Online Business Networking: How Personal is Too Personal?

Online networking has opened up some fantastic business opportunities for solo entrepreneurs. You can open an account with one of the major online business networks such as Ryze, and get to know industrious and inspiring minds from all corners of the world.

Many of these networks offer the option to design your own web page, where visitors can surf on by and learn a little about who you are, what you do, and how your knowledge and experience might be of assistance to them. You can post pictures, logos, art, descriptive text... pretty much whatever you like. It's an amazing chance to build your brand, whether it's your company brand, organizational brand, or your personal brand.

But the question that springs to mind when you're designing your page for the purpose of building business relationships is this: just how much personal information do I reveal?

I myself have never been a huge fan of divulging too much about myself to people I don't know very well. But other people, it seems, are not so reserved in their self-expression. I've come across pages where people have posted pictures of their children, pets, deceased parents, friends... I've read pages where folks openly flout their religious beliefs... all this while *maybe* making a brief mention of their home business, whether it's gourmet coffee sales, software development, career coaching or whatever the case may be.

Frankly, I am miffed by this practice. I thought that online business networking was supposed to be just that: a way to cultivate business relationships. How are your personal beliefs relevant to the products and/or services you're trying to market?

Let's say you're a business analyst. On your page, you include some information about your background and current line of work, which is great. But then you mention your great faith in the Lord and how you believe he is the reason for your own personal happiness.

Want to know what I think as I read this page? First I think, "Hey, this guy sounds like he knows his stuff!" Then when I get to the mini-sermon, I think: "Oh. Looks like this person wants to limit his business assocations to Christians... or maybe if I talk to him, he might try to convert me."

I'm not saying that I am or am not a religious person. I just don't think my personal beliefs belong in the same place as my company advertising. How does your faith in God build a case for you being an intelligent and savvy businessperson? It doesn't.

The same goes for family photos. On the one hand, it's refreshing to get a glimpse at people's lifestyles and what's important to them. But when I stumble upon network pages that look more like a family photo album than a business ad, I leave those pages not really understanding what it is that the person was trying to sell. And yes, nine times out of ten, somebody on a business network is trying to sell something.

In studying the homepages of folks who use global business networking, I've noticed a curious thing. Global networking can have some pretty ironic results. What do I mean? Well, this is your chance to pitch your product to the world. Yet, by clearly defining yourself, you really box yourself into one niche. In categorizing yourself as a certain type of individual, you may inadvertantly lose the attention/interest of people who do not fall into this category, thereby crippling your business potential.

Let's say you're a work-at-home mom who writes for a living. That's all well and good, and sure, building relationships with other work-at-home moms may be a great way to swap ideas and solutions. But if everything you produce seems to shout, "I'm a WAHM," what message does that send to folks who are not work-at-home moms? How does this cultivate your image as an experienced writer?

Does your exclusivity within a group promote your business and bring in sales? Or does it limit your potential for professional growth? It's something worth considering as you create your online neworking persona.

Lending a personal touch to your business networking page and company website can really bring some warmth, and a sense of, "Hey, this seems like a nice person who I'd feel comfortable doing business with." A couple of brief mentions of family, hobbies and interests paint you as a well-rounded individual and this builds a case for your reputation as being trustworthy.

But I must impose my opinion on you now, that revealing too much personal information can in fact dilute the power of your brand. What do you want to be known as: the woman who owns the best catering service on the east coast, or, "That lady with five kids and a cute cat who volunteers at the local hospital and oh, I think she has some kind of online business or something."

Maybe I'm misinterpreting the purpose of an online business network. But I really don't think so.

Copyright 2005 Dina Giolitto. All rights reserved.

Dina Giolitto is a New-Jersey based Copywriting Consultant with ten years of industry experience. Her current focus is web content and web marketing for a multitude of products and services although the bulk of her experience lies in retail for big-name companies like Toys"R"Us. Visit http://www.wordfeeder.com for rates and samples.

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