For businesses who don’t have the opportunity to meet face-to-face, online networking provides a convenient way to reach out to other professionals and build valuable, productive relationships. Any successful business interaction involves certain protocols of good behavior, however, and despite differences of time and distance, e-networking is no exception. To reap the greatest benefits from their efforts, professionals networking online should bear in mind a few do’s and don’ts of e-networking etiquette.
Choose the right contacts.
The first step to developing good e-networking etiquette is to find the right contacts – that is, the people who will want to hear from you, and the channels through which you’ll have the most success reaching them. Spend time carefully researching potential contacts before you talk to them. Make sure you are interacting with businesses who share your professional values, goals, and interests, and for whom your message is relevant. If a contact isn’t a strong fit, the connection is not likely to be profitable or valuable – and becoming an annoyance can be more damaging to your brand than not reaching out at all.
Personalize your approach.
You can make e-networking a little easier by designing an email template for multiple contacts. Before you send out your first message, however, determine what you wish to achieve by networking with the recipient. Do you want learn more from thought leaders in your industry? Are you interested in creating new contacts for future business? With specific goals in mind, you can develop a more customized, relevant message for each contact – which shows them that you’ve not only done your homework on their business, but also that you’re genuinely interested in connecting with them as a professional. Always start by introducing yourself and explaining how you found each contact. Include a common interest that you may have noticed on their profile, and end your note by requesting further information to keep the conversation going.
Polish your presentation.
E-networking allows you to make a great first impression through a strong online presence – as long as that presence is complete and polished. Whomever you contact will most likely check out your social media profiles before they get back to you, so it is important that your information is accurate and consistent across any platforms on which you have an account. An incomplete or careless profile will only confuse potential contacts and undermine your professional integrity. You may also wish to include your portfolio on your profile to build credibility for yourself or your business, or to create a talking point. If you do this, make sure each file is error-free and easy to navigate, so that new contacts can easily learn more about what you do.
Analyze your message.
Just as with a face-to-face meeting, successful e-networking depends on the tone of your communication. Try to find a balance between connecting on a personal level and maintaining a professional approach. It is not appropriate to use lingo such as LOL and TTYL while e-networking, and it’s best to refrain from using emoticons. Try to break the ice before asking questions that most people would be unlikely to share with a stranger. Connecting online often makes it easier to say things that you wouldn’t normally say in person – but use discretion with this trend. If in doubt, have a close friend or coworker proofread your message.
Follow up on your e-network.
Keep track of the connections you’ve made in an electronic database, in case you ever need to refer back to someone (even if your relationship didn’t go further than a message or two). If you contact someone who isn’t interested in e-networking, always thank them for their time and give them your best. As long as you make a good impression on that person, there may be an opportunity for business in the future.
Professionalism is key to ensuring that you forge meaningful (and hopefully, profitable) online relationships for you and for your business. While traditional, face-to-face interactions are still crucial to a sound business strategy, good e-networking etiquette goes a long way toward making a good impression, and fostering strong, positive online connections.