I recently asked someone to be my "friend" on Facebook.
He declined. My immediate, gut response: pleased and impressed.
On the surface, my reaction may seem odd. But let's consider some background:
I’ve spoken with this particular individual, a newspaper reporter, about five times over the past few years, as he worked on stories with which I had some public-relations connection. We’ve never met, and we’ve never built any kind of tie beyond our respective jobs.
He works alongside some others that have made Facebook Friend requests of me, which I've approved. Their outreach to me is really what prompted me to reach out to him.
With that as a backdrop, here was his written response, which he sent via e-mail:
"Thanks for the friend request, but I just wanted to let you know that I keep my Facebook account to friends and family only. I like to keep business contacts separate. No offense intended of course, I just prefer to keep my job and my personal life in separate worlds, so to speak."
I respect his stance. And I respect even more that he articulated it.
In the four years that I've been social-networking on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, he is the first to take the time to broach the potentially awkward situation and explain, in his thoughtful way, why he was declining my request.
In this burgeoning social-media realm, it is so much easier to simply ignore requests that place us in an uncomfortable spot. And there certainly remain scenarios in which I am stumped about how to navigate someone's interest in getting into my cyber-world. In the future, I fully expect to continue ignoring some requests--and to be ignored.
But whenever we have an opportunity to convey our (often-evolving) criteria as to whom to let in to our SM world, we simultaneously have an opportunity to improve at least our little corner of this growing sphere's universe.
Indeed, inspired by my own fond memory of being diplomatically stiff-armed, I recently crafted a long-overdue reply. I created it for those seeking to connect with me on LinkedIn but with whom I have had little, if any, contact:
Thank you for inviting me to Link-In with you!
Whenever possible, I like to have more than a cursory personal connection with / knowledge of someone before Linking In. Since we are both so local, would you be interested in meeting in person sometime and establishing that face-to-face connection?
In these few words, I hope that I've reasonably and effectively explained my rationale and that you don't take offense to this proposed intermediate step. I genuinely hope we can create a stronger connection that can benefit us both in the future.
So far, I have sent that message to two individuals. I am sure it will come in handy often in the future. Already, my newfound mission to improve the quality of my connections--and not merely strive for quantity--has borne fruit: one recipient responded by essentially stating "whoops...I intended to Link-In with someone else whose last name is Baron."
So there's one MisLinked-In Misadventure averted.
What do you think? Do you have another way of handling this potentially delicate and awkward topic? I welcome your ideas. And who knows--even if we don't know each other yet, we may just build enough rapport for us both to want to join one another's social network.
Just don't take offense if I suggest we meet in person first.
You might also be interested in reading some previous Inside Edge PR commentaries about LinkedIn.