Rules of Engagement: Social Networking

Guest post by Tim Searcy

When I grew up, social networking was code for cocktails at 5:30 PM. Now I find out that it’s code for just about anything and everything digital that brings disparate individuals and groups together: blog postings, topic-based forums and many other platforms I’m just now getting my head wrapped around.

My friend and colleague Azlin Happley sent the old timers in the office some clear rules of engagement for Social Networking, and I thought it would be nice to let you weigh in as well. She is classified into whatever the sociologists call the most recent generation, and I trust her knowledge of the technology that makes me go “WOW!”

Social networking is often about reading a lot of postings, and carefully selecting the person that you want to engage in conversation. However, instead of the blast nature of some other forms of marketing, you have to be very one-on-one when the promise is a one-to-one relationship. This means you will have to e-mail the person you want to connect with, and this is where it can get hairy…

When it comes to the actual email a few rules have served Azlin well so far:

  • Canned messages get you nowhere. We’re all so accustomed to marketing blasts that if it even LOOKS like it might be generic it goes straight to the trash. On some sites, canned messages will eventually get you banned.
  • Your reputation and profile are important. If you want people to respond to you, you’d better look like an actual person with some amount of credibility. Make SURE your company website is listed in your profile as that is the first place people go to check out strangers.
  • Keep it relevant, specific and about them. The messages I send which are mostly about our organization don’t get responses. The messages which talk about their company and why I’d like to speak with them are better. The best messages are responses to current happenings within the company and reference recent press releases or articles. There is a fine balance between keeping the message short and offering enough information about the organization to entice them into speaking with us.
  • Keep it short. Really short. No one has time to read a manifesto on Linked In. Chances are they shouldn’t be spending company time on there anyway so if takes longer than 10 seconds to read don’t bother sending it.
  • You must be twice as diligent in your follow up. For most of us, social networking still lives in this grey area of serious communication. We tend to treat our phone calls seriously, our emails less seriously, and social network messages a step or two below that. Even when someone says they will get back to you the ball is really still in your court. Since short messages don’t allow the kind of rapport building that establishes you and your pending conversation as a priority, continued persistent follow up is required to make the most of these opportunities. To avoid pestering, try to include a value add every time you touch the prospect (i.e. the reminder to set up a phone call is accompanied by an invitation to an event or a link to a great article).

Azlin has proven to me that when it comes to technology, I need to look to my younger staff to guide the way. What about you?