Does your dog have better social networking etiquette than you?

Social Networking has surely taken off these past few years. Seems like everyone and their dog is now posting, poking, tweeting, liking, status-updating, and more. The problem is that dogs might actually demonstrate better social networking etiquette than many business people. Unlike casual communication with friends, social networking for business requires care, because barking up the wrong tree could damage your credibility.

Here are 9 common faux “paws”:

(1) Inviting people to be friends/contacts without customizing the request message.

“I would like to add you to my network. – Joe”

What people are thinking: Joe? Joe who? Do we know each other? Does Joe really want to connect with me or is he just using some automated referral or mass contact function to expand his network? And, if I agree to connect, is he going to try to sell me something or ask me for a job? I don’t feel good about this guy.

(2) Joining a group and crassly posting about yourself and what you do.

“Hi, I’m Joe. I sell red widgets. They are the greatest red widgets. Nice to meet you. Want to buy some red widgets? I sell red widgets – here is a huge list of what we offer [insert huge list here]. I can’t wait to contribute to this group.”

What people are thinking: So, Joe sells red widgets. I could have found that out by clicking to see his profile if I was inclined to do so, but instead, he is forcing me to read his profile. Does he actually expect me to read all that? I’m sure the only thing he will be contributing to this group is information about his red widgets. I’m not even interested in red widgets.

(3) Posting a reply to a question when you don’t have a good answer.

“In reply to Jane’s question to everyone about global warming, I don’t really know much about that. I think I read an article that said it was happening.”

What people are thinking: Ok, so Joe has posted a reply that basically says he doesn’t know the answer to the question. Why did he even bother posting a reply? This is not helpful.

(4) Posting a new discussion that is blatantly intended to have people talk about your product.

“Red widgets might be the solution to global warming? Let’s discuss.”

What people are thinking: Hmm, a new post. Let’s take a closer look, it could be interesting. Wait a second! This is posted by Joe who sells red widgets. Is he seriously trying to fool us into having this discussion about red widgets?!

(5) Repeatedly posting new sales wins.

“We just won a contract to supply red widgets to ABC Corp.” “We just won a contract to supply red widgets to DEF Corp.” “We just won a contract to supply red widgets to GHI Corp.”

What people are thinking: Good for you. I don’t mind one post but if I wanted to keep reading about your wins, I would have signed up for your company newsletter. Do you really think I’m happy to spend my limited time reading about your wins when we aren’t even friends? You are cluttering our group.

6) Posting links to events, products, or articles with no explanation of why it should be of interest to the group.

“Check out this event”

What people are thinking: How is this relevant to our group? Are you trying to fool me into following the link so that you can sell me red widgets? Even if it is relevant, you haven’t taken an extra minute to explain it, yet you expect me to invest my valuable time to follow it. What’s up with this guy?

(7) Posting new job opportunities in non-job groups.

“I’m looking to hire a junior administrator:”

What people are thinking: Why are you cluttering our group with this job posting? Are you just trying to get me to follow the link to find out more about your red widgets? This is starting to get annoying.

(8) Looking for a job on a discussion group.

“I’m a seasoned executive in great demand that knows how to build relationships to maximize sales and profits. I had huge success selling red widgets and now I’m looking for my next company to save. Here is my resume [insert way too many words here].”

What people are thinking: You say you are a great relationship-builder, yet, you’re not sensitive enough to realize that posting your information is inconveniencing everyone in our group. And, it actually shows a bit of desperation because if you were really as good as you claim to be, you would not have to promote yourself on a group that never even asked about you.

(9) Posting about your new startup or fundraising needs.

“We are a new startup working on revolutionizing red widgets. We are selling shares for $0.10 and need to raise $100,000. You will get a 50% ROI!”

What people are thinking: There are many of us looking for money. Why are you posting about it here? Do you know that your posting may violate securities legislation? I’ve had it with these red widget people. If I ever need to buy red widgets, it certainly won’t be from them.

The Result

Does this type of shameless promotion work? Perhaps. Sometimes. But is it worth it? Most people will see your posts for what they really are: thoughtless self-promotion. So, while you may gain a couple of new leads, you could lose countless others because you have lost credibility and trust.

Let’s close on outlining when it is acceptable to promote your products and services.

When used properly, social networking can provide great opportunities to develop relationships with potential customers and partners, while improving your personal reputation and company brand. Follow these simple rules:

(1) Be helpful and share what you know. If you can offer an educated opinion on a subject, point someone to an article or website, or share useful information, do it! You may gain even more trust and credibility if your helpful post has nothing to do with your products and services because it shows that you are investing time to help others, not just to sell something.

2) Respond to posts where people ask for solutions to problems that you can solve. Here’s your chance … by all means tell them about your red widgets!

(3) Be transparent. When sharing information that might be related to your products and services in some way, disclose the fact that you have a vested interest in the topic.

(4) Keep in mind the old adage, “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”

For the most part, the aims of social networking oppose the old “dog-eat-dog” mantra of the business world. Remember, these sites are meant for sharing. So try to throw someone a bone every once in a while!

Woof Woof.

Mathew Georghiou is founder, CEO, and Chief Simulation Designer of MediaSpark Inc . He is a Tech/Internet/NewMedia Entrepreneur, Educational Game & Simulation Designer, Publisher, Content & Social Networking Platform builder, and Business Consultant.

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