One of the most fundamental rules of social networking etiquette: You must carefully consider who you "friend" or "connect" with on services like Facebook and LinkedIn. According to career experts, the people with whom you associate, in many ways, reflect upon you.
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Deciding who to connect with, however, can be a tricky endeavor, since social networks have grown to include people from your personal and professional lives. Some people choose to connect with colleagues on Facebook, while others decide that they want to keep that network for just friends and family.
When it comes to social networking etiquette, the building block is having a consistent policy and then communicating it clearly to current and prospective contacts who connect with you on social networks, says Kirsten Dixson, a reputation management and online identity expert, who co-authored the book Career Distinction, Stand Out By Building Your Brand.
Here are some tips Dixson told CIO.com for crafting an online contact strategy that works for you, and how to handle the sticky questions that can arise around introductions.
1. Decide on a Friend Strategy for Both LinkedIn and Facebook
Before you establish criteria for "friending" people, you should look closely at the social network and the content of yours that flows through it. For this article, we focused primarily on LinkedIn and Facebook. Twitter, the emerging social network, allows people to follow you whether you like it or not (by its default settings).
On LinkedIn, users don't trade the same types of personal information as they do on Facebook. But you should realize that the LinkedIn contacts you make do matter, Dixson says.
"Everything has to do with the company you keep," she says. "So you really do want to think about who you accept or let in to your network, whether it's on Facebook or LinkedIn."
On Facebook, some users brush aside the need to be discerning about friends. Because of the social network's robust privacy settings, they argue, you can friend anyone and give the person limited access to your content. So you could allow friends to view your party pictures, while blocking them from your boss's view.
Dixson warns against relying solely on such a strategy. For one, career experts will tell you that privacy settings are hardly foolproof. The cardinal rule: Somehow, someway, all information may be accessed. Secondly, because Facebook is a more closed-off network, the friend list that you garner there seems even more significant to people because it tends to be more exclusive.
Also, how much energy do you really want to commit to setting all those Facebook privacy controls?