The 7 Deadly Sins of Online Networking

What is different about online networking?

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.

Try to avoid talking about yourself too much.

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.

Timely responses show that you care.

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 going to interact, then interact.

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.

Take the online world seriously (as seriously as offline).

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.

Re-read comments to make sure your meaning is clear.

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?

Note: This is a re-purposing of a post originally published on Allie’s blog, RamblingsofaWAHM (here) and also relates to a chapter in my book, The 3 Secrets To Great Networking.


The 7 Deadly Sins of Online Networking — 12 Comments

  1. Alan,

    Are online relationships as good as offline? Hmmm?
    I would say that they can be. There can be trust and openness but I do need to say that there is something humanly innate about being physically close to the people you care about. A hug or a smile seen in person cannot be replaced.

    Other than the physical closeness, which is very important for humans, I would say that people can have pretty meaningful relationships online. But don’t you always want to meet them?


    • Well, you can get a smile over a skype call or a google hangout, but I agree that a virtual hug will never match a real one.

      Smiles are worth a lot though.

      I do think you can still get a pretty good connection via video conference.

      I also wonder if successive generations are slightly more comfortable with the virtual world (I know they are more comfortable with the technology) because the proportion of online vs offline that they grow up with is different, increasingly tipped more toward online interactions.

      Or will our biology win and the need for real physical contact will always be there?

      I wonder if we’ll evolve needing less physical contact – that would be kind of sad if you ask me.

      I still place a lot of value on having physical social interactions but I have to say that I do have a number of online friends who I feel really close to (yourself included).

      In terms of whether I want to meet my online friends, if I think about it, I don’t have a strong urge to, no. It would be really nice, but being quite a logical person, perhaps the practicalities of what it would take to meet in person prevent me really thinking about this as a realistic option.

      In fact, I guess it could be possible that a really strong online friendship could take a turn for the worse if those people were to meet in person – I really don’t think ours would by the way, but I could see how that could happen in some cases.

  2. I’ve wondered the same thing as Allie. In my experience so far, I’ve definitely made some great friends online. The difference has been made when we’ve met in real life.

    So yes, being physically in the same space helps, meeting online and making friends is the same for me as meeting people in the ‘real’ world. Interesting how the same thing apply – bonding over similar experiences, smiling (like you mentioned, Alan), etc.

    • Sooooo,

      are you saying that meeting people online is the same for you as meeting people in real life or that there is a difference?

      I couldn’t really tell from your comment, perhaps it’s hard to say or the point is that the difference is increasingly small as we get more accustomed to online interactions?

        • You just had me curious when you said ‘the difference has been made when we’ve met in real life’ – I assume by that you mean making a strong relationship even stronger?

          I’ve actually met very few of my ‘online’ friends (or clients for that matter) in real life (though I know we almost met in S of France once & would have if the timing had worked out) – doesn’t help that I live in the middle of nowhere these days!

          The curious thing for me is how people feel about their relationships that are (only) online vs offline – or if they even know how they feel about them/if there’s a difference…

  3. I see online and offline networking exactly the same.
    Most people use online networking as mean for introduction, the same as you get introduced to people in the real world. The question is whether you take it to the next step and make them from connected to acquaintances or even friends.
    If you keep it in the initial level of online networking this is not more than a smart mailing-list or maybe less.

    Yossi Dagan

    • Hi Yossi,

      you’re absolutely right, networking is networking at the end of the day, no matter what the medium of communication.

      On that note though, I’m not sure I agree entirely with your final point (assuming I understood it correctly) though I completely see where you’re coming from – simply because we can’t always take an online relationship offline (geographical constraints being one obvious barrier) – and whether or not we make compensations for the different ‘feel’ of an online relationship (due to lack of immediate signals such as body language etc for developing rapport), I do think it is still possible to develop lasting and meaningful relationships, even if purely online – don’t you agree?

  4. I totally agree with you, Alan.
    I have good friends around the world, that I have never met face to face, and we have meaningful relationship.
    What I meant is that if you don’t build the relationship, it doesn’t matter if you met online or in the real world – you will not get results.

    Yossi Dagan

    • Ah, I think I misunderstood your last comment slightly then Yossi – my bad, sorry!

      I liked the expression too much that I read too much into it. Basically you weren’t saying that staying online makes it maybe less than a smart mailing list, you were saying that if you don’t follow up on the initial contact properly, either online or off then that’s what it is.

      Apologies for the misunderstanding, I think we’re on the same page.

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