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Advice / Job Search / Networking

The Non-Awkward Professional's Guide to Interacting With Strangers on Social Media

When you’re trying to network or build your professional reputation on social media, there’s little more exciting than getting those notifications that someone’s liked, commented, or retweeted.

Who is it? What did he say? Is she a fan?

But then, once you’ve seen it, and the initial excitement’s worn off, you’re left wondering if you should engage. And if so, how much?

This is always trickier than it should be—especially considering that protocol varies from one person to the next. Luckily for you, I’ve created a quick professional guide to figuring out if and how to respond to someone.

If Someone Favorites or Likes

If someone likes or favorites a piece of your content on any platform, you definitely shouldn’t feel the need to respond unless he or she (also) has great content you like. Seriously—there’s no need to comment or follow just because a person clicked a button. (Think of how often you do the same and never look back.)

That said, a favorite or a like can be a great jumping off point if this is someone you want to get in contact with. For instance, a journalist I admire favorited my tweet—and I was then able to respond with “Thanks for the favorite!” as well as a question about her work. It ended up turning into a long conversation, and—bonus!—she followed me!

If Someone Retweets or Reblogs

If someone goes one step further and retweets or reblogs you, the same rule applies. It’s simply another way to say that he or she like what you posted (and therefore want to share it with his or her followers). Much like a favorite or like, you’re free to retweet or reblog (or regram) if the person has content you love, but there’s no reason to feel obligated if you’re not trying to build up a relationship.

If Someone Comments

Comments mean that someone wants to engage with you—so take it as an opportunity to chat it up! Even if it’s someone you don’t know. Worst case scenario: You never talk again. Best? You have a new internet friend. Keep the conversation going as long as you feel like it’s flowing naturally. But, keep in mind that there’s no need to continue anything just for the sake of talking. After all, this person is a stranger.

If Someone Keeps Constantly Trying to Engage

That said, it can be pretty annoying than when the conversation isn’t flowing—but someone still replies to almost everything you publish. You don’t want to seem rude, but you also don’t want to encourage this person to continue contacting you.

First things first, you don’t need to respond every time. And, even more importantly, your response doesn’t have to match his or hers. On sites like Facebook or Twitter, a simple “like” or “favorite” will do if you don’t want to leave that person in the dark. On Instagram, it’s okay not to respond altogether. Hopefully, over time he or she will get the hint.

And if someone’s engaging really aggressively (and has no known benefit to your career), you always have the option to block him or her. It usually doesn’t come to this, but it’s nice to know that you can.

The last lesson is to keep all of this in mind when you’re trying to get someone’s attention via social media. If you really want a response, give the person a reason to get back to you—and more often than not, a basic favorite or like won’t cut it. May I suggest a complimentary comment?

Photo of paper dolls courtesy of Shutterstock.