I have rules about my social networks and I am sure most people who are comfortable utilizing social networks do too. When someone is just starting to get involved in building up their social network it's hard to know or recognize when and where to set boundaries. As well, there seems to be a bit of a challenge when it comes to being completely professional or being yourself.  Luckily, the rule of being "you" is winning out and those folks who think they are being "professional" in sending blog links, promotional introductions, and other spammy items are turning into "professional outcasts."

You might also be wondering how to separate professional relationships from your  friends. With social media and the necessity to be honest, real and transparent, they are bound to mingle, so either accept that up front or make a rule to keep them separate and stick to it. [Disclaimer: the link in this paragraph links to my blog].

I'll share my rules and then maybe you'll see it's okay to make your own rules...I mean, it's your network, right?
I only link to people I know and when I say know, I mean know pretty well. LinkedIn is about having a solid, referable network. How can I refer someone if I don't know them? It's tough to say no when you get a request but, just as an example, think about it from the perspective six months or a year down the road when someone you do know asks for a reference or an introduction. You'll either need to fess up and tell them you don't really know the person they are looking to meet or speak to or you'll pass through a reliable network contact to someone who, well, may not be. And that's not good for your relationships that you worked hard to develop. LinkedIn, for me is strictly a professional network and it always will be.
When first starting out on Twitter, the norm seems to be to follow everyone that follows you. I played along by following everyone who followed me...then it started getting dicey. See, the thing is with Twitter, the more you're on it and the more you use it, the more people follow you. And some of those people are not there to build up a network. They are there to spam you, get you to their websites, respond to their promotions, etc. These days, I don't follow anyone unless I check them out first and thoroughly. I check their description, their photo, their friends, their website, what they tweet and who they tweet with or to. It takes a lot of effort, but it's my Twitterstream and I don't want it filled with junk. With Twitter a lot of friends met there have become professional contacts, and even business partners, and that's really the beauty of social media and social networking.

When I first started using Facebook, I wasn't sure what to think or what would happen, I wasn't even sure it was a viable business social network. It definitely seemed more laid back that LinkedIn, that's for sure. I kept my Facebook profile very professional for a while (no photos or personal sharing) and only linked to business associates or friends from LinkedIn or Twitter. But I will say with Facebook, I learned that there is a lot of great sharing of books, websites, links, videos, groups, and more that you don't find elsewhere. Maybe it's because Facebook provides visuals and not just a link. And that sharing is what leads to other common interests and relationship building. That said, these days I am guarded when I friend someone. I have friended too many people only to receive a novel (actually, it's a message sent via Facebook) on why their business is good for my business, etc. No thank you! And, for a while Facebook was my little business playground until that one fateful day when my sister-in-law sent me a friend request, then my brother, then my cousin... How can you not friend your own family?! (Perhaps that's a rhetorical question for some of you.) It was then I decided that if business associates and friends wanted to know the real me...they'd have to know my family too. Why should I be the only one stuck with them?!
If you haven't dived into LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook just yet, I highly recommend that you do. They are three great applications for building up a social network of professional associates and friends. And you might just be surprised that the more you get to know people, how your associates become friends and your friends become associates.  Just remember, it's okay to have rules and to say no.

November 17, 2008

Beth Harte is a marketing, communications & social media consultant, speaker and professor that started her career when companies barely had e-mail—let alone websites. Experiencing Web 1.0 first hand, she also enjoyed the mad dash towards implementing integrated marketing communications and SEO/SEM. Beth is deeply engaged with marketing, PR & social media and helps companies do the same. Being a firm believer in ‘walking the walk to talk the talk,’ Beth blogs at The Harte of Marketing where she shares tips, opinions & observations that she’s experienced firsthand or picked up from some of the best marketers, communicators and social media leaders in the world.


Funny, your rules are almost identical to mine. :-)

I would have to ask, what exactly does "I mean know pretty well" when you refer to linkedin? I do understand not linking to complete strangers (ok I was guilty of that when I first signed up) but there are connections I have made through linkedin that led to relationships that were not face to face. Other bloggers in my niche (construction) or people looking to connect because they are interested in what "my story" is with blogging for business.

I guess I am not quite so picky, but like you said, they are my rules. I look at it like this, I am there to connect with people and since I spend every waking hour in front of this computer (ok, little exaggeration) I need to network somehow. (twitter and facebook are really better for that).


I agree with you, Beth. I believe a fine line exists between one's professional life and personal life so it's important to have some idea of what you want to achieve or experience before diving willy-nilly into social networking.

Maybe it's just me but I cannot fathom how anyone can follow hundreds (much less thousands) of people on Twitter! I have a hard enough time keeping up the couple dozen I'm following. It can quickly and easily distract you from tasks and projects at hand.

So it's also necessary to set up your own rules of engagement - how much time you'll spend on Twitter/social networking - otherwise, by the end of the day, you'll have to explain to the boss why that report didn't get done!

@Sarah Fowler, Interesting indeed! I just had someone on Twitter share that Twitter was better than LinkedIn for networking...I guess it's all in what your goals are and how you use the tools. :)

@Keith, when I say know pretty well, I mean I know them either from working or partnering with them or via several serious conversations elsewhere before adding them to my network. I also used to add people when I was new to LinkedIn, but I no longer do that. I have had people want to LinkIn with me because of my blog or seeing my somewhere else and I will send them a note to connect on Twitter or Facebook first. Usually they do, but sometimes they don't. If they don't then I know it was not a good contact. As well, when I LinkIn with someone, that gives them access to my contacts...so I am a little bit more cautious these days.

@Bonnie Parrish-Kell, this is a situation that a lot of people are facing these days. You need to be "real" but that might mean going off the corporate radar screen in conversation. A lot of folks balance this quite well, but they are also working for companies that have social media as part of their corporate strategy (for the most part). As for following lots of folks, Chris Brogan wrote a great post on how he follows so many people (over 15K!): http://www.chrisbrogan.com/how-i-use-twitter-at-volume/

Being involved in a social network takes time and is time consuming. Why? Because it takes time to develop relationships. It will be interesting to see if the concept of building customer relationships on Twitter takes hold over the next year (in a majority fashion, that is).

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