Friday, January 8, 2010

Friending Me on Facebook: You're Doing it Wrong (5 Tips For Networking On Facebook)

I've mentioned in previous posts that I am a firm believer that social media should be just that: social. While I understand and respect those who choose to limit their friend lists to those people with whom they have interacted in some way in the real world (former classmates, ex-coworkers, family and friends, etc.), I also feel they are missing out on one of the great joys that social media offers.

The ability for the average person to meet and converse with people from all across the world at the touch of a keyboard simply didn't exist a short few years ago. Now, thanks in large part to sites like Facebook, there is little difference between "across the street" and "across the globe." While this has been a boon for the professional networking crowd, it's also a chance for anyone to expand their horizons beyond their physical location. The people that you can connect with online and who become "cyber-friends" are the 21st century equivalent of the pen pal, without having to wait weeks to receive replies in the mail.

I have met and built friendships with many wonderful folks on Facebook who I will likely never have the chance to meet in person due to the distance between our physical locations. I have connected with folks as far away as Indonesia, India, France and the UK, networking both for business purposes and out of shared interests discovered through common Facebook groups or other online interactions. I tend to keep an open-door policy when it comes to accepting friend requests, as I am always interested in meeting new people. However, in the interests of safety and sanity (there are some real wackos online!), there are some basic guidelines I use in determining whether I'm going to accept that request. These are guidelines I also follow when I am extending a friend request to someone.

Last week, I received a friend request from someone who broke almost every one of these guidelines. I had to chuckle to myself as I hit the "ignore" button, as this person was clearly unskilled at the most basic concepts of networking, which happen also to be the foundation for these guidelines:

1. If We Haven't Met, Introduce Yourself. Facebook offers an option to include a personal message when you send a friend request. If you are reaching out to someone you have not met before, take a moment to add a sentence or two explaining why you're reaching out. Something like, "Hi, I noticed that you and I have several mutual friends here," or "I saw your profile and we are both fans of _____," or even "I am interested in meeting people from your part of the world." Something that gives me an idea why you are reaching out to me, so you're not mistaken for some weirdo stalker type.

2. If We Have Met, Don't Assume I Remember Who You Are. Especially if the only place we've met is another online service. (Twitter folks, I'm looking at you!) Whether we've talked on Twitter, met at a social function hosted by a common friend, or have interacted briefly in a business context, it helps a great deal to see a note saying, "I'm @twittername," "We met at John Doe's house last week," or "I work for XYZ Inc, and would like to add you to my contacts." Trust me, not everyone's memory is as superb as yours may be. This also applies if you are reaching out to someone from your past - a simple "I sat behind you in history in 8th grade," may make the difference between your request being accepted or tossed into the "ignore" bin.

The person who sent me the mystery request that inspired this post included no personal message, so I all I got was a name that rang no bell with me whatsoever. Had I ever met this person before, anywhere? If not, why was I being invited to join his Facebook circle?

3. Fill Out Your Profile Page, And Make Sure your Settings Allow Me To See It. If I don't know you well - or at all - believe me, the first place I'm going is to your profile page and the "about me" section. I want to know if we do have interests in common, or if there is something especially interesting about you that sells me on adding you as a friend. Be honest, but be creative - have a little fun with your profile page. Let your personality come through your words; this is one of those times when it is better to write the way you talk rather than stick to stodgy rules of composition. This is your first impression, and first impressions count!

Also, make sure you've got your privacy settings structured so that at least your basic "about me" info is viewable. The mystery person last week had his entire profile set to private, so again all I had was a random name. Even without the explanatory message, an interesting or unusual profile might have sold me.

4. Use A Photo Of Yourself As Your Profile Pic. That profile picture is extremely important! Some folks' memories are better jogged with a visual than anything else. Yet so often I get friend requests with no picture - or, worse yet, a meaningless picture. Use a picture of yourself. Not your family. Not your dog. Not your car. Not Bob Hope. Yourself. Preferably a head shot - remember, the pics aren't that big to begin with, so if the picture is of you rappelling down a rocky cliff, you're going to look like a shadowy smudge on my monitor.

Keep in mind that your profile pic can also work against you. The mystery friend request last week included a picture of a car (I assume owned by the person who sent the request), a high-end, high-dollar sporty number. All that told me was that this person either a.) is so materialistic as to believe others are going to be impressed by his wealth, or b.) is so shallow as to believe it important to project that image. In either case, that's a direct ticket to the "ignore" bin in my book.

5. Be Willing To Engage In Conversation Before I Decide To Accept. If I've got nothing else to go on, and I'm in a gregarious enough mood, I'll take one final step before hitting "ignore": I'll send a message to the person asking for some help in figuring out who they are. This can be done politely enough.

In the case of my mystery request, since all I had was a random name, no info, no profile, and a meaningless picture, I sent a message saying, "Forgive me, but have we met? If not, what made you choose me as someone to send a friend request to?"

Well, I never got a response from the mystery requester. In fact, in short order the friend request itself disappeared - had I scared this person off by asking such a basic question? Or, had I in fact successfully filtered a wacko? I'll never know for sure. If he was trying to network, he certainly was not doing it well!

By the way, if you would like to friend me on Facebook, feel free. Just make sure, please, to give me some idea of who you are!

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