I’ll preface this story by noting that the underlying principles discussed here apply to offline networking as well.
Over the years I’ve made some really awesome friends via the internet. My love affair with internet friends started back in the days of AOL. “Instant Messenger” or AIM was an amazing innovation. AIM and message boards opened up entirely new worlds. I was able to talk with people from Europe who were interested in the same kind of music as me, chatting with friends after high school became a breeze; who knows if I would have stayed in touch with so many great people without the aid of the internet.
The ability to interact with your friends (or strangers) over vast distances was a novel and invigorating concept back then. And you know what? It still is. We’re no longer restricted to our physical surroundings when it comes to meeting new and interesting people. Now with social networks, connecting and meeting new people is easier than ever before. Below you’ll find some tips that will make you an online networking monster. Well, a cool monster that everyone likes to hang out with.
Whether you’re reaching out to someone via email, IM, message board or a comments section the same “rules” apply. I put “rules” in quotes, because honestly there are no rules, but these are things that I, and many others, have found useful over the years.
The number one rule of thumb is to Be Respectful. It’s a good idea to think of the internet just like you would the offline world. Would you run up to someone and yell in their face that you have the best idea in the whole world and it’s super-duper important that they acknowledge and respond to you? I hope not. Remember, even if it’s just a few keystrokes or clicks, when people interact online they’re taking the time to focus their attention on you. Don’t do yourself a disservice by tainting the moment by being obnoxious or overbearing.
Take the time to learn about who you’re networking with. Sometimes, you want to reach out to the most “important” person you’ve discovered on the internet. Make sure you know enough about that individual to have a natural conversation. This doesn’t mean you should stalk your potential contact. That would be creepy. Does the person you’re reaching out to have any side projects, hobbies or passions? Maybe you share some common ground. Remember, online is just like offline. The more you know about the person the better prepared you’ll be to help each other out…which leads to the next point.
Would you respond to someone who is just asking for favors over and over with no regard for how the request affects you? Probably not. Make sure when you’re building up your online network that you are continuously looking for ways to provide value for the people you’re in contact with. You don’t necessarily need to revolutionize their lives or businesses, but make sure you at least let them know that you’re there to help. This builds trust and lets other people know that you’re not just in this for yourself. The more you help other people the smoother everything goes for you. Nobody likes a mooch, so don’t be one.
Online networking isn’t a science (otherwise I would have called it that instead of an art.) There are not set regulations that need to be observed. The above mentioned practices are things that great networkers do naturally everyday whether online or off. Remember, there’s a fine line between building your network organically and being a spammer. Always be mindful of how you’re coming across to other people. That’s not to say you should be analyzing every little thing you do, but make sure you’re looking at your actions from multiple-perspectives. If you determine that you would like it if someone reached out in the way you’re reaching out to other people, you’re on the right track. Happy networking.