This post continues a series on effective writing in social media.
In the social media world, it no longer takes extensive research to locate an e-mail address; anyone with an account can contact a high percentage of the network with a click of a button. With account options like LinkedIn's InMail, you may have nearly unlimited access to the whole network. But the rule that long predates e-mail--if you want to make a professional impression, deliver your pitch in a professional manner--still holds.
E-mail is perhaps the most carelessly handled aspect of business writing. Even Ph.D.s and editors at major publishing houses are known to send messages like the following:
"Dear sir: We are in high apreciation of having received your Inqiiry. Unfortunetely, we recieve Thoursands of inquiries each week and must reject many xcellent ones. We regret that We ar thus unabel to use your prospoal at present."
No doubt convincing the recipient he's probably better off without that company anyway, if their attention to detail is that limited.
While the writer of the "no, thanks" message may not have much to lose, the person creating a proposal has plenty. Especially in a social networking e-message where attaching your resume may not be an option, you may have only one paragraph to convince a coveted investor that you're intelligent, capable, easy to work with, and otherwise worth investigating further. This is no time to dash something off in rush mode and send it into cyberspace without proofreading.
So when making a "cold" pitch through a social network, remember the rules that have long served well with the snail-mail and telephone approaches.
Know your target. If your message sounds too generic, recipients may assume this is a mass "blitz" of identical mailings--something worth little attention. Do some advance research, then customize each query to the recipient: call the person by name;, refer to a known attribute of the company (a recent news item, a major aspect of their brand, something their Web site needs) and how your own skills and experience relate; match the tone of your message to that of their own public writings.
Be respectful. Although the "never use first names" rule doesn't necessarily apply in social networking, many traditional-minded organizations still look favorably on initial approaches addressed to "Mr. Smith," "Ms. Green," or "Dr. Morgan." Other people, of course, are almost insulted at not being addressed by first name; so, again, do your homework in advance and learn what atmosphere prevails at your contact's company. In any case, never use any name version that does not appear in a person's profile; Richard Executive may never be called "Dick" by anyone he knows. Even if he is, he may not appreciate hearing it from a new contact any more than he'd want a stranger to slap him on the back unannounced and boom out, "Hey, buddy, how's it going?"
Keep business approaches businesslike. Besides erring on the side of formality in what you call the person, don't use "Hi" or "Hey" as a salutation. (Most people hate the word "hey" to begin with; it sounds too much like an order to "drop everything right now and listen to me.") Don't use slang or "folksy" language in the body of the message either; and keep any humor low-key unless you're requesting an audition at a comedy club.
Focus not on what they can do for you, but on what you can do for them.
Ask for what you want. Sounds obvious, but a surprising number of people never get around to this. All it takes is one sentence: "I would appreciate being added to your supplier database," or "Please tell me when to call for an interview."
Don't make promises you can't keep. Amazingly, the vast majority of people who write "I'll call to follow up next week" never do call--thus sabotaging any interest aroused by the initial message. The same goes for promising to send a portfolio, subscribe to your contact's blog, or register with a supplier database: if you say you'll do it, do it!
Always thank the contact for his or her time.
Never click the Send button without proofreading the message. And when proofreading, it's a good idea to look not only for typos, but for unnecessary words and ambiguous phrasing. Remember these three C's: clear, concise, and correct!
You may also want to include links to your Web site and/or blog--as well as to any articles you've published that appear online--to make it easier for the contact to investigate you further. Next week's post will further discuss e-articles as they apply to social networking.
Other posts in this series:
Social Networking for the Business Writer: Profiles
Social Networking for the Business Writer: Network Updates
Social Networking for the Business Writer: The E-Article Connection
Social Networking for the Business Writer: LinkedIn Discussions
Social Networking for the Business Writer: LinkedIn Q & A
Social Networking for the Business Writer: Top-Ten List