The Right Way to 'Stalk' People Online

There's etiquette to following and interacting with people on social media and elsewhere. Here are some handy tips.

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By Carol Roth

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Technology has created the ability for you to connect with virtually anyone, whether it's a business professional that you admire, a peer that you desire to partner with or a potential future investor. CNN anchor Erin Burnett has said that she got her first journalism job after penning what she called a "stalker letter" to Willow Bay at CNN. Nowadays, you can tweet, follow, "friend" and comment your way into a dialogue with just about anybody.

However, when it comes to "stalking," some folks are great at it and some aren't so endearing. There is a protocol to getting noticed if you are really looking to establish more of a relationship.

Here are some of the do's and don'ts:

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Online "Stalking" Do's

(For those of you who are inclined to send me hate mail, I use the word "stalking" tongue-in-cheek, not meaning real bodily-harm stalking, so get over yourselves).

Be genuine and engaging: It's clear when you are being yourself and also clear when you are being a phony, even in 140 characters or a short blog comment. Authenticity goes a long way. Being funny doesn't hurt, either, but only if you have a good handle on the other person's sense of humor -- not everything translates clearly in writing.

Talk about your mutually favorite topic: them: Everyone is open to some light flattery, although I advise that you don't go overboard or you will look like a kiss-ass or a moron. Share what you like or admire about the other person's work as a way to start the conversation.

Be helpful: Offering your help and advice for a cause or endeavor that is important to your "stalkee" is a good way to earn some brownie points.

Know when enough is enough: There is a difference between being helpful and being a pest. Always leave them wanting more. Also, remember that everyone needs to get some work done too, no matter how interesting you think you may be.

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Online "Stalking" Don'ts

Don't cross the line: Seeking stimulating conversation is one thing. If you are looking for something else to be stimulated, look elsewhere.

Don't be rude, offensive or defensive: Sometimes stalkers get their undies in a bunch if they don't get the type of response they are hoping for. Building a relationship takes time, so be patient. If you act entitled, your "stalkee" will never engage with you. Also, being pushy isn't a recommended method for making friends, either.

Don't lead with an "ask": Don't ask for something in your first few interactions. Building a relationship takes time and if you truly need help, insight or even some swag, your "stalkee" will be much more inclined to do so if you have already followed the "Be helpful" tip first.

Also, don't stalk everyone in the universe on social media and ask for "follows" in return. Those forums are public and we can all see what you are up to. Plus, it makes you seem desperate and your interest in the "stalkee" seem insincere.

Don't be creepy, even as a joke: Trust isn't implicit, it is earned. When the other person doesn't know you from Adam (and yes, even if you are both on a social-media platform, they don't really know you), the creepy radar will be on high. Don't make jokes that make you sound like a serial killer or other disturbed individual. You don't want to end up on their list of people whose houses the police should check under if they go missing.

Hopefully these tips will help improve your "stalking" efficiency. Who knows, someone you look up to may end up being a collaborator or friend down the line.

Related: Hungry for Success? 3 Business Lessons From the Food Network.

Carol Roth

Entrepreneur, TV host and small business expert

Carol Roth is the creator of the Future File™ legacy planning system, a “recovering” investment banker, business advisor, entrepreneur and best-selling author. She is also a reality TV show judge, media contributor and host of Microsoft’s Office Small Business Academy. A small business expert, Roth has worked with companies of all sizes on everything from strategy to content creation and marketing to raising capital. She’s been a public company director and invests in mid-stage companies, as well.

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