The business network netiquette
About four month ago, I wrote a post on the XING Netiquette which made its way to the XING experts blog. The reason was that some of my colleagues, relatives and friends realized the unfriendly and unprofessional style of communication with business contacts on business networks such as XING or LinkedIn. This was also some development that the XING expert experienced, Joachim Rumohr, who added the post to his professional blog. And, as this post was read very often in German, I decided to write also an English version about the topic: business network netiquette.
We all know from management trainings and media that the first impression counts to the highest degree. So, if we are reaching out for new contacts, or looking to kick off interesting partnerships, or just doing some ‚investigation‘, we should all be aware of the actions and reactions this might cause.
Why? Every single web activity might affect our online (and offline) reputation. There are several people already focusing on this personal branding topic as a business model in terms of ‚creating‘ books or blog posts, or reputation ID networks or they are just ‚visionering‘ about this topic.
In terms of business networks such as XING or LinkedIn, the stumbling block is not the contacts that we are linked or connected with. Normally, people know how to behave and interact there as they know each other. It becomes more difficult when contacting an unknown business user in an online business network. In this case, it does not matter if you are contacting somebody or if some business person is addressing you. Although the networks advise with ‚FAQ’s‘ and ‚Help‘ sites on how to ‚meet online‘ with somebody on a business level, these websites are quite often well-hidden and enlighten only some parts of this special topic called ’netiquette‘.
Let’s have a close look at some general principles which are definitely necessary and have to be taken into account when contacting somebody on LinkedIn or XING (or any other business network).
The business network netiquette
When you are contacting some business person…
a) Send a message: Be friendly. Keep your message short. Refer directly to your request.
Why are you approaching this special person? Be aware that the contacted person you are referring to might not have very much time for online networking – especially if this person has a high level of responsibility and credibility inside his company. Although all these people would love to have a personal web manager in order to spend more time for online networking, they actually don’t have any.
Be prepared to get some feedback. This feedback might be completely different from what you think and wish to achieve. Nevertheless, respond to this person no matter how the feedback ’sounds‘ in your ears.
b) Via direct connection: If you have had no contact before (online or offline), it is advisable not to contact these people directly without having addressed these people in an email, spoken on the phone or in persona before. Obviously not, when you are just a collector and hunter…
If you contact somebody, give this person the opportunity to communicate with you offline and online straight away. In some business networks you can also activate the contact details without being linked with somebody. Never stay incognito!
When you are being contacted…
a) Receive a message: In the ‚unlikely‘ event of receiving an email with some business network member contacting you, this person definitely has a very serious and valid business reason to address you…. and it is you, you, you! If somebody has chosen to contact you (and no-one else!), this is an honor – please look upon this action favorably.
b) Via direct connection: If you had no contact at all before somebody is contacting you (offline or online), please evaluate whether you accept this contact. Having tones of contacts looks nice (as does having lot of followers on Twitter) but does it serve your purpose? Caring about all of your contacts is difficult and becomes unprofitable quite quickly.
If you think this person is beneficial (in private or for your job), then there is no reason not accepting this contact. Don’t be afraid of denying irrelevant contact offerings though. BUT: Definitely use the ‚Add‘ or ‚Deny‘ button and don’t leave this person desperately waiting for an answer in your folder ‚Inbox‘ or ‚Contacts to Add‘.
In any case, if somebody is getting in touch with you via business networks, it is an ‚unwritten‘ duty to respond with an answer – no matter if long or short, positive or negative or if you have some business interest in this person. Even if this request is in your eyes uninteresting, boring or not fitting
your profile details. Everybody has deserved to get an answer.
Let’s take an example from the offline world… If an employee or some partner has a business idea that he wants to share with you, you are not just turning away, saying nothing, right? The same applies to the online world. And, premium-user do see and know more or less everything in business networks – also that you have been looking at the profile of the person that has send you a mail via the business network.
The above mentioned advice is also applicable for all group activity in business networks and for common email communication, too. Be friendly, offer the dialogue and be authentic.
Be the virtual person that you are in the offline world! This is the only way being authentic and successful. Contacts know easily by monitoring who you are, what you do and why you will be interesting – they might know your digital dna without even checking it for negative examples.
Always imagine you are joining a big business card party and you ignore somebody who might be introduced to you 5 minutes later. Remember… You always meet twice in life! In a digital networking world, when being a virtual person with a business network profile this might happen quicker than you maybe want it to happen…