What is Your Professional Social Stalking Protocol?

By: Guest | January 10, 2013 | 

Today’s guest post is by Brad Marley

Remember when we used to exchange business cards with somebody at a conference, hop on the plane to fly home, file the business card in the Rolodex, then forget about that person?

Yeah. Neither do I.

Thanks to this crazy digital world we live in, a name on a business card has become a call-to-action that spurs us to learn more about that person, and it’s usually done through their public social media persona.

I attended a conference last year where I met quite a few people who I wanted to stay in touch with. So when I got back to my desk, I looked them up on Twitter to see if they had public profiles. If they did, I followed them.

But as I was typing their names into Google, a thought occurred to me: Is what I’m doing only one or two levels removed from stalking? No different than when people stalk their exes on Facebook? (By the way, you should stop stalking them.)

Okay, maybe that’s a bit extreme. But you get my point, right?

I wondered: Am I participating in what is now considered normal ‘professional stalking’ activity?

The best way to figure that out was to break down my own social stalking protocol, guidelines I use for when people are trying to connect with me.

LinkedIn: It’s perfectly acceptable to request to connect on LinkedIn. If you met at a business conference, it only makes sense to stay connected through the world’s most popular business networking site.

Twitter: I don’t see a problem with following somebody on Twitter. Unless their account is private (which defeats the purpose, in my opinion) you are just following to hear their public thoughts.

Instagram: This one gave me pause. If they link to their Instagram photos through Twitter, I think it is okay to follow them. But if you have to put in some work to find them, it’s going to look strange when they’re notified you found them and are now following them.

Foursquare: Same idea here. If you show your check-ins on Twitter, it’s fair game to follow you. Otherwise, you’re just putting in unnecessary work.

Facebook: If Twitter is a party where everyone is invited, Facebook is a private affair at my home where I invite only those I know well. Or, at the very least, have met in person. You wouldn’t invite a stranger you met at the bar to your house on the same night, would you? (Actually, don’t answer that.) I post pictures of my kids regularly. I want to know who is looking at those terribly cute pictures.

That, in a nutshell, is how I roll when it comes to connecting in the digital world. In my opinion, if I stick to this protocol when connecting with people at a business level online, I don’t think anyone is going to report me to the social media stalking police.

So I ask you, the Spin Sucks community: What is your social stalking protocol?

Brad Marley works for Mullen Detroit and spends all of his billable time telling the GM sustainability story. You can find him on Twitter and at his blog. He tries not to take himself too seriously.

  • Great post! I am a fairly advanced cyber creeper, and often wonder about this as well. In respect to IG, I agree with you- if they link to twitter or have the same username, I will follow. Same with Grooveshark, etc. The Face is a little different and more personal, but I am now friends with many of the Spin Sucks tribe there even though we haven’t met in person. I figure people can always ignore my friend requests if they prefer- that’s personal choice. There is no “hard and fast” rule that will apply to everyone. I was surprised recently, though, when meeting with my competitive colleague.  He seemed terribly surprised that I knew his information that is publicly posted on LI (where we are connected)- I think this is pretty basic meeting prep these days!

    • @RebeccaTodd I agree that Facebook is changing in terms of how people connect. And I might be in the minority. But I still view it as the most personal of the bunch, so I try to keep it to people who I’ve met. But that could change one day.
      Thanks for commenting.

  • You mirror much of my own approach when it comes to cyber-stalking new business connections. I’m a live-out-loud-and-naked (figuratively on that last word!) person when it comes to my own social profiles, to the extent that much of my array is embedded in my email sig. But I live my life on the web, so I know both what I’m doing and the possible attendant risks. So I don’t *post* anything I wouldn’t be OK with seeing on Page 1, above the fold, of the NY Times …

    • @MightyCaseyMedia I think your “above the fold” approach is how everyone should live – on- and off-line. It’s amazing what people put other there, as if the Web is still this wild, wild west that we’re still exploring.
      Your strategy of putting it all out there is the right way to go because you can control your message.
      Thanks for commenting!

      • @bradmarley Thanks! My approach was forged in the days long before the Wild Wild Web even existed, when I was still slaving away in Hunter Thompson’s “cheap plastic hallway” – anything you DON’T want someone to know? DON’T DO/TALK ABOUT IT. And if you do, make sure there are NO surviving witnesses. =)

        • belllindsay

          @MightyCaseyMedia  @bradmarley Ooooh, I slaved away in Hunter’s cheap plastic hallway too! 😉

        • @belllindsay  I think I might get extra credit for starting out in that hallway in what would have been the latter years of Don Draper’s career, with additional credit for serving a sentence as a secretary in a network sales dept. before going completely ho-ville behind the camera in net news. But I could be wrong =)

  • I agree with you @RebeccaTodd on Facebook. I am friends with some of the Spin Sucks community on FB that I haven’t met in person either, but have talked to them a bunch online. If I don’t want someone to see a post or picture, then I just don’t post it. For Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram, I’m on the same page as you 🙂

    • @yvettepistorio Agreed! I try not to post anything anywhere that I wouldn’t be fine with everyone everywhere seeing!

  • BuildingContent

    I think you’re right in the strike zone there, Brad.
    The nature of social media is a little more open than traditional business used to be (and perhaps too revealing for our own good at times) but short of any unspoken ill intent I think your practices are fine.
    Thanks for starting the conversation.

    • @BuildingContent I am so glad to hear it. There were (and I guess still are) times where I wondered if my practices were creepy.
      Thanks for leaving a comment!

  • magriebler

    Clearly you’ve been stalking my stalking protocols! I think you did a great job of highlighting best practices for online networking. LinkedIn and Twitter are my go-to platforms for business relationships and I am holding a pretty hard line on that. After getting burned on Facebook, I’ve tried to keep that purely personal, although there are Spin Sucks colleagues (among others) who make it through the filter. But that decision only comes after a courtship in my more professional arenas.

    • @magriebler I withdrew completely from Face for a while, but that seems so…impractical these days. I know only consider texting to be “personal”…or in theory, phone calls, but who does that any more?!?

      • magriebler

        @RebeccaTodd It is impractical. FB seems almost like an obligation lately, although I do go through phases of pretending like it doesn’t exist. (You and I have to meet IRL some day, missy.)

        • @magriebler Yes I get the obligation of Face, too. And yes we sure do!!!

        • @RebeccaTodd  @magriebler I secretly hate Facebook.

        • magriebler

          @bradmarley  @RebeccaTodd Your secret is safe with us.

        • @magriebler  @bradmarley I not-so-secretly call it “glorified email”, but I have come to like email much more…

    • @magriebler It’s almost as if Twitter and LinkedIn are like meeting the parents in the social world. If you score well on those sites, we might allow you on Facebook. 🙂
      Thanks for the comment!

      • magriebler

        @bradmarley LOVE it. A great analogy.

        • belllindsay

          @magriebler  @bradmarley Ha! “Meeting the parents” – hilarious!

  • @bradmarley I love this post. I hadn’t consciously thought of it as stalking and yet, it sort of, really is. And we all are doing it all the time. How interesting to read someone else’s definition of best practices for online networking (and really life these days). *wanders off to ponder further*

    • @allenmireles Stalking has become the norm, but it’s no longer creepy because everyone is doing it. Once it is put in a business sense, I guess it becomes okay.
      Thanks for commenting.

  • belllindsay

    I had always kept Facebook super personal – close friends and family only – until fairly recently. And I have to say I’m really enjoying the friendships I’m forging by allowing more people in. That said, I will often wait to receive a friend request from them – so that I don’t look stalk’ery – because I just assume that most people hold their FB accounts a little closer to their chests. 🙂 Great post @bradmarley !

    • @belllindsay I noticed you said a few weeks ago that you prefer Facebook over Twitter. At first it took me aback, but perhaps it’s a sign of things to come? As we put more information about ourselves on the Web, our social media homes become less private. Dunno.
      Anyway, thanks for leaving a comment.

      • @bradmarley  @belllindsay I was more twitter until recently. A combo of changes to tweetdeck and “allowing” more people in to FB-or maybe subjecting them to me-has changed my balance, too.

    • @belllindsay  @bradmarley Until you ‘met me’ and knew you HAD to be my FB pal.

      • belllindsay

        @AmyMccTobin  @bradmarley Exactly. 😀

  • Post of the year right here! @bradmarley I think you are definitely on the PG side of professional stalking. My protocol is to check-in to Conferences/Tweetups on Foursquare, then I look to see who else has checked in and if they live in my area I follow them (I always live in a city where I know no one so it helps to find cool spots). I then look at their Foursquare profile to see what social networks are connected and immediately follow on Twitter if their bio interests me and seems like I could learn from them or they’d be a great connection.
    Next I bombard the hashtag for the event. I look at the tweets in the hashtag and follow the people who are actually tweeting substantial info that might be good for me to connect to. No bio, No follow.
    If I start to engage and build a relationship with any of these people I move over to LinkedIn to find them and connect there. I agree that you should connect with people you’ve met on LinkedIn but since so few people update LinkedIn or fill out their profiles I don’t really bother unless they are big wigs like Gini Dietrich .
    I never look for people I’ve met on Facebook unless we become close friends and usually by that point they’ve already friend requested me.

    • @jennimacdonald  First of all, thank you for naming this post the post of the year, even though we’re only 10 days into the year. I’m honored. 🙂
      It’s interesting that LinkedIn is one of the last places you look for people. That seems, at least to me, to be the safest place to connect because it is pretty impersonal, but to each their own, I guess.
      Thanks for commenting.

      • @bradmarley  It’s not the last  place, only when I’m at conferences looking to connect with people. Then it is my last step. 
        When I’m at home and find someone who wrote a great blog post, or was a guest of a webinar, I reach out to them on first on LinkedIn.
        I tend to connect with people where I discover them. : )

    • belllindsay

      @jennimacdonald  @bradmarley  Gini Dietrich PG stalking – LOVE IT!! 🙂

  • My stalking increases with how interesting I find a person. Take Gini for instance. I follow her everywhere.. under aliases, of course. I don’t want her to think I’m a TOTAL stalker.. Seriously though.. if I find what you’re saying is good, I will find most of the sites where you are and follow. I do draw the line on more personal sites such as FB, IG, etc. Unless we’ve crossed that threshold and I consider us at least “personable”.

    • @KristenDaukas That’s a great way to think about it. I mean, why wouldn’t we want to follow interesting people? And I think there comes a point where both parties agree that the online relationship has reached Facebook stage.
      Thanks for reading!

  • JenKaneCo

    For Foursquare I take geography into consideration. There is really little reason someone in Seattle needs to know that I’m at Target here in Minneapolis. So, even if I’ve met that person, I likely won’t accept out of towner friend requests.
    My other stalking protocol concerns how many requests I get in a day from one person. If I met someone and then the next day, I get a LinkedIn invite or followed by them on my Twitter account as well as my company’s account. That’s cool. But if the next day I get followed by them on Twitter, Instagram, FourSquare and Pinterest as well as a LinkedIn invite and Facebook friend request, then it starts to creep me out.

    • @JenKaneCo I like how you incorporate geography into your Foursquare strategy. Smart.
      And being creeped out is perfectly reasonable. That’s why you have to pace yourself, even if you really want to follow them on Myspace. 🙂

  • I love this post!!!!   To me, it’s not stalking, it’s relationship building.  In the ‘old days,’ young man, the smart folks DIDN’T just put those cards in a rolodex and forget about it.  They emailed, OR, WAY before you time, you called and made a lunch date.   Social makes it so much easier.I think there’s a ‘courting process.’  You connect on Twitter, have conversations… find common ground.  LinkedIn is ok, but it doesn’t build relationships – just let you scope out their work experience.  Blogs, to me, are where the REAL relationship-building (stalking) occurs.   Most of my ‘best Social friends’ I met here, or on @DannyBrown ‘s blog, or a handful of the ones I regularly participate in.    The FB connect only comes when you learn that you actually LIKE someone and want to get to know them.

    • @AmyMccTobin  Hey, who are you calling a young man? 
      The next logical step after the online courting process has to be a face-to-face meeting. Otherwise, what’s the point. You can’t just talk to somebody on the Internet forever. You have to make the human connection (and make sure they aren’t a robot.)
      Thanks for leaving a comment.

      • @bradmarley  @AmyMccTobin OK, I gotta weigh in with a report from Jimbobwe: there are too many people that I want to connect with who are NO.WHERE.NEAR. me that, if I stuck with the only-f2f rule for FB I’d be pretty friendless. That’s not to say that I don’t have some great connections in my small city. But my business will not thrive on local – what I do, no one local thinks they should have to *pay* anyone local for doing it. Ergo, I stalk globally, and use Skype/Hangout to get at least a simulacrum of that eyeball-to-eyeball connection.

      • @bradmarley  @AmyMccTobin Face-to-face is where it’s at for me still. Social can augment those connections, but meeting in the real is a necessary step for my business.

        • @RebeccaTodd  @bradmarley Does G+ count?  I do a lot of business with people I’ve only ‘seen’ on my monitor.

        • @AmyMccTobin  @bradmarley Sure if it works for you! My customers tend to be “in person” sort of people. And as I have a hard time staying in one place too long, it’s a good fit.

  • Now I have to think back to when we met to remember if you stalked me! Probably not…I think we were already connected everywhere. I’d like to think I’m not that old, but I did start my career without Internet access. We would have to (gasp!) actually do long and hard research before meeting prospects, in order to learn more about them. And if they worked for a private company, the job got even harder. I love the ability to find things out about people at a fingertip’s tap.

    • @ginidietrich I’m so old I remember walking to work both ways, uphill, with no shoes =) Seriously, though, it is terrific to have knowledge at your fingertips. I say this as a one-time professional researcher, who remembers hours and hours in newspaper morgues and libraries, followed by hours and hours on the phone. The challenge of vetting info still remains, though, making me glad to still have a two-sources-confirm muscle …

    • @ginidietrich “…at a fingertip’s tap”- nice turn of phrase, G.

    • @ginidietrich If memory serves, we connected on Facebook after I interviewed you for my world-famous blog Q&A, which was before we actually met in person.

  • brimtzger

    I think you hit the nail on the head. When I first got FB, I think I was adding every individual I ever came into contact with on there. Now, I find myself trying to clean out the clutter by going on these random “friend removal” fits. I link everything else, like my instagram, to my twitter, so that sort of “stalking’ I think is far game. Following on twitter, tumblr, instagram is like being a fangirl, where as if you aren’t personally close, following ones FB is like “Why are you in my house?”

    • @brimtzger Thanks! I think it’s okay to follow on Twitter as long as you try to interact.
      Thanks for leaving a comment!

  • I’d say it all depends, except on LinkedIn, which is pretty straightforward. Have you ever followed someone you met professionally / semi-professionally on Twitter only to notice later that they are using it to discuss very, umm, personal stuff? That’s awkward, even though you are right about it being public and fair game. There’s also a weird parallel to personal friendships and dating. It’s good to take your time getting to know someone before seeing them all the time! Ahem. I mean online.

    • @JoeCardillo I think we’ve all followed somebody who shares information that is TMI. But I think you can usually discern that before you click the follow button. But I agree with the parallel regarding friendship and dating. It’s spot on.
      Thanks for the comment!

      • @bradmarley  @JoeCardillo And it’s ever so easy to just hit “unfollow” …

  • skooloflife

    Hey Brad,
    Really interesting post. As someone who has built his entire platform through connecting with people (primarily through interviews), I’d say it depends. What  I think that we have to learn to do is become aware of when we truly experience a special connection with somebody. I’ve been lucky enough to interview some of the most famous people online, but that doesn’t meant I can call up Tim Ferriss when I’m having a lousy day :). On the flip side there’s certain people, even if you’ve never met them in person that you just have chemistry with.  I think that it’s something you learn to pay attention to over time an.  But I think there is definitely some “professional stalking.” There’s lots to be said about this subject  And you made some great points.

    • @skooloflife I’m so glad you left a comment. I agree with the whole connection thing. There are people who I want to meet that I know I would hit it off with.

  • profkrg

    Interestingly, my rules are much like yours. I am interested in knowing more about ways the majority of people use certain social mediums. For example, I heard twice today from people who said they use Facebook more personally and Twitter more professionally. I wonder where/why we made this distinction. I’m not even certain that what we do can be considered “two levels removed from stalking.” It’s just pretty much stalking. I was reviewing job candidates for a search committee I was on and I googled every person on the list, clicking on their multiple profiles. What was concerning was not what I found, but what I didn’t find. If a candidate claimed to be involved in many professional activities, but hardly registered on Google, I was concerned. Interesting how times have changed.

    • @profkrg It’s a Catch 22. You have to be careful about what you say and don’t say on social media, but you have to be on social media in this day and age, at least if you work in PR and marketing. Good points.
      Thanks for leaving a comment.

  • wrytir

    Your post is largely spot on for me with a few minor exceptions.
    I will send a request to connect on LinkedIn to the interesting people I just met in a meeting before I turn my key in the parking lot. I manage too many Twitter accounts these days for clients to spend much time on my own presence. Once a month I may add new people to my Twitter lists.
    Facebook is a weird bird for me. I’ve met ~85% of my friends before connecting with them on FB. I’ve also connected with high-profile strangers — local news people or national social media personalities — there and have developed relationships with them based in part on letting them see behind the curtain of my privacy controls. FB is both my private(ish) place and the place where I am most active personally.From a business perspective, I will stalk your LI profile for sure. I will likely follow your company there too. Depending on the connection I feel with you personally, I might let you into my Facebook world, but I will likely follow your company and add your company updates to one of my Interests lists.
    Instagram? I haven’t figured out how to justify me spending any time there just yet. None of my clients are b2c and are therefore not terribly visual in what they offer.
    FourSquare? I keep that largely locked down to close friends, but occasionally share on my public Twitter account. My house is two blocks from a police station and the alarm system functions well. I really don’t spend any time there other than to let friends know where I am and to maintain my “mayorship” of select restaurants. I certainly have no interest in stalking friends, clients or new business contacts on FourSquare.
    Interesting topic. I’m eager to read through the comments of others. Individual nuances to questions like this intrigue me. Thanks for writing.

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