Online Networking 101: Five Etiquette Tips for Successful Engagement

Online Networking 101: Five Etiquette Tips for Successful Engagement

Alright, people. Our normal networking opportunities have completely gone out the window (thanks once again, COVID-19). Now that we are mostly limited to an online platform for making new connections and trying to stay up-to-date on what is going on around us, I think we could use a quick refresher course as to the do’s and don’ts of networking online. Let’s do this.

  1. Conversation… do that

Networking online does not mean that all the small talk has to be cut out. Watercooler chat still has value. It’s good to engage and show interest in our coworkers, even if they are now hidden behind a screen. I’ve recently heard of companies holding online happy hours to celebrate those remote collegiate relationships. What a great idea! Also, not everything has to be all business all the time. And not everything has to be COVID-19-related, either. We all still have lives; even with the new restrictions on the way we’re currently living. Don’t let quarantine break your communication skills and make you a bore. You still have more to share and, just as important, you can tune in to what others are sharing as well. Connection is still key.

  1. Just because it’s online doesn’t excuse rudeness

I have had people ask me, right after we make a connection, what the point of our connecting is – as if I’m supposed to immediately do something for them. I’ve also had brand new connections ask me to help them find a job or connect them with potential clients in my network. Can we take a moment to recognize that’s a weird conversation starter? First, I get that people pursue networking differently. For me, connections do not need a specific purpose. Sometimes we never engage again. Sometimes that person could be an unknowing source of useful information through one of their posts. Sometimes we have regular communication. However, other people prefer limited, but very connected, networks. Whichever style you prefer, it might be better to let a perusal of their profile or a little conversation decide if you are a good match rather than a “What’s in it for me?” attitude. Stephanie Tanner definitely wouldn’t approve of this kind of self-focused approach.

  1. It’s not all about you

And on that note, it is good to lose the “What’s in it for me?” attitude. Social media is not the world’s opportunity to cater to us. It is a chance to see what others are doing and wait for it… engage! I bet you didn’t see that coming.  Yeah, apparently it is my new favorite word. People are doing awesome things all the time. Promote that. Too often we seek out the people we disagree with and invest our energy in that. Acknowledging differences has its place (as long as we always try to take the high road), but come on people, your social media doesn’t have to be a one-person show. You can use some of your mad online prowess to shine the limelight on others and give them a new platform, rather than just focusing on what you want and are doing.

  1. It’s about the give and take

Symbiotic relationships are a beautiful thing. It is good to consider what you can contribute to a relationship or an exchange. Even if your ask is as “simple” as a social media post, it is good to consider what you can do in return. The last thing you want is a reputation as an asker. Just remember, in give and take, you should know what you can  give before asking what you can take away from an interaction.

  1. No one wants spam

The kind of spam you get in your inbox is even less palatable than the edible variety. However, when we copy and paste our company’s information to reach potential contacts, it’s 100% spam. No one receives that and thinks, “Wow. I am really happy I got this message. Can you please tell me more about your business’ products and services?” Not one person. Instead, consider why they would want to connect with you. What you have to offer them personally? Take the time to review their profile and make the information personally relevant for that contact. Or, if it isn’t worth that effort, then the communication isn’t worth writing. Imagine if you did this at a conference. You went from person to person just handing out your business cards without engaging. At best, if people did remember you it would be as the-weirdo-with-the-mountain-of-business-cards. Don’t be the weirdo with the mountain of business cards.

Yes, COVID-19 has made things different and complicated, but we can’t let it ruin our ability to communicate and connect. We need to work on those skills now more than ever. Maybe one of our #quarantinegoals could be learning how to genuinely interact online, since, let’s be honest, we’re all getting a lot of practice on that right now, anyway. Maybe we could start investing more in one another now that we have been reminded how precious human engagement and the desire for connection really is. Class dismissed.


Jacquelyn Adams, an IEEE Senior member, is a nationally-recognized leader in employee learning and development. Jacquelyn is the CEO and Founder of Ristole, a consulting business that transforms corporations through engaging employee training. Find more of her Lessons on Leadership columns here or connect with her on LinkedIn here.

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