By Robert Half International
For busy workers, networking online is a great way to quickly meet dozens -- or even hundreds -- of like-minded professionals. It also can be an option for those less inclined to reach out and socialize with new business contacts in a traditional setting. Web sites like LinkedIn.com and MeetUp.com, as well as industry conference discussion forums and trade association chat rooms, are making it easier for people to expand their professional networks. But, if you do not use these portals wisely, you can make mistakes that will shrink rather than supersize your base of contacts.
While the Internet can seem like a casual environment, the rules of etiquette still apply. In fact, you should be particularly vigilant while conversing in cyberspace as it's easy to let down your guard and express opinions or use language you normally wouldn't because you're not face to face with your audience. Worse, when you make a faux pas online, it may be posted for everyone to see and "etched in stone" if your comments are archived on the site.
Following are six rules for ensuring your online networking efforts impress rather than offend:
1. Choose your venues wisely.
The best forums for professional networking tend to be those well moderated and frequented by participants you can learn from; many industry associations host their own business forums that you can participate in even if you are not a paying member. Also, remember your networking activities do not have to be limited to business- or industry-specific sites. If you're a marketer, for example, someone you meet through a Web site dedicated to those with a passion for painting could become a valuable member of your network.
2. Learn the rules.
Before participating in any online discussion group, be sure to read the guidelines. Also spend some time reviewing the archives or FAQs to get additional insight into the group. Some forums, for example, may not allow participants to promote their services, while others may have chat rooms designated just for doing business.
3. Come up with a sig line.
A signature file or "sig line" is a short block of text that can be automatically attached to the end of electronic messages. It helps identify you and provides some insight into who you are. A sig line can contain your name, company or professional affiliation and contact information.
4. Proofread your posts.
You should avoid discussing personal issues or outrageous weekend escapades online. Read your message several times to make sure you're not revealing confidential information -- about yourself or your company -- or coming across as rude or overbearing. Typos or other grammatical errors can also make you appear unprofessional, so be sure your posts are clean and well composed.
5. Play nice.
Avoid sarcasm as much as possible. What you view as dry humor may come across as searing criticism in a posting. Also, always be respectful and tolerant of others' ideas and opinions. You may be offended by one member's comments or get discouraged when someone disagrees with you, but resist the temptation to write a harsh message in response. Negative or defensive remarks will only fuel the fire.
6. Don't steal the stage.
Be selective in your commentary; there's no need to weigh in on every topic. You'll earn more credibility if you provide insight on the subjects you know best. Also, consider sending messages to participants directly, rather than copying the entire group, if the topic you want to discuss pertains to only a select few.
7. Be a resource. Don't consult your professional network only when you need something; regularly e-mail business contacts to offer your assistance, share a news article or update them on your career progress or a recent business win.
When networking online, it's crucial to demonstrate courtesy and tact in order to foster healthy professional relationships. By following the suggestions outlined in this article, you can develop a strong online presence that leads to new job leads, clients or potential mentors who can help you advance your career.
Robert Half International Inc. is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 350 offices throughout North America, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. For more information about our professional services, please visit www.rhi.com.
Copyright 2007 Robert Half International.