hand reaching outI got an interesting question from someone I know (name withheld on request) recently. I was asked:

“I would like to reach out and connect with a professional contact that I have made via Twitter/Facebook /LinkedIn. Do you have any suggestions on how to approach a such a contact without appearing to be ‘Facebook stalking’?”

Hmm, I thought to myself. That’s a good question.

In fact, I thought it was such a good question, that I wanted to share my answer with you!

Now, the background, as my friend explained in more detail, is this:

The professional contact is someone senior at an organization which could very well end up being my friend’s “dream employer.” And what is interesting is that the whole thing started when the organization’s official Twitter account retweeted one of my friend’s tweets.

Being a polite person, s/he thanked them, and then went to their website to learn more… and was impressed! So s/he started tweeting/RTing them on a regular basis, and wouldn’t you know it, they became quite friendly on Twitter.

One tweet led to another…

Which led to the head honcho of said organization reaching out to my friend on a one-to-one level – still in social, mind you, as in, not offline – and now they are Facebook friends (initiated by head honcho, not friend).

With me so far? Good.

So, knowing all this, here’s what I said (with relevant edits to maintain the requested confidentiality, and added emphasis/formatting, because I can do what I want on my blog, ha!):

I think you should absolutely try to set up an informational meeting with HH [head honcho]. It seems to me you’re in a great place; s/he added you on Facebook, not the other way around, so s/he should be receptive to it.

To me that’s one of the toughest barriers [that] you’ve already overcome; the door is already open for you. 

So given that you have already interacted via social media, I don’t think it’s too much to say, “I’d love to learn a little more about <your company>… would you have 20-30 minutes for me to say “hello” to you in person over coffee?” … or something like that.

And if you can throw in a personal detail (e.g. are you both … dog lovers? amateur chefs? etc.) that you’ve gleaned from Facebook to show what else you have in common, so much the better.

Then, when you meet her/him, be as frank as you were with me… because s/he is bound to ask you, in some way, shape or form, what you’re interested in, how s/he can help, etc.

Make it very clear to her how she can do this. For example, “May I email you my resume in case you ever have open positions I might be a good fit for?” is way more effective than “Please let me know if I can ever be of assistance” …

… something people say in conventional work settings all the time, and it’s one of the most irritating phrases I’ve come across, because it doesn’t really say anything!

And then stay in touch. Thank her for her time via a note, and every few months, check in with her – without asking for anything.

That’s what I would do not just for her, but for any interesting folks you come across.

Your turn

Do you think I gave my friend the right advice? Would you do anything different?

Whatever you think, I want to reiterate something I said:

When you ask someone for help, be as specific as you can. I can’t tell you how many people ask if I can help them in some way, and if I say yes, don’t know exactly what to ask for.

OK, back to you. Please share your thoughts, and if this was useful to you, please let me know (as well as other questions you might have)!

Image: naunasse via Flickr, CC 2.0

Shonali Burke
Founder and publisher of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke helps smart businesses make bank by taking their communications from corporate codswallop to community cool™. She is also the founder of The Social PR Virtuoso®, which provides online, on-demand training that helps you unleash your inner Social PR superhero. Shonali is mad about ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis, though not necessarily in that order. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke