Well, lots of things.
Think about it – you can reach more people more quickly.
One of the problems, for example, with online social media is that you can reach a lot of people very quickly but that does not mean that you should abuse this access – do so and the first time that you have something genuinely of interest to show them, they will ignore you.
One very important aspect of networking is building rapport – which works completely differently online.
The speed and tonality of your voice, your body language, your facial expressions are all non-existent in most of your online interactions.
Allie from RamblingsofaWAHM wrote a great post about commenting which is a great way to network and meet people online, but normally this is done with no video or audio and sometimes without even a picture (read Allie’s other post about gravatars).
How (Not) To Network Effectively Online a.k.a. The 7 Deadly Sins of Online Networking
So how do we network effectively online?
We still need to make connections and build trust. We still need to be ourselves and get to know each other. Even though people can’t see us, we still want to make an impression.
One way of looking at this, and given some of the catastrophic interactions (from a networking point of view) we see from time to time online, would be to have a look at what NOT to do when networking online. So here are my top 7…
1. Intruder Alert (/SPAM)
This has got to be my #1 dislike in the online world. Spam. People trying to take shortcuts to massive traffic or conversions by spamming whether via email lists, dodgy ‘opt-in’ pages for even dodgier schemes, tagging or adding you to groups, forums or discussions without permission (resulting in you receiving a slew of unwanted emails from people you don’t know), marketing on other people’s pages or platforms (unless you’ve been invited to) etc. These are all spammy tactics and invariably have the reverse effect to that intended. Don’t do it. It’s not worth it. Just avoid anything that you think could be intrusive and if in doubt, ask a few friends or worst case test your idea out on a very small audience.
2. Me Me Me
Stop talking about yourself too much – that includes your site, your Facebook page, your product. Once or twice and you’re adding value, more often and you’re bugging people, after that you’re obsessed.
3. Me Again
OK, now you’re possessed. You can’t help yourself can you? Yes your posts are really great and really helpful, but strangely enough, the more you tell people how great you (your posts) are, the less they’re going to believe you. So stop, or just mix it up a bit by sharing other people’s stuff too (I added the me point twice because it’s really important and I wanted to make sure you got it).
4. Slow Response
Make sure you answer all comments, all mentions, all shares – it’s your chance to show your appreciation and build relationships and the online version of rapport. If you have your notifications set up right, this is also an effective way to network from a time management perspective. Timely responses show that you care. It doesn’t matter how busy you are, slow responses imply that you don’t. But a slow response is better than none at all, so if you must respond late to anything, make sure you apologize for the delay.
5. No Personality / No Image
If you’re going to interact, then interact, or at least try to. Avoid ‘canned’ and generic comments. A lot of people automate their social media updates these days and they put a lot of thought into it to make them look as much like they are really there and really commenting as possible. If you write boring generic comments like ‘Just Posted: My Latest Great Adventure’ then people will assume this came from a program rather than a human being (even if it didn’t).
If you’re writing something manually, make sure you put some personality into it, so they know it is you – plus use your name, not a fake ID – plus make sure you have a picture so that people can see you, identify you and remember you if they come across you online again (rather than the twitter egg, the Facebook outline or the wordpress monsters).
6. Bad Etiquette
There are some things that are just bad etiquette and should generally be avoided. One of them is spam, mentioned above but that’s such a huge topic and a huge no-no that it deserves it’s own spot, and spot #1 at that. Other examples of bad etiquette are overloading articles and comments with too many links (also kind of spammy), bad language, rude behavior, accusations or ‘calling people out’ especially if unfounded… basically think of what is bad etiquette in the real world and if you wouldn’t behave like that in the real world, then don’t behave like that in the online world either.
If you want to successfully network online, then a good tip is to take the online world seriously, it’s not just there for your convenience.
Another point here is that writing a comment is not the same as making a comment in the physical world, it sticks around and is in writing – plus, people can often understand different things from what you wrote than the meaning you intended, so be a little careful, just re-read it and make sure your point is clear and can’t be easily misinterpreted.
7. Over Familiarity
You can make connections really quickly online and because a lot of people are actually trying to show personality, and are very good at it, you might just end up feeling really comfortable with these people and feeling some affinity with them. That’s a good thing (it’s also what they want) and there’s no harm in that, but just remember that they’re not your best friends, so don’t pretend they are.
Keep the right balance, be friendly but also respectful. Acting like they are your best buddy because you exchanged a couple of comments can make you seem needy or false. Don’t be scared to interact very personably, but just don’t go too far and act like you know people much much better than you really do.
Feel cheated? OK here you go:
8. (or the real #3, whatever you prefer) Trying Too Hard
Don’t send stuff that doesn’t really interest you. This includes sending crappy jokes to a mass audience and hoping they’ll be shared and make you look really popular. Once, OK, twice, maybe – make a habit of sending out this stuff to everyone, then we’re back at #1.
Now It’s Your Turn …
So, on the subject of online networking, It’s time to share your thoughts… Do you have any really good online friends? How good? Is it possible to build online relationships which are just as strong as they would be if you’d met those people in person?