Practice Safe Networking

Practice Safe Networking

When I was a kid, our parents seldom knew our whereabouts as we were free to roam the neighborhood on our own. Sometimes, a bunch of us gathered to play at John and Robin’s house on the swing-set. Sometimes, we headed over to Bobby’s house to play baseball. Often, we bounced from one house to another stirring up whatever minor mischief we could manage (which generally involved kids, a ball and mud). All that mattered was that when our respective mothers stood in their front yards and loudly called our names at dinner time, we knew to appear immediately. As I think back to that time, I used to marvel at the independence we had at such a young age. At second glance, though, I realize we weren’t on our own at all. There was a parent in every home keeping a watchful eye over all, unbeknownst to us. The Woodbine Street parent network was on the job 24/7. The network didn’t have any meetings or rules, but I’m certain the expectations were well understood – your kids are our kids and we’ll watch over them.kid on swing 300x225 - Practice Safe Networking

Long gone are the days when we personally knew all of our neighbors, let alone our business contacts. Even the smallest businesses regularly deal with customers and vendors they have never met. With the advent of LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and an endless list of other networks, our connections are global. We regularly interact with people we’ve never met and will probably never meet. Still, there can be great value in these relationships creating opportunities which wouldn’t have otherwise existed.

It is very easy to get comfortable with our virtual connections, those we know through online or long-distance communications. Often, we more quickly find ourselves on familiar terms with people we know virtually than we would with those we’ve met in person.

I recently became acquainted with a local professional (to remain anonymous) based upon a referral from someone I trust. She felt there was synergy in our interests and we might provide meaningful assistance to one another; a perfect basis for an introduction. Over a short period of time, my contacts from the local professional went from infrequent to frequent, and from business-focused to unfocused and off-topic. After a quick gut-check, I knew it was time to terminate these interactions.? While I cannot say precisely where the line is drawn with regard to comfortable interactions, I sure know when it’s been crossed. As with any relationship, when someone starts to make you feel uncomfortable for any reason, even when you feel you had initially found an affinity though virtual interactions, you have to change course immediately.

Last month, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Chris Brogan*, one of the greatest minds in the area of social media. We only knew of each other through Twitter and yet, when he tweeted that he’d be in the area attending a conference, I jumped at the chance to meet him. I had been reading his tweets (posted messages) for a short while, but he knew nothing at all about me. I think it is safe to say that we did not know each other at all. At the agreed-upon time, I pulled up to meet him at the conference. He climbed into my car and we had a delightful visit discussing the virtual world and generational differences in the use of technology. I read a bit about Chris ahead of time, everyone says what a wonderful, brilliant and sweet guy he is. Should I have let a strange man into my car because of what someone somewhere said about him? Was that sufficient due diligence to keep myself safe? I was envious as I acknowledged to myself that I’d have been less apt to climb into a man’s car I’d never met and wondered what opportunities I’d be missing. Is this different for me as a woman? Is this different for me because I’m “older” (in terms of those in the virtual world)?

No one is watching out for us. Whether the concern is personal safety or respectful use of your time, we need to trust our own instincts and determine for ourselves what it means to “know” someone. Becoming familiar with someone online may or may not provide enough information.

What do you think? Have you found yourself in similar uncomfortable situations? Is this a gender-based, generationally-based concern or an issue for everyone?

*? Turns out that the buzz about Chris Brogan is 100% true, he really is that smart and an incredibly generous guy. If you areat all interested in blogging or social media, I strongly recommend that you subscribe to his blog and follow him on twitter. You’ll learn a lot! [/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]


  1. Napoleon October 22, 2008 at 11:50 pm - Reply

    Gets you thinking about some of the open networkers (the ones who accept any and all invitations to connect, even if you’ve never met, or are even in a different country) Once they get connected with you, will you be profiled? Your contact info is in their hands now.

  2. Wendy Hoechstetter October 23, 2008 at 12:04 am - Reply


    One of our least appreciated instincts is our gut instinct, and it is something we *must* learn to trust if we are to keep ourselves safe in today’s world. More people get into trouble by ignoring that little voice when it pipes up than by any bold adventuring.

    As to knowing someone “enough” from online interactions alone, I posit that we may actually get to know people *better* through this medium in many, if not most, cases, and more quickly, than we might otherwise, because our interactions are focussed on the things we already know we have in common, shared intellectual pursuits, etc. Online communications are nothing more than what we did with penpals in pre-computer and telephone days, and no one ever questioned how well one got to know someone through hand-written letters. The immediacy of email, blogs, etc. speed up the process, and expand the options, but it’s still the same thing, really.

    As with any other interaction, you learn over time what this person is about, whether they are consistent with points of view, etc., and if we are paying attention, we will note things that don’t fit, if they are there, that ought to trigger suspicion. But likewise, we will also note the consistencies that lead one to know that this person is, in fact, who they say they are, and that they are safe, reliable, etc. Most people will eventually leave just as many clues in writing as they will face to face.

    I think it’s actually a fallacy that we “know” people any better just because we have had “face time” with them, as opposed to online communications – and a potentially very dangerous delusion we have all been raised to *not* recognize. How many of us have accepted a date with someone we just met – and let him pick us up at our homes? How well could we *possibly* know this person we’ve spoken to for at most a couple of hours?

    In my experience, many of the people I’ve met online, whether I’ve subsequently met them in person or not, have turned out to be some of my closest friends and best professional contacts – including my present partner.

    In the case of meeting someone who is well-known in online circles, there’s a certain amount of safety simply in knowing that a lot of other people are well aware of this person – who has a reputation to keep up. I’m not saying this automatically makes him safe, but it certainly helps.

    As with online dating, it makes sense to take precautions when meeting new people from online, if you have the slightest doubt about them. Meet in a public place, don’t give out your home address, make sure someone you trust knows where you’ll be and who you’ll be with, etc. But really, most of the time, people who are well-known to others, and who we ourselves have taken the time to get to know online, are decent people, and the biggest “danger” in meeting face-to-face is that we might not particularly click with them.

    But if in doubt, take precautions. It’s better to err on the side of safety than to be sorry later. There’s nothing wrong with planning to meet someone, even someone from out of town, at a local restaurant rather than picking them up. It’s so normal, in fact, especially in a business situation, that no one would think to question it.

    Taking such precautions *is* usually more important for women, simply because we tend to be smaller and less able to fight off a potential attacker, but it’s also something men should consider as well, because there is such a thing as women who are strong, trained in the martial arts, and/or armed.

  3. Chris Brogan... October 23, 2008 at 2:05 pm - Reply

    It’s so unfair that guys can do this all differently than women, but that is true. If I were a woman coming to meet a man, I’d do things like set up a “safe call.” I’d make sure that someone knew where I was, who the person was (as much as I could tell), etc.

    But as a guy, did I do any of that? No. Should I have still? Not sure.

    Really great question, actually, and thanks for meeting me. You’re wonderful.

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