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July 3, 2012
Best of TZM: Bad Networking: Don’t Be A Contact Abuser
Every day, each of us gets tons of email messages. Aside from those annoying lottery announcements, messages about transferring money for  “long-lost” rich relatives who died in plane crashes, and lurid emails hawking male enhancement products, we also get involuntarily signed up left and right for newsletters or group emails that we didn’t subscribe to because some enterprising someone somewhere got our email address and wanted to build their list. 

Or, they just wanted to send a general message to everyone in their address book. This includes getting the bright idea of exporting all of their LinkedIn network contacts… then using this information as a target list of people to send emails out promoting oneself, one’s company, or one’s ideas.

That’s not cool. That’s also not what LinkedIn is all about.

LinkedIn is about building authentic relationships and networking connections, not creating lists to spam en masse later.

But what happens when you ask politely to be taken off that distribution list, and the person responds back defensively? They are upset that you want to be removed.

True story: In response to a recent, unsolicited email message where I had yet again been added to a list, I sent a short, polite message back, asking to please be removed.

What I got in return shocked me. They attacked me.

The sender wrote back absolutely defensively; he indicated that he had sent this message to all of his LinkedIn connections (although the email came from his own domain and NOT through LinkedIn, which means he downloaded his contacts and then started a marketing list). He then lectured me about networking and how I should be open to receiving his messages.

Um, excuse me?? 

Because we were connected on LinkedIn, he said, this entitled him to add me to his list. The failure here is that this person didn’t take the time to know his audience and even consider whether what he was about to send might be of interest to anyone on that list. And to add icing to the cake, he also demanded that if the message he sent was not of interest to me, then I should forward it to others who it might be. 

Wow! It took a moment to pick my jaw up off the floor at his utter arrogance and pomposity. But then I started to get mad. I didn’t “owe” it to him to take his spammy message and then forward it on, filling up others’ email boxes in a perverted version of “Pay it Forward!”
How clueless was this dude, anyway???

For most of us, if we sent an email to someone and they asked to be removed from that list, our first response would be to say: “Gosh, I am sorry—no problem. I will take you right off. My apologies for including you on this list!”

That’s what proper etiquette would demand…not sending a nasty response back. I still can’t believe that one!

Snotty responder aside, real networking means building real connections. In today’s increasingly crowded communications marketplace and sophisticated consumer, the messages that get actually heard are the ones that are personalized and relevant, and that means knowing one’s audience and only sending things to them that a) they requested or b) would be of specific interest or use to the recipient based on the sender’s understanding of that relationship. 

That does not mean sending a general, blind-copied broadcast email promoting yourself, which does not constitute positive, proactive networking and instead becomes a big, ugly turn-off to most recipients. Communicating with (not to) contact lists means we cannot be lazy and hit the “EASY BUTTON” by sending generalized email messages. 

Networking is all about building one-on-one personal connections, and that requires legwork and elbow grease in getting to know your audience AND get their permission to add them to a list. 

I really feel sorry for those folks who still don’t get it. While I was probably one of a few people who emailed back asking to be taken off this recent spam message, others on the list probably just hit delete. 

But what senders like this don’t know is how ineffective their attempts are, and how many people on their list actually end up seeing this person as irrelevant and abusing their connection. And that’s a real shame.

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Dawn Rasmussen, CMP, is the president of Portland, Ore.-based Pathfinder Writing and Careers, which specializes in mid- to upper-management résumés. She is an active volunteer in her community and donates her time teaching a résumé writing class at the Oregon Employment Department every week to help empower unemployed professionals and workers.
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