One of the topics I’ve discussed several times on this blog already is networking. Whether it’s contacting other bloggers in your niche, striking up conversations with your visitors, or attending conferences that cover your industry, networking is incredibly important. Not only will you likely gain a reader every time you make a new personal contact, but bloggers are much more likely to link out to their friends and acquaintances. However, lately I’ve been seeing a lot of people making a critical mistake when trying to network. Whether it’s just my perception, just my industry, or a wide-spread problem, I’m not sure but I figured I’d address it anyway.
Online relationships, like any other, need to be nurtured. Once you meet a new person or make a new acquaintance, whether online or off, you ought to spend time developing the friendship. Most people, when meeting someone for the first time would not ask them to be a reference on their job application. Most people wouldn’t ask someone they’d just been introduced to share their company secrets. It just doesn’t work like that. So, why would online relationships be any different?
I’m sure popular and successful bloggers get more of this than anyone else but I don’t think anyone is immune. So far with this blog I’ve been incredibly lucky to “meet” new people such as the Wild Bill, Jason, Patricia, Eve, and several others. However, this is not the only blog I write and it’s only one of hundreds I read, and lately it seems that people think knowing someone’s name is all that’s required before asking them for a link, a tip, their secrets for success, or some help on one of the social networks (digg, reddit, netscape etc).
Whatever happened to common courtesy? In the online world a link is usually a vote of confidence. For the most part, when you link to a site you’re telling your readers “Hey, check out this site, I think it will be worth your time.” Granted there are occasions where you link to a site while ripping it to shreds, but for the most part, when you link to a site you’re vouching for the content on the other side. Beyond that, I’m not in the business of linking out to a site just because I know the person anyway. To gain a link from me your content needs to be worthy of my readers time. Over the weekend I received an email to this effect “Hi, My name is —— and I’ve really enjoyed your article ——-, and your blog as a whole. I also have a blog and would love for you to link to it with the anchor text ——, Thanks!” Man, is that compelling or what?
But links aren’t the only part to this. I’ve had people email me asking for SEO advice or any secrets I have that might help their site. Are you kidding me? Keep in mind that I run an SEO blog that offers up free advice as well as an SEO forum that openly invites people to submit their sites for critique. So, not only are they asking me to spend my time on their site offering up advice that I and many others charge for, but they aren’t even smart enough to ask in the places that I offer it for free! It’s like begging a grocery store for a bottle of water when they have water fountains right out front. Needless to say, my response wasn’t quite what they were looking for.
Of course, with the explosion of social networking sites, the problem has only gotten worse. For whatever reason people think it’s ok to ask for votes on these sites from complete strangers. I’ve developed online relationships with several people that I met through Digg and Netscape, but there are two crucial elements to these virtual friendships. One, it benefits both people involved. If I have a question or want to pass along an interesting article, I’m free to do so. If they need help with something, I’m ready and willing to help out. Also, we don’t only interact when we need something from the other party. I’m sure everyone’s had that “friend” or relative that when they show up, you know they need money. The instant they darken your doorstep, your wallet or pocketbook screams for help. The same thing goes for your relationships online. Don’t only contact people when you’re asking for something. Spend some time getting to know them, actually show that you care about the person rather than viewing them as some sort of link or social vote generating program. More importantly, make it sincere. If you don’t all your networking efforts will have been a waste, if not had the exact opposite effect as intended.