Social Network Etiquette: Introducing Yourself

2. Communicate a Clear Policy to Potential Contacts

On LinkedIn, some people will connect with anyone and everyone, while others only connect with personal contacts. On Facebook, some people decide to friend their personal friends, but not their colleagues or customers. Conversely, others decide that they don't put anything scandalous enough on Facebook to warrant keeping anyone out of their network.

The key is to communicate your policy clearly and concisely when people try to friend you on Facebook or "connect" with you on LinkedIn. Dixson recalls requesting a colleague become friends with her on Facebook, and being politely turned down. The friend responded that while she valued her working relationship with Dixson, and considered her a friend, she didn't friend anyone from work on Facebook.

"And it totally wasn't a problem for me at all," Dixson says. "She was clear, up front, and I totally respect that. Others will too as long as you are clear."

3. Don't Ignore Friends, or Friends of Friends

While it's acceptable to reject a person based on your social networking friend criteria, you should always respond to the person if he or she took the time to write you a personal note in the friend or connection invitation.

"Etiquette is about making people feel comfortable, not ignoring them," Dixson says. "Especially if it's a colleague or a friend of a friend, if you just ignore them, that's problematic."

On the other hand, you will also find "friend spammers" who want to connect with anyone and everyone. If someone like this sends you a canned invitation, or provides no indication of how he or she might know you, Dixson says you can feel free to ignore it.

4. If the Answer Is No, Offer Alternatives

For the people you do reject, it's nice to offer alternatives. So, for instance, if you say, "I do not connect with work contacts on Facebook, but please connect with me on LinkedIn or follow me on Twitter," that might be a nice option, Dixson says.

5. Be Specific When Sending Invitations

We've discussed friend etiquette with the presumption that you are the one in the position to choose, but what if you're courting a new friend or connection whom you think might be on the fence about accepting? In this case, Dixson says, you should explain how you know the person. It will make a world of difference in having that person accept your request.

Sometimes, a well-intentioned friend or connection request may be turned down because the person receiving it honestly can't place the person based upon memory.

"I might have met someone who saw me speak at an event or read my book, but if they don't say so in the request, I definitely ignore it," Dixson says. So include a personal note when in doubt, and be specific.

6. Give a Heads-Up When Brokering Connections Between Friends

In the business world, many people like to play professional matchmaker on social networks. Both Facebook and LinkedIn offer the capability to "suggest a friend" or "introduce" one through a mutual connection, respectively.

If you are introducing two people who don't know each other, you must realize that you have put one of your friends in an tough position - you have made it very difficult for him or her to say no without feeling like a jerk. As a result, unless you're 100 percent sure that the connection will be a no-brainer for the two people, you should alert your friend ahead of time, via phone, e-mail, IM or a private message on LinkedIn or Facebook, Dixson advises.

"That will happen a lot on LinkedIn," Dixson says. "Again, the key to good etiquette in this case: Don't make people feel awkward."

C.G. Lynch covers Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social and consumer Web technologies for CIO. You can follow him on Twitter: @cglynch.

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