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5 Ways to Avoid Being a Networking Nitwit

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The popularity of sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have dramatically increased the amount of time we spend networking. Unfortunately, this boost in networking activity doesn't always translate into a corresponding improvement in the quality of our networking interactions.  If anything, it seems that the more time we spend networking, the more complacent we've become about using good manners and old-fashioned common sense in our outreach efforts.

Fortunately, it takes very little effort to transform yourself from a networking nitwit into a networking star. Here are five simple things you can do to make yourself a top-notch networker the next time you reach out to your connections, colleagues and "friends:"

1) Say Thank You: This sounds obvious, but I am continually amazed by the number of people who overlook the value of expressing gratitude. Please, if someone takes the time to help you, even if it is only a brief ten minute conversation, always remember to thank them. An e-mail is sufficient, but it's even nicer to go the extra mile and write a handwritten note.  In our electronic world, a letter is a rarity and will leave a lasting impression.  If your contact goes "above and beyond" in a big way, it is always lovely to acknowledge their generosity with a small gift (a book, flowers, or special food item) along with your note of thanks.

2) Pick up the Tab:  If you initiate a request for a networking meeting over coffee or a meal, you should offer to pick up the bill.  If the other person declines your offer and reaches to pick up the bill instead, suggest splitting the bill.  If they insist on paying, be gracious and allow them to do so, but always, always, always follow-up with a thank you note (detecting a theme here?).

3) Follow Through on Introductions: I love to connect people and watch good things come out of those introductions. Over the years my "fix-ups" have resulted in job offers, new business opportunities and even a book deal! But it drives me crazy when I take the time to make an introduction and then the person fails to do their part and follow-through on their end.  It's rude to all parties involved.  If for some reason you can't (or don't want to) follow-up after an introduction has been initiated, let the person who made the introduction know that your plans have changed.  Easy to do, no excuses here.

4) Recognize all "Friends" are Not Created Equal: At a time when people have 1,000+ Facebook friends, the meaning of the word friend has been diluted, sometimes to the point of, ""You sent me an e-mail once, want to be my friend?"  Please understand that simply being a member of someone's LinkedIn or Facebook group, does not automatically entitle you to access their network.  People work hard to cultivate their valued contacts and they have the right (and obligation) to be selective about when and how they choose to leverage their contacts.   Disrespect those boundaries at your own peril.

5) Give Before You Get: Give often, give generously and give without expecting anything in return. Networking is based on the value of giving before you receive.  If you practice this basic tenet of networking, your efforts will be duly rewarded.

What say you?  Do you have any networking tips or pet peeves that you'd like to share?  Please comment below. And in advance, thanks for your input!

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