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Etiquette quiz: We just met at a business lunch. Is it cool for me to friend you on Facebook that afternoon? What about LinkedIn? Twitter? Flickr?
The answer, of course, is that there is no universal answer. It’s up to each of us to set our rules of engagement on each social network, then politely but firmly enforce them.
No, you don’t need a written policy or pre-emptive disclaimer, although that might be helpful if you find that your reclusiveness on a certain site turns some colleagues sour.
To be honest, I had all but given up any hope of having a personal space online. By late 2009, it just seemed hypocritical to promote social networking by day, then deny friend requests from the people I met along the way.
But it’s easier than you’d think to shake off this feeling of overexposure. All it takes is a personal policy, one that will save you from having to decide each friend request on a case-by-case basis.
On her fantastic blog at SpinSucks.com, Arment Dietrich CEO Gini Dietrich does a great job capturing the internal struggle of drawing lines between personal and professional networking
“If you know me well, you know I want to be liked by everyone. And you also know I have trouble saying no. So when I perceive I’ve hurt someone’s feelings or left a bad taste in their mouth, I wonder how I could have handled the situation differently. At the same time, I am (in my wise old age) finally learning I need to have some boundaries.”
Gini then goes on to describe her personal boundaries, which are pretty well in line with mine:
• Facebook profile is for people you know in real life
• Facebook Fan Page is for anyone interested in talking about professional issues.
• LinkedIn is for known business associates
• Twitter is pretty much wide open, assuming you’re not spammy or weird.
Again, there’s nothing universal about these rules. You might see Facebook as a professional forum, one where you’ll only ever post work-friendly updates. Personally, I like having Facebook as a place to talk openly with friends, family and colleagues, though I’ve admittedly stretched the definition of each depending on the individual.
So take a few moments to jot down — or at least think about — each of your social networks and your personal rules for admission.
I assure you, this is not a limiting process. It’s a liberating one.
You’ll feel more comfortable and empowered in each space, and you’ll be able to focus your professional efforts accordingly.
If LinkedIn is your business-life hub, start using it as such. Get serious about posting your professional content there and engaging your network. If Facebook is a private space, boot out those random party-crashers and give your privacy settings a good review to ensure you’re not mistakenly sharing yourself with the world.
Sure, you might still upset a few people if they feel slighted that you ignored their friend request, but more often than not, they’ll forget they ever sent the invite.
If someone really wants an explanation for having to stay outside the velvet rope, you’ll have a clear answer that they’re bound to respect. If they don’t, they probably wouldn’t make a good friend anyway.
Estimated time needed: 15 minutes to think about, a lifetime to enforce.
Benefits: A more comfortable and productive social networking experience.
Photo credit: The Enabler on Flickr.