. If in doubt about the appropriateness of connecting with someone, hold off.
- Be willing to give and get. Think beyond what is “in it for you.”
- Don’t add connections simply to display an impressive number. Quality trumps quantity. As my friend Ophelia says, “Connect, don’t collect.”
- Don’t worry about having only a few connections if you’re new. Your network will grow as the value you offer others becomes apparent.
- Be modest about the number of connections you have.
- Do not take it badly if someone declines or ignores your invitation to connect. That’s their option.
- Many people will decline all unexpected invites. In some cases, you can inform them ahead of time you want to invite them, increasing your odds of acceptance.
Each network has slightly different protocol for adding connections. Here are my experiences and thoughts on each.
LinkedIn is the oldest, most established and most traditional of these three networks. LinkedIn also has the most controls over who can connect with who, and the severest penalties for failing to follow these rules. LinkedIn is generally a network for career and business development, and is structured to ensure that members create trusted networks of connections with like interests who already know each other in some way.
LinkedIn validates each request you make for an introduction by requiring you to document how you know the person you are connecting with, and actively recommends you do not connect with people you don’t know. If the person is not in your immediate circle, you may have to go through one or more intermediaries for an introduction.
Recently, a number of people have found a “workaround” in LinkedIn that lets you add almost anyone by creating a new “Group” or “Association” with nearly any name, like “Blog” or “Twitter” or “Blogosphere.”
LinkedIn has also spawned a number of “communities,” like LinkedIn LIONS and MyLink500.com, dedicated to helping people add large volumes of connections.
When extending a LinkedIn invitation, you should add to the standard message that LinkedIn sends by adding a personal message explaining to the recipient why you are contacting them.
LinkedIn also maintains a strict policy on “I Don’t Knows,” popularly known as IDKs. If you send an invite to a user who does not know you, and they reply “I Do Not Know this person,” that is a point against you, and if you get five IDKs, you can be booted from the network.
Facebook has a fairly advanced search tool for finding new connections (and like most networks, tools for adding people from other networks, or using your email address book to find people). You can use Facebook’s networks or browse friends of friends to see former co-workers and classmates you can connect with. It’s also easy to find people in your industry.
When you send an invite to someone to connect on Facebook, you can “add a personal message” to your invite. If you are not previously acquainted but feel this person is appropriate to connect with, this is a good place to type something like “I really enjoy your blog” or “Would love to connect to talk about (insert subject here).” This will greatly increase the odds for acceptance.
When you invite someone on Facebook, they will be able so see your profile, so if your information is up to date, they will be able to make a decision based on your experience, age, gender, etc.
I find the etiquette on Facebook in general to be a little overwhelming and confusing, possibly due to the network’s early roots among students. For example, the “poke” was originally a suggestive gesture meant to indicate that you were interested in hooking up with the person you poked. Some people now use a poke simply to say “hey!” Women in particular HATE getting a Facebook poke from anyone but a boyfriend or spouse, so be very careful.
Adding connections on Twitter is expressed in terms of “Following” and “Followers.” You can see the updates (posts) of the people you follow and the people following you can see your updates. Twitter is very transparent in showing how many of each you have. Opinion varies widely on this point, but I think a balanced number is good. It’s not perfectly valid as a statistical indicator, but at least suggests that you are interested in the conversational aspect of the network. I think having too many followers vs. following is indicative of an inflated sense of self and a touch of narcissism.
Women on Twitter are very wary of male users who are only following 600 female users in their teens and 20s. This kind of profile makes a guy look like a stalker, and then again, if this is your profile, you are one. There are currently grassroots efforts to indentify and ban these people, which I think is a bit much, but this kind of behavior is not appropriate on any general purpose social network.
Finding and adding is simple. Search for new connections using the “Find Folks” box on the right sidebar. Twitter’s search tool is very unsophisticated. I use the following terms for finding people in my profession: media, social, PR, public relations, communications. You can follow anyone by clicking on their “handle” (Twitter name) to follow them. They may or may not follow you back.
On Twitter, I will follow back anyone who follows me unless they are:
- A bot that is designed to send me marketing messages
- Someone who sends obscene, racist or otherwise inappropriate material (you can check this by looking at their previous updates)
- Someone with no profile whatsoever
Some people “protect” their updates, which means you can request to follow them through the process outlined above, but they must approve your request. Personally, I do not protect my updates, but I guess people have reasons for doing so. Conversely, you can block specific users whom you do not want seeing your updates.
I always thank people both for inviting me, and for accepting my invitations, on Twitter and sometimes on Facebook and LinkedIn. (Twitter is more suited to such informal communication.)
Of course, as I mentioned, etiquette is ever changing and also very personal. This is my take on these three popular networks. Your results may vary. Etiquette is also wrapped up in the functionality of each network, so you have to know the interface and how to connect before you can do it without offending.
This piece is quite a bit longer than I generally write, but I’ve barely covered the subject. Please comment below or email me with your reactions and experiences, And add me to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn if you’d like!