When my first book, The FabYOUList, was published, my publicists recommended that I become more active on social media in order to build buzz and grow my audience. Never one to do things halfway, I quickly turned my personal Facebook page into a "Public Figure" page and signed up for Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and Google+.
While some call social media "a total time suck," it's been anything but for me. In fact, some of my best opportunities have resulted from professional connections made online. I have to give a lot of credit to social media for helping me build my personal brand as a lifestyle expert.
Now that I'm more established, people approach me daily hoping to network. Sometimes, it works--and, well, sometimes it doesn't. It all depends on how they go about it. Because, while networking via social media is hardly new, unfortunately, even in today's super-social world, people still make plenty of blunders.
What kind of blunders? Read on to find out which online networking efforts are OK and which are most definitely not.
So Not OK: Making an Ask of Total Strangers
Social media is made for networking--for identifying and engaging with people who could give you advice, introduce you to interesting people, and potentially hook you up with jobs.
With one main caveat: You should get to know these people before you make any of those asks.
Remember, it's called "social" media--not "cold call" media! You wouldn't march up to someone you've never met at a party and demand that he or she look at your resume, right? Remember, even though networking via social media is virtual; real life rules of etiquette still apply. On that note:
OK: Engaging, Then Asking
Want to pick someone's brain over coffee or get pointers on interviewing with a specific company? Go ahead and approach that person with a request, but after you've had at a few social interactions. For example, like his status updates on Facebook, retweet her on Twitter, comment on his posts, and share his links with your followers. Be on people's radar on a social level before you attempt to engage them on a more personal level.
So Not OK: Sending Requests for Everyone to See
Tweeting publicly or posting a request on someone's Facebook wall for everyone to see puts people in a very awkward position. Either they answer you and risk an onslaught of people soliciting them in this manner, or they ignore you, and in doing so, appear rude to their followers. Instead, try...
OK: Sending Requests Via Private Channels
If you send a request for advice or help, only utilize private channels like direct message on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Regular email is fine--but if, and only if, the person has listed an email address on his or her page or profile. (Someone went as far as to tell me he wanted to send something to me, and that he already had my home address, making him seem less like a potential business connection and more like a real-time cyber-stalker.)
So Not OK: Making it All About You
Networking is a two-way street. So, before you reach out to anyone, think about why this person should connect with you. It can't be simply because you want something from them! I've had tons of people tell me what they want me to do for them, but it's the ones who let me know what they can do for me in return who get my attention.
OK: Making Networking Mutually Beneficial
Likewise, you'll stand out from the crowd if you approach the person with something to offer, rather than just a straight request for help. (Remember, if you're reaching out someone, chances are others are, too.) So, let someone know that you will be bringing something to the table by sharing how networking with you would be mutually beneficial--even if it's just an offer to return the favor down the line.
So Not OK: Sending a Generic Message
I've actually received emails that start with, "Dear ___." I'd tell you what they go on to say, but I can't--because I delete them without reading any further. I've also had people tell me how perfect their idea would be for Self. I write for SHAPE.
OK: Being Specific and Personal
For the best chance of getting a response, only send someone a message that demonstrates you are specifically targeting him or her. The best way to do this is by saying something that makes it clear you know about the person you are attempting to network with. For example, "I saw you were quoted in the Times about your position on horse drawn carriages in NYC, and what you said really struck a chord with me." If you take the time to show you've done your research, the person you've reached out to is more likely to take the time to respond.
A final "Not OK?" Auto-messaging--a.k.a., spam. This is the worst offense, in my opinion! Do not, under any circumstances, employ any type of system that shoots automatic direct messages to people who follow you on Twitter. Often, the second I click "follow," I receive a direct message that says something like this (and yes, this is a real message I received recently, minus the name of the ding dong who sent it!): "Ty so much! I look forward to your tweets. Let's network on Facebook: http://fb.com/janedoe.author... My ebooks: http://viewAuthorat/JaneDoe...." I did not click her links, but I did click "unfollow" immediately.