Please tell me how you'd like me to talk to you

A friend in Dubai recently e-mailed me with the subject line: "a note about the e-mail I owe you."

In the message, which she sent to practically everyone she knows, she said she needed to own up to how bad she is at returning e-mails.

I e-mailed her to say Bravo! and asked what was the response from our other friends. She said it felt great to have the in-box albatross off her neck -- and this was her way of not just reaching out, but also getting more organized.

When there are a variety of ways to communicate with people -- text, instant messages, Twitter, etc. -- shouldn't it also be a part of netiquette to learn what form of communication people prefer?

EcardEmail In other words, if a person hates voice mail, don't use it. If someone only wants to be contacted via e-mail, respect that.

In the case of my Dubai friend, she's not bad at communicating: she uses Facebook daily, chats with people via Skype and Google instant messaging, and still uses old-school devices like the phone and even writes actual letters. What I thought was great was that she articulated all of her communication preferences to her friends.

I think this is even more important in professional situations, because it gives you a chance to distinguish yourself. Everyone's got the e-mail signature that lists the variety of ways they can be contacted (Follow me on Twitter! Read my Blog!).

But I think in the rush to be available to everyone on all platforms, we've failed to indicate the way we prefer to be contacted.

This goes both ways: It's not just about asking people how they would like to communicate, but also about making your own preferences clear.

Anyone who has ever called my work phone knows that for years, my voice mail has contained a message asking public relations professionals to e-mail me (if they don't have it, I spell out my e-mail address.)

There are a few reasons, but mostly, it's because I like to store things via e-mail so I can go back -- even if months later, to retrieve what was sent. I'm not opposed to picking up the phone: sometimes, that's the fastest and most efficient way to communicate. It just seems, though, like SUCH a waste of time to retrieve voice mails when it's just easier to have that email as a record. (And for those who ask, no, the Herald doesn't have any type of automatic transcriptions of voice mails, or then I wouldn't be so picky about this.)

And that's my point, as well. It's not just about courtesy, it's about efficiency. These days, couldn't we all use a bit more of both?

What's your preference, or pet peeve on this matter? Weigh in below, please:

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LinkedIn's Reid Hoffman on social networking, Part II

As promised, yesterday I posted some videos of Reid Hoffman talking about what he thinks about some netiquette issues, the future of social networking and how he handles the volume of his emails (although I must admit, he didn't respond to the one I sent him, so maybe he's not following his own advice!).

Here's some other things he said that I wrote about in today's newspaper column:

I didn't expect to walk into an interview with LinkedIn CEO Reid Hoffman and have him hand me his actual business card -- after all, Hoffman helped start the social networking site that lets working professionals connect virtually.

For the record, he had business cards because he was at a conference in Miami Beach called Endeavor Entrepreneurs, which brought together people from developing countries.

Usually in this space, Bridget and I provide tips for people on how to deal with their coworkers online. But since we had an expert in town, we thought it should be our turn to ask for advice.

Not surprisingly, Hoffman thinks working professionals who haven't yet should ''dive right in'' to social media sites -- not just LinkedIn, but Facebook, Twitter and the like.

''I think the reason it's critical is because if you look at it, every individual now is essentially their small business, and a little bit of an entrepreneur themselves,'' said Hoffman, who founded LinkedIn after running business development for PayPal.

The Silicon Valley veteran has helped finance sites like Facebook, Flickr and Technorati, and sits on the boards of Six Apart, Mozilla and most recently, Zynga, the online social gaming company.

With that in mind, I sat down to pick Hoffman's brain. In keeping with the spirit of our column, we spoke about his netiquette peeves, but also about what to do on LinkedIn at different life stages, and his thoughts about Web 3.0.

Q: Do you have something that people do online that drives you crazy?

A: I would say the primary thing, from a LinkedIn standpoint, is communicate to people you know. Don't send invitations to people you don't know. When I get them, I ignore them or sometimes hit ''I don't know them'' because this is meant to be a vehicle for setting up relationships with people you know.

If are thoughtful in how they write the invitation, I reply to let them know how the system should work, which is that I connect with people I know and have some basis of trust with.

Whenever you're writing to someone you don't know, make sure you understand why they should be interested. It's all interaction and an exchange, so be clear about what's valuable for them in interacting with you.

Q: Would you give different advice to a 20-year-old vs. a 40-year-old on what to do on LinkedIn?

A: When you're 20, frequently people think, ''I don't know what my professional network is.'' But you do. You have your family, friends who have recently graduated who are in the workforce, professors, people you've met in summer internships -- that's what your professional network looks like. When you're 40, it's not just that but colleagues and former colleagues, people you've met at conferences that you've bonded with.

Q: Where do you see the future, in terms of Web 3.0; what's the next step?

A: Silicon Valley's always mad after the future, the phrase Web 3.0 has been kicked around a lot. I don't know that it has coherent meaning -- people have used it to mean video, software platforms and building applications, to mean mobile. I actually think we're still in the midst of Web 2.0.

I have a specific definition: when millions of people participate with their real identities and their real network. LinkedIn is one, Facebook is one, blogging can be another. How do you build these really powerful applications that change how are you live in this world, here? That's one of the really interesting problems and opportunities. I think there are things happening in Web 2.0 that haven't even gotten attention today. I think the game is just beginning.

I was surprised at the firm stance he took about LinkedIn being about how people should really know each other -- and emboldened by the fact that he actually uses the "I don't know this person" button when a stranger tries to connect with me, because I've been pretty chicken to use it. But I guess there's a reason why that button is there -- because Reid  was probably behind creating it! Does anyone else out there use this button frequently, or do you just ignore them by archiving them?

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Social Networkers who go "off the grid"

Bridget and I wrote this column for today's paper:

We've noticed a phenomenon lately with folks and social networking: people who go ''off the grid.'' That's what we call people who are on networks but are skittish about being in contact with people . . . which seems to go against the point of joining a social network, right?

Not always.

We talked to quite a few people who are off the grid (and not surprisingly, wanted to remain anonymous). These are people who have suddenly become extremely private.

One female Poked reader joined Facebook because her co-workers were talking it up as a good communication tool that could also help in her work. But once she got there, she was uncomfortable:

``I felt like a lot of people that I didn't care about or who I didn't want to talk to suddenly wanted to connect with me, and it creeped me out.''

Another reader joined Facebook as a marketing tool to connect with strangers. He said he found he couldn't stand the ''virtual smalltalk'' and felt like he had been catapulted back into high school.

''Is there an age that's too old for Facebook? Yes!'' he said.

The 30-something reader thinks he's too old and headed toward LinkedIn, which he sees as ageless.

Both of their immediate ways to resolve the problem was to go off the grid, albeit in different ways. Our female reader limited her profile so it wasn't searchable -- and if you found her, you couldn't send a friend request -- or any message, for that matter. Our male reader simply stopped logging on.

We struggle with this, too. Bridget joined Facebook four years ago during college, when it was more about keeping track and maintaining only a social life -- not for professional reasons

I usually let friend requests pile up, because I just don't want to deal. Initially I wanted them to connect with me on LinkedIn, but that's problematic if they're not on that network.

This is how we've dealt with it. We respect that some people use Facebook as a contact for acquaintances, so Facebook becomes the I-met-you-at-that- chamber-event-last-week, I-haven't-seen-you-in-20-years, or we-were-in-kindergarten-together kind of social network. That's not us. But we want those people to be able to contact us, too. So we've über-limited their access. They only see the bare bones of our Facebook pages. (Helpful hint: Go to your friends page on Facebook to create a label for a group of friends, and set up what that group can see in your privacy settings.)

And our first reader who went off the grid? She went back on Facebook on Inauguration Day, inspired by all the status updates, notes and photos of friends -- and acquaintances -- who were not just in Washington, but all over the world sharing their experiences. ''I kind of got to live that with them,'' she said And isn't that the beauty of a social network: Learning or experiencing things outside of your circle?

Have you gone off the grid for different reasons?

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Weed out your friend list and get a free Whopper

Bridget and I just had a great time sending up some people in flames for a free Whopper. It's a new promotion by the folks over at Burger King who have created a Facebook Application aptly titled the "Whopper Sacrifice." When you defriend 10 people, you'll get a coupon for a free Whopper.

Nialawhopper Ok, fair and obvious warning for the world of Netiquette: This clearly is not the best thing to do to coworkers, because the people you defriend are told what you've done. As soon as Bridget watched my profile picture burn up in flames, with the tagline: "You liked Niala. You love the Whopper", I got a notification that said basically the same thing.

But it's pretty funny. Bridget reports that she felt extreme satisfaction watching some people go up in flames. (About half of the people she burned are really close friends, and did it as a joke. The other half... well... sayonara!) We both secretly wish we could do this to more people, but for different reasons: I wish I could get rid of people I friended too hastily, but know they will take offense if I send them up in flames. Bridget just wants more free Whoppers. (The application says it is limited to one coupon per profile.)

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New Year's Resolutions for Life Online

Happy New Year! We hoped everyone enjoyed the holidays, and is feeling ready for 2009. Probably you've already made all your usual resolutions like diet and exercise. In today's column we made some suggestions for setting similar goals for your professional social networking life. Without further ado:

• Cut the fat. Do you have many ''friends'' on Facebook that are professional contacts? Are you using privacy settings to keep them from seeing your unprofessional social life adventures? Sort through your list of friends and make sure all your professional contacts are set on a limited profile. Develop the habit of using a limited profile when befriending new work associates.

• Get your profile in shape. Update and expand on your LinkedIn profile. You don't want a colleague or recruiter to see an out-of-date résumé. And while you're at it, bulk up your profile by adding some LinkedIn groups that match your professional interests. The more active you appear to be on a site, the more attractive you'll be in the professional world.

• Practice safe clicks. Don't click first and ask questions later. Phishing scams under the guise of fake links are on the rise in social networks, and there's no better way to annoy a colleague or business contact than to send a bogus link. These links direct people to a site that can steal your password, corrupt your account or spread malicious links to other connections on your network.

• Clear out profile clutter.
Are you an application collector? Go through your pages and clear out applications you don't use or want visible.

• Join a new network. Explore new social networks. Twitter can be a great resource for professionals to expand connections. Whereas Facebook is more about making connections with people you know in the real world, Twitter is about connecting with strangers sharing your interests. It's a place to follow people in your industry and get questions answered.

And finally . . .

Our New Year's Online Resolution is to remember the Golden Rule: Don't be an application, invite or network pest. Recognize boundaries -- everyone might not feel the way you do about privacy and adding friends, especially when it comes to colleagues on social networks.

What are some of your resolutions for 2009?

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Rejecting a Facebook friend takes tact

In today's Poked column, which I posted below for your reading convenience, we address the question that comes to us from an evil Facebook-using genius:


A colleague and avid Poked reader sent us this inquiry recently about how to say ''no'' politely online. Here's the question: "I just rejected a friend request yesterday. Today, what's in my in-box but a friend request from the same person. What's a polite yet firm way to say, "Thanks but no thanks?"

After some follow-up correspondence, we learned two important things. First, the potential friend was someone our co-worker is familiar with professionally, not personally. Second, an interesting strategy: Our co-worker was Poking the person, but then declining the friend invitation. (Poking is a virtual way of getting someone's attention or just a silly way to say hello.) This created the illusion of friending because Poking someone allows temporary access to people's profiles.

Our co-worker said this is a way to fool people into not realizing they're rejected.

Bridget thought this was a good gambit, especially if you don't mind taking risks and you tend to deal with not-so-savvy Facebook friends. Someone who sends you two friend requests in two days probably qualifies.

But be careful. What if they want to contact you later on and realize they have no access to your profile? They might think you've defriended them.

Awkward . . .

If you want to be sneaky, the Poking strategy might work. But clearly this is neither a polite nor a firm way to reject someone.

We suggest honesty. A tactfully worded e-mail saying that you prefer to keep professional contacts on LinkedIn, and a follow-up invitation you initiate to join on that network, should suffice.

HELPFUL HINT: Bridget recently received an amazing friend request from a public relations professional who works for a company she writes about. He said something like this: ''Hey, I know I'm in PR, but if you accept PR people on Facebook I'd be honored!''. How great is a potential friend who understands people have boundaries on social networks? We love it.

Does anyone out there actually have a polite method of rejection? E-mail what you do, or any another questions of netiquette to

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Long lost cousin or cybercriminal?

Hey, here's a question we answered in our newspaper column, published today, about how to tell the difference between a friend request from someone you can't remember versus someone who is pretending they know you. (Bridget is already regretting using herself as an example; judging by our co-workers' comments about Googling her):

Use care with new `friends'                                                

Q: Someone sent me a Facebook friend request that said, ''Hey cousin, how's it going?'' I have no idea who this is even after looking at her profile, and we have no friends in common. How do I politely find out who this is?

A: The first step to avoiding awkwardness is to do some cyber-sleuthing. Google them. Check their profile for schools, organizations and cities you have in common. You might find clues on other sites this person shows up in. If that doesn't pull much up, do a search with their name and an organization or business they are a part of (i.e. ''Bridget Carey'' and ``Miami Herald'').

In this case, they gave you a clue: cousin. Call a family member and ask if they recognize the name. Of course, this might just be another dead end if the person is using cousin as slang.

If nothing jogs your memory, then it's time to send a reply. Don't be embarrassed. You obviously weren't close with this person, and you've confirmed whether or not they are actual family, so they shouldn't be too offended. We like to use self-deprecating humor to ease the awkwardness, such as making light of it by saying you are too old or lost brain cells from drinking. (Example: ''I'm sorry, I'm having a senior moment. When was the last time we saw each other?'') That's clearly better than just coming out and asking who they are.

Of course, there's also another possibility: This person may not know you at all. Be careful. This could be a cyber-criminal, such as a spammer, who has built a fake profile to befriend strangers. In a worst-case scenario, the links on their profile are malicious and could harm your computer. And be careful about sending back messages. On Facebook, that could give them access to your information. Here are some tell-tale signs: You have no friends in common, and their profile page isn't personal, but full of links to some site they want to promote. Finally, check out their wall: Does it have messages from people asking ''Hey where do I know you from?'' with no response?

If you challenge these people, typically they will not respond because they were banking on the fact that you were too embarrassed to challenge them and/or that you feel too guilty to admit it. And that works: It's amazing how many people accept friend requests from unknown people because they don't want to seem rude.

Which begs the question: why do people blindly accept random friends?

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They're just not into you...getting rejected online


    Rejection is rough -- and it doesn't hurt any less when it's done virtually.

Here's a question that relates to refusing or rejecting a friend or connection request on a social network site:

Why do we take it so personally when someone such as a former high school friend rejects your friend request? It happened to me, and I must admit that it still bothers me. This person has accepted other people from the same circle of friends but not me.    


''Friending'' is a highly individualized process. We've said it before, but it bears repeating: Everyone has different reasons for using social network sites. People also have varying levels of dedication to the sites and may not be as voracious as you. Rejectees shouldn't feel so bad.

If you're talking about co-workers, it's probably best to maintain similar behavior online as you have at work. If you want to be civil to everyone in your workplace, keep it up online. If you don't really want them to be your friend, to avoid an awkward situation add them under a limited status.

We both dislike people who nag you about requests, both virtually and in real life.

One word: don't. You may have different standards for your social network than they do, and you should respect that.

When it comes to accepting or rejecting, keep this in mind:

If you don't want a professional or work contact to hang with you on Facebook, extend an invitation to them on LinkedIn. Odds are, they won't notice you never accepted their Facebook request. And if they do point it out, they're the ones who lack tact -- direct them here!

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Don't take candy or friend requests from strangers

Do you really look at who is requesting you as a connection or friend before you click to accept? A question came to us the other day about being a little too relaxed about requesting and accepting friends. A perplexed reader writes:

Q: My 18-year-old college freshman niece recently ramped up activity on her Facebook page. I suspect that’s partly due to the fact that she’s far away from home and can sit up at all hours online in a way she couldn't do back home.

Anyway, one of her first moves upon learning I was on Facebook was to send me a friends invitation. Of course, I accepted it. But then she proceeded to contact several of my adult male friends – people whose names/profiles she saw on my friends list – and invited them to be her friends.

Maybe I’m old-fashioned or over-protective, but I had a huge problem with my teenage niece reaching out to guys in their late 20s, early-to-mid 30s, and so on, to be "friends" with them online.

I don’t want to be the old curmudgeon uncle, and tell her something outdated like "it’s unbecoming of a young lady..."  - something our great grandmother might have said to us.

But something about those friend requests she made bugs me. In several cases, my buddies are married or in serious committed relationships. I asked each one of them what the deal was, and they all said they never look at friend requests to see who they’re from. They just hit the accept button and keep moving. I haven’t said anything to my niece, ‘cause I’m still not sure yet if I’m overreacting.

A: You're not overreacting. It's one thing to friend people who are acquaintances. I have 420 friends. When I request someone as a friend, it's just to keep in touch. As my 24-year-old roommate once explained it, friending someone just means: "Hey, if you die, I'd like to be notified of it."

But it's a whole different story if she never met your friends. There are lots of spammers with fake accounts on Facebook and MySpace who only friend strangers. It's happened to me a few times where I never met the person, I have no friends in common with that person, and yet they requested my friendship so I would go on their page and see the spammy sex site links on the profile. It's amazing how many people just accept the friendship to complete strangers.

And most people who do that get reported. A stranger she friends might report her if they think she's a spammer by requesting people she doesn't know. In the worst case scenario, she could lose her Facebook account (I doubt that would happen). And at the very least, she is perceived as being creepy.   

It's not proper for her to just grow her collection of friends from your friends list when she doesn't even know these people. It also makes you look bad with your network for having a niece that is pestering all your friends. If she doesn't care about looking weird, then she should care that it makes you look bad for having an annoying niece. If you want to approach her about it, I would suggest making that point.

There's also the option of using privacy settings to keep her from seeing any of your friends.

And what is the deal with these friends of yours accepting her request without knowing who she is? I'm guessing they see that they have you as a common friend. And then they think: "Am I supposed to know that girl? Maybe I do and I forgot. I don't want to be rude and ignore it in case I did actually meet her before."

But it's OK to not accept a friend request from someone you don't know! It's your profile. You have to be choosy who sees it. And that's coming from the gal with way too many '"friends."

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