Social media allows us to discover, connect, and engage with new people of interest. While most people are open to new connections and receiving messages from people they don’t know, there is a fine line between reaching out and “spamming.” The challenge is to make a connection clearly and effectively without wasting people’s time.
Many of us are on both sides of this relationship — sometimes making the connection, sometimes receiving the invitation. To help navigate these waters a little better, I’ve outlined seven key lessons for improving your social networking skills.
1. Find a Person’s Preferred Communication Channel
If you want to contact someone you have never communicated with before, do some research. Find the person’s preferred communication channel. Search which social network they are most active on, and try contacting them there ( a simple google search will help you find that piece of info).
Get a sense of their preferred means of communication, and make contact where they are.
Lesson: Go where they are.
2. Say Just Enough
This cannot be emphasized enough, and it is probably my toughest challenge. In the age of social media, we may be able to get the attention of more people, but we get it for a much shorter amount of time. One of the biggest mistakes I see people make, is that they send long e-mails or social media messages explaining all the reasons they want to connect. You are likely have not earned not earned the five minutes of the recipient’s time that it will take to read that message.
Lesson: Less is more.
3. Don’t Expect a Response
I often see e-mails with phrases like “Please respond,” or “please get back to me.” Unless it is an old friend or a colleague, if you are contacting someone new, you are not entitled to a response. If the person wants to get back to you, he or she will. It is much better to say “If this is not of interest, feel no need to get back to me.”
Lesson: Say what you need to and then let it go.
4. Clarify Early
This may seem like common sense, but don’t wait for the last line of your message to say that you want to meet for lunch, or ask your contact if he’d like to speak at an event. Put it right up front. If he cannot provide what you’re looking for, he’ll know sooner rather than later, and will appreciate you for it.
Lesson: Say it up front.
5. What You Want is Not the Point
You may think that what you want is a phone call or lunch meeting to discuss your big idea. But communication is more than any one project or meeting. What you really want is an authentic connection.
In a very real way, it doesn’t necessarily matter if the person is interested in discussing your project idea. What matters is whether you are making a connection.
If you focus on the relationship more than the specific request, and the person has a pleasant experience reading your opening communication, it is likely the door will remain open for possible collaboration in the future, and the next e-mail you send will more likely be fruitful.
Lesson: No one knows what the future may hold, so make the moment count. Ensure the door stays open, even if no one is walking through it right now.
6. Be Open Without Needing
Needy never goes over well. Statements like “I really need to talk to you,” or “it is essential that we speak,” show your general insecurity. There is a huge difference between being open to collaboration and “needing” it.
Do not make contact until you find that place in yourself that is totally comfortable with any outcome, including a strong “no” or no response at all. Only then can you make authentic contact. When you do, openness rather than need will come through in your words.
Lesson: Speak from openness rather than need.
7. Give Space
The key questions people have when someone new reaches out to them, particularly those who are quite busy, are “Do I have time to bring this person into my network? How much time will they take?”
Give communication some space. Unless something is very timely, let a bit of time pass before sending a response. Let communication have some breathing room. Once there is some level of trust, you can experiment with more immediate information exchange.
Lesson: Focus on thoughtful instead of continual contact.