Social media has made it easier than ever before to network with people who could help you gain valuable advice, insight, and connections. But just because it's easy to access people doesn't mean you should—at least not without a nod to some good old-fashioned etiquette rules from the pre-2.0 era.
I am fortunate to meet a lot of interesting people and to be part of a lot of industry events, panels, and the like. I also genuinely like to connect with people. But lately I feel like the boundaries of "professional" contact are getting a bit blurry. I'm not suggesting we go back to an era of formal notes asking for appointments delivered by butlers on silver platters. But I do think a little more manners would go a long way.
Mostly, I think good-versus-bad networking etiquette is a question of respect. I don't mean genuflecting or addressing someone formally (although "oh holy brand queen" or "empress of blogging" would definitely get my attention)—I mean respect of people's time. Follow these tried and true tips to help you navigate modern day networking:
1. Do do your homework. Before the meeting, have some ideas on the subject you are looking to get reactions to. Look up that person’s profile on LinkedIn and start to follow their company. The more research you do, the better you’ll come across in your meeting. Being able to recall someone’s career path, alma mater, or recent article they’ve shared speaks volumes.
2. Do be upfront. I get a fair amount of vague requests asking for "guidance on my career" or "input on my brand. " You will get a higher likelihood of response if you are specific, such as "I was wondering if you could give me some advice on switching from an agency position in packaged goods to client side in the service industry." And when you say you only need 30 minutes of someone's time, mean it. Whether in person or on the phone, you should be organized enough to get what you need in a half-hour. I think a mark of respect is also showing that you value someone's time by making sure they get something out of it.
3. Don't assume because your need is pressing that they should drop everything to answer it. Don't send an email asking for a response tomorrow. Make it easy to respond by clearly stating what you are looking for and giving them the option to first respond by email. Also, if you are looking for a face-to-face meeting, a good strategy is to say that you are going to be in their neighborhood at a certain time and date, and give a few options for them to choose from.
4. Don't get too personal. Context matters. While you are building relationships, they should remain professional. There are many choices on how to connect with people, and if you are building a professional relationship, connect with them on LinkedIn. It’s appropriate for business relationships because you can tap into their professional network where it makes sense.
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5. Do try to be helpful. You want to make sure you can bring value to them so that they do the same for you. Offer to make introductions to people they may find interesting or useful, leave comments on their blog, or share your insight via a LinkedIn inMail. Tell your network about your new connection, and help him or her build his professional brand (this is something even the most well-known people still constantly work at.)
6. Don't monopolize someone at a networking event. Introduce yourself; state your comment, question, or desire for a follow up; get your response; and then respectfully move on. If there is a line of people behind you waiting to talk to the speaker, acknowledge this and wrap up. Remember to exchange cards, then connect with them on LinkedIn, being sure to jog their memory by personalizing the LinkedIn connection request and mentioning where you met.
7. Do network—everywhere: Women need to network more. Networking is something you should be doing anywhere and everywhere and all day long, from the dog park to the line at Starbucks. If you have a point of commonality, there’s the opportunity to connect. Something as simple as “What’s your dog’s name?” can lead to a mentor or the job offer you’ve been dreaming of. Reach out with respect, and your response rate will be higher.
Nicole Williams is the bestselling author of three books, the latest of which is Girl on Top: Your Guide to Turning Dating Rules into Career Success. Nicole is also LinkedIn's Career Expert. The company she founded, WORKS by Nicole Williams, is the go-to resource for career-minded young women and was named one of Forbes magazine's Top 10 Career Websites for Women. You’ve seen her on TV—as a regular guest on Today, Good Morning America, and CNN—and in print, where her advice has appeared on the pages of SHAPE, Redbook, ELLE, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Marie Claire, and the Wall Street Journal. Visit NicoleWilliams.com, and follow her @TheGirlOnTop and on LinkedIn.