It is in our human nature to form relationships and bond with other people who share our interests or networks. Yes, no newsflash there. And perhaps the most rewarding type of relationship-building and networking is professional business networking. I don't mean rewarding monetarily only; it is only through business networking that we are able to grow professionally and improve our performance which helps us attain job satisfaction and thus reflecting on our personal life alike. When is the last time you saw someone with a lousy job cheering about how happy he/she is!
Now I can say with utmost assertiveness that all of us business networkers, and especially the younger ones like me, must be thrilled with how social networks have made it a lot easier (and much more fun!) to find, meet, and interact with professionals from all over the globe with no restrictions. And I just wrote a post earlier about how thrilled I am with this, titled "Doing Business Naked" and I encourage you to read it and cast in your vote for the ending question.
However, as I already mentioned in that post, there are certain limitations that you should keep in mind when you're socially getting involved with your business contacts. And here I present them to you as tips based on my personal opinion and experience:n
- Just because your business contact befriended you on a social network, that doesn't mean he/she is your new best friend. Don't rant to them about your latest tech shopping spree, and certainly don't cry to them about your relationship problems. Maybe you aren't saying that directly to them, but you might be publishing it! To avoid that your business contacts read stuff they aren't supposed to be reading: a) stop sharing them b) or control your privacy settings. For example, on Facebook you can create a friend list for business contacts only and always edit the settings of something before you publish it. I could recommend you to have two facebook accounts, one for professional use and one for fun and going wild, but that can really be difficult and time-consuming, and you'll probably end up sacrificing one on account of the other.
- Just because you don't have to be formal, it doesn't mean you can be rude. You don't need to call a business contact by his/her last name, but you can't start calling them "dude/chick; buddy/woman". Those things might not sound so bad to you, but they are very bad if it's someone you don't really know well or for long. You can and should be friendly and casual, but don't disrespect the other person. And I might be pointing the obvious here, but you also shouldn't: a) cuss, b) talk dirty c) flirt shamelessly d) use foul languages, etc. To put it clearly, I will quote Scott Stratten (the creator and owner of UnMarketing, and a pretty cool guy on Twitter @unmarketing) saying: "Don't tweet anything you wouldn't want to see on a billboard with your name/face/logo/phone # and your mom driving by."
- Don't overwhelm your contacts with your contributions. Some great tips to use when interacting with new people are to learn a bit about their interests to find commonalities between you, comment on things they share constructively, or even compliment some things you like about them (surely without faking it!). But PLEASE don't overdo it. It is so repelling when I add a new contact then find them messaging me, emailing me, leaving me comments etc. over 10 times a day before I have time to reply! Of course that would be amazing if they were constructively commenting on my posts. Don't just email your contacts or leave them messages repeatedly in a short time interval even before giving them a chance to respond to your first email or message. Always keep your interaction with them in the beginning to a minimum so you don't make them feel like they are being smothered by you.
- Be as nice as you are, unless you are overnice. I don't know how many people out there are like me, but when someone I only recently added to my network starts stalking my every move and talking about how great/special/impressive I am as a person (even though they don't know me well enough to judge), it starts creeping me out because I think: a) they're either faking it because they want something in return or b) they have a secret shrine for me where they worship me and finally intend to sacrifice me to gain blessings. Even if I'm wrong about both reasons, it'd still be very uncomfortable for your contact to have a stranger adoring everything about him/her and firing grandiose compliments at him/her back to back until he/she has nothing back to say after expiring all the thank-you lines. And one more point, we appreciate you being super-nice and complimenting everything and everyone, but I'm sure you don't want people to feel obliged to fake-compliment you back.
At the end, you can be yourself and have fun until it starts annoying your contacts (and trust me, you'd know if they think you're annoying). And always remember that not all people are alike, some contacts might welcome any behavior and attitude, while others might still prefer formality and professionalism online as much as offline. You just need to know who you're dealing with first!