Canned messages are lame

I received an invitation to Multiply this week from Christian Crumlish, author of The Power of Many (and, btw, the guy who I met via LinkedIn and Ryze who introduced us to our agent). Here’s what it read:

Personal message from Christian:

orkut is the suck. multiply is probably evil too, but i’m
testing the import feature….

also, canned messages are lame.

how the hell are you?

Yes, he sent this to almost all his Orkut contacts. Yes, it was about the 10th invitation to Multiply I received in a week. But it still made me laugh. It still prompted me to write him and answer that last question (and ask his OK to post this). And I’ve ignored the other 9 invitations.

He’s right… canned messages ARE lame. Right here, right now, I’d like to tell every single social networking site to eliminate the canned messages. I know you think you’re making life easier on your members, but what you’re really doing is killing interest in your sites. Every single time I receive an invitation with the default canned message, unless it’s a close personal friend just going through the mechanics, I file it in the “maybe someday” file (which I usually don’t get around to).

If you’re not willing to take the time to even personalize a message to a small group of people, like Christian did above, why would you expect me to just open up my calendar and contact list to you?

Use invitations as a relationship-building tool. The only way to do that is by personalizing them. Use the canned invitation, and for everyone who’s received an invitation from that site before, you’re actually weakening the relationship, not strengthening it.

We all recognize that we’re using these sites to handle larger numbers of relationships. I still don’t want to be made to feel like a number.

Making introductions online

Introducing two people virtually is significantly different than introducing them face to face. In person, they are a captive audience. If you are at an event, and introduce one person to another, simply their name is sufficient if you have just met them yourself. If they are a friend or colleague, one additional sentence telling what common interest or purpose make it compelling for one to meet another, is sufficient.

In general, the person to whom the introduction is made is mentioned first, followed by the name of the person being introduced. For example:

“Jim, I’d like to introduce you to Ed. Ed is a biotechnology professor, and Jim’s fund does a lot of work in that area.”

At that point, they are under a certain social obligation to talk to each other. You may stay and participate in the conversation, but you are likely to slip into more of an observer role.

Online, though, whether via email or in a social networking site, the situation is very different. Many people are so overloaded with email that they simply can not (or do not) reply to much of their email. Attention is a precious commodity. If you feel the introduction is worth the time and effort to make, it is certainly worth taking the time and effort to make effectively. While there is still some social obligation for them to strike up a conversation, it is quite easy and very common for them not to.

You will serve both people better by making an introduction that not only gives their names and some basic information, but also gives them both a convincing reason to follow up and some ideas on how to do so. The following outline will help you make this kind of introduction:

  • Who you are – If the person you are contacting may not recognize you immediately by name, you should start with a brief reminder as to who you are and how they know you. If it is someone with whom you have not spoken in a while, you may want to remind them of your last conversation. You can write: “As introduction, you can read my profile at ____________.” If that seems egotistical or inappropriate, you could simply say, “As you may recall, I work for Goldman Sachs.
  • Your reason for writing – Tell them that you are writing to make an introduction of interest to them.
  • Who you are introducing – The name of the person you are introducing.
  • Background on the person being introduced – Since this is a business introduction, it is appropriate to give a brief description of the person’s line of work. You do not have to go into great detail. It is best to give a link to their website or their profile page.
  • How the person being introduced can benefit the recipient – What is the benefit to the recipient? Why is this worth their time and effort to respond and follow up?
  • Encouragement to the parties to connect – While this may seem obvious, the encouragement clearly shifts the responsibility for follow-up to the other parties and helps create a stronger sense of social obligation.

If you are making an unrequested introduction, simply repeat this in the other direction.

Here is an example of this format in action:

Marco:

Hi! How are you?

You may remember that Michael Schecter is a common friend of ours. Since we last spoke, I’ve gotten out of the consulting business and have returned to my true calling, teaching. I saw the recent press release (Ed, see below) and was reminded of our earlier discussions – I think there’s still a good fit in your company, but not for me.

I’d like to introduce you to Ed Marx, a friend of mine here in New York. He and I have known each other through our professional association for many years and have collaborated on several projects. I think he’d be great at, and interested in, doing the kind of work you and I were discussing.

Ed, Marco works for a company called ACME Services. They sell software to the manufacturing industry. I was talking with him a few months ago about how our services were complementary. The timing wasn’t right, but in light of their recent venture capital funding, it seems to me to make even more sense now, and I thought of you.

I know there’s a match in ability and interest — I leave it to the two of you to figure out if it works with both of your priorities and timing.

Nadia Romanov

Making these introductions is one of the most important aspects of growing your social network online. By making win-win connections among the people in your network, you help them achieve their business goals. You also enhance your reputation in the process. It does not take much more time to do an effective introduction as opposed to a cursory one, and by doing so, you serve yourself and your connections well.

Conversational Cheap Shots, or How to Strategically Manage Your Conversations

I recently found re-posted this old article on Conversational Cheap Shots, or How to Strategically Manage Your Conversations.

An excerpt:

It is hoped that exposing these tactics will help muzzle the growing abuse in our conversational landscape. …

First, we have the Ad Hominem Variants where you attack the person as a way to avoid truth, science, or logic which might otherwise prove you wrong. Next are the Sleight of Mind Fallacies, which act as “mental magic” to make sure the unwanted subject disappears. Then, we move on to Delay Tactics, which are subtle means to buy time when put on the spot. Then, the ever popular Question as Opportunity ploys, where any question can be deftly averted. Finally, we have the General Cheap-Shot Tactics and Irritants, which are basically “below the belt” punches.
.
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Additional suggestions welcome…

Stowe Boyd on "The Ethics and Etiquette of Social Networks"

Never mind that I’m a month late blogging this, it’s still something I consider a must-read for anyone exploring the wide wonderful world of online social networks for business purposes: The Ethics and Etiquette of Social Networks.

In particular, I think his comments are spot on about invitations to join…

I have received a lot of responses from people who are politely trying to say “I’m too busy to fiddle around with the [fill in the blank] social networking service you have invited me to join, but thanks for thinking of me” or the equivalent.

To everyone that has ever received or will ever receive an invitation from me to join a social networking service, let me say unequivocally: You have every right to say no, I will understand that you are busy and I won’t be upset if you say “no.” I believe that everyone should operate under this same modus operandi, and that so long as we all do so, the perceived risk and social cost of asking someone to join is lessened for everyone.

and requests for introductions…

Likewise, I operate under a simple principle regarding requests for introduction: If I know neither the requestor nor the target, I pass on the introduction. In a recent instance, this led to a semi-aggrieved e-mail from a pal of mine who had brokered the attempted request. He stated that turning down a request of the sort I did for the reasons I stated undermined the raison d’etre for social networking applications. I argued (and I still hold) that social networkers who hope to beat the nature of social capital will find that such introductions are not worth much: a form of spam, in effect. Many wiser than me have argued that introductions bereft of actual social capital — where the one making the introduction is placing his or her reputation on the line — are no more helpful than randomly meeting someone.

Stowe gets this topic as well as anyone I know. He consistently presents a balanced, yet optimistic view of this space. He’s also one of the few who, as I am, seems more concerned with how businesspeople are going to actually use these tools than whether or not there’s a business model there. If you’re not already reading his blog, Get Real, add it to your list.

Dealing with emotionally volatile topics online

Recently on one of the Ryze networks, after a fairly heated debate, one of the participants in the debate posted a “cool-down” message. In it, he wrote:

I want to tell you how difficult it is to use the written word to convey our feelings. It is too easy for misconceptions to happen when we cannot hear voice tones that may or may not indicate invective.

Yes, it can be difficult to use the written word to convey feelings. Isn’t it also extremely difficult to even identify your true feelings in the heat of a face-to-face conversation? And even more difficult to articulate them clearly and accurately?

It has been my experience, and there is a great deal of supporting research, that with a little training, online communication can actually be a far more effective medium for discussing emotionally volatile issues. But you have to know (and practice) some ground rules.

You are never backed into a corner online. Face-to-face, you can end up stumped for an answer, feeling like you have to fill an awkward pause. This frequently causes people to lie or simply to say things that aren’t indicative of their true feelings. How many times in the real world have you wished you could take back what you said? There’s no Backspace key in the real world.

You don’t have to answer immediately! I turn off my automatic send/receive in my e-mail, and whenever I’m writing a potentially volatile, sensitive, or just lengthy post on Ryze or elsewhere, I compose it off-line, save it, and reflect on it before sending. After you write something that’s emotionally charged, let it sit for at least 10-15 minutes. Cool yourself down, get centered, and read what you’ve written in a calmer state of mind. 9 times out of 10, you’ll completely re-write it (and that’s a good thing).

Assume good intent. I know that’s easier said than done, but it’s easier done online than in person. If something you read upsets you, don’t start writing!. Remind yourself, “assume good intent”. Re-read it, thinking what the best possible thing was they could have been thinking/intending when they wrote what they wrote. You can’t do that in person. (“Excuse me, could you please repeat that? What you said really ticked me off, and I’d like to hear it again and see if I can make it not tick me off so much.”)

Give context. Context creates meaning. All too often, we just write short little bursts without framing them. Make no assumptions about what the other person knows about where you’re coming from. If it’s important conversation, it doesn’t have to be super-short. It’s a dialog, not an executive report! 😉 If you give people context (“When I was growing up, my mother taught me…”, “My last boss always used to…”, etc.) This will help people not only understand what you’re thinking, but why. And we are all more understanding/empathetic/compassionate when we know why the other person is thinking what they’re thinking.

Of course, there are dozens more techniques for dealing with emotionally charged topics that are not unique to online communications. I won’t go into them here, but I will leave you with one additional thought (adapted from the prayer of St. Francis):

“Seek not so much to be understood as to understand.”

What makes a good first post in a discussion forum or other online group?

On one of the Ryze networks I’m on, Eric Sohn’s “Bigger. Better. Faster. Fewer Ulcers.” Network, the moderator put forth the question for discussion, “What makes a good first post?”

What makes a good first post varies from one network to the other, because some networks want/allow an introduction message, whereas others don’t.

If they don’t allow it, then it’s easy — a good first post is to simply join the conversation, either with a relevant question (that hasn’t been discussed recently — search the archives before asking), or with a relevant response to someone else’s post.

Let’s look at an introduction, though, as that’s more common — what makes a good introduction online?

I actually teach this in my online networking workshops and teleclasses. Here’s a summary of what I see as the key elements a good introduction should have:
– Positive emotion
– Why you’re here (your expectations)
– Short, relevant history
– What do you do now that relates?
– Break down barriers by sharing something personal
– Make an invitation to connect with you
– Affirm your commitment to participate

I can perhaps best illustrate it with an example that I think perfectly models all of the above elements:

www.ryze.com/postdisplay.php?messageid=10760&confid=94

90% of the self-intros I see on the various social networking sites only satisfy one or two of these. You can easily stand out from the crowd, make yourself memorable, and invite relevant connections by giving yourself a great introduction following this simple format.

danah boyd on boundaries, hang-ups and professional decorum

(NOTE: This is a discussion about appropriate boundaries in a professional context, and while not discussed at length, some of the things that are mentioned as inappropriate, some readers may find even the mention offensive. There is nothing explicit or anything like that—I’m just being sensitive to the very boundaries being discussed and letting you know up front.)

danah boyd (yes, for those of you who don’t know here, she chooses not to capitalize her name, so I respect that) is one of the most thoughtful and prolific researchers and writers on faceted identity in the digital world, or the idea that we have different identities in different contexts—professional, social, and romantic—and that we need to be able to maintain boundaries between those contexts.

Recently, danah stated her offense at an invitation to a party organized at the Etech conference in San Diego. Her issue was not so much with the photograph itself, but with its inappropriateness in a professional context:

I believe in social mores and social decorum. It is outright inappropriate to advertise a professional party in the way that one would advertise a play party. Different social contexts require different social norms. Images set expectations, intentions. Certainly, people have the right to offend, just as i have the right to be offended and state that offense. The point of my frustration is that offensive adverts are not the way to build community or encourage proper decorum that is inclusive.
[…]
The roles that i play in my personal life are different than those that i play in my professional life. At a professional activity, i want to go to a professional event, not one that is advertising itself as a sex party, offering up images of the expected roles of men and women. As professionals, we’re working towards gender equality; sexualizing a professional event does not continue that commitment.

I couldn’t agree more. I suppose that’s one of the thing that I find awkward about Orkut and Tribe—the lack of good boundaries between social, professional, and romantic.

It’s not that I’m a prude or anything. I just don’t even like being asked if I think a business colleague is “sexy” (Orkut), or seeing that people I’m interested in doing business with are in the “Open Marriage”, “Booty Call”, or “Bad Boys Are HOT” Tribe (Tribe.net—and those aren’t even in the “Mature” category).

Bottom line: unless you deliberately want to alienate a substantial portion of your audience, maintain a professional decorum, both online and off.

Make the Right First Impression

Developing and maintaining a good reputation is essential for any networking, but especially for online networking. It takes time to develop a solid reputation, but only an instant to lose it, so you must take care in how you participate in networking communities. Be deliberate and methodical, not haphazard. Developing a systematic approach to how you initiate your participation in mailing lists and discussion forums is one of the surest ways to consistently create a good first impression. Here are a few simple tips on how to get started:

Learn the Lay of the Land – Don’t jump right in and start posting until you get a feel for what kind of people the other members are, what their conversational style is, etc. More than anything, you’re trying to find out if this is a place you want to network before you make your presence known, because you actually damage your reputation if you introduce yourself and then disappear. Better to never say anything and quietly slip away if it’s not a place you’re going to stay.

The Power of “Hello” – Always start with a personal introduction before you join in the conversation. This gives context to what you say, a critical aspect to good communication. A good introduction should be upbeat, personal, tell a short story, tell briefly about your business without being a sales pitch, invite people to connect with you, and affirm your commitment to participate in the group.

Dive In, But Don’t Splash – Once you introduce yourself, join immediately into the conversation. You should have already gotten your “lurking” over with before you introduced yourself, so there’s no reason to delay. However, don’t be a boor and hog the conversation. Generally, a good guideline is to be in about 2-3 conversations at a time. Also, rather than replying to every single person involved in the conversation with short responses, better to post just once every day or two with a more thoughtful, reflective response that addresses multiple people’s posts. This is the online equivalent of being a good listener, rather than listening just being a matter of waiting for your turn to talk. You’ll establish far more credibility this way as being thoughtful and knowledgeable  in other words, an expert.