When you go to send out a request to connect with someone on social networking sites such as a LinkedIn, you’ll be prompted to use a stock email message. It’ll read something like ‘I’d like to add you to my professional network at XYZ site.’ The script may conclude with some stock promotional copy about the social networking site.

Don’t use this standard text – unless you just got off the phone or exchanged emails with the person with whom you’re connecting.

Nothing says ‘I didn’t take the time to learn more about you,’ ‘I don’t really care to know who you are anyway,’ or ‘I’m just using this social networking site to grow a network to impress others’ as that sort of canned approach.

Law firm management and marketing consultant, Allison Shields, advises using a little social networking etiquette.

If linking to a particular person is important to you in the first place, make it easy for them. If you’re not sure they’ll know who you are, or that you’re a member of the same organization, or that you met them at a networking event, or that you used to work with them, etc. DON’T send out the canned email invitation. Instead, add a line or two that explains who you are and how you know them. Sending the canned invitation is the equivalent of a ‘dear occupant’ letter – and you’re likely to get the same response those letters enjoy.

Don’t make your contact work to find out who you are by clicking on your profile, using Google to research you or going to your website – chances are that they won’t do it, or they’ll be annoyed by having to do it – not exactly the kind of relationship you’re trying to establish, is it?

Do you like getting ‘spam’ emails from those trying to sell you something or offering to help you with your business? We call that junk mail. It’s no different when it is the result of being on a list or belonging to a social network. Nobody wants to be ‘sold’ by someone they don’t know. Make yourself known and establish your reputation and connection first. Contribute before you request or pitch. Provide value. Be of service.

When I go to connect with someone at LinkedIn I look at their background, see if we have something in common, and look at where their interests lie. I’ll personalize my email to connect sharing something we have in common, congratulating them on a recent success, or offering something of value to help them.

Sure, it takes more time to connect this way. But I only have one opportunity to make a ‘first impression’ through social networking. One stock email that shows I didn’t care enough to learn more about you or that I may be spamming you with service offerings may ruin for ever my opportunity to really ‘connect’ with that person.

Taking the time to care and customizing emails like this works. I routinely receive nice emails in response, many just thanking me for making a personal introduction, as opposed to kicking out the scripted email they’ve seen a thousand times before.

St. Paul businessman and author, Harvey Mackay, advises one to ‘dig your well before you got thirsty.’ Making connections the old fashioned way, by using a little social etiquette, results in meaningful professional network that’ll work for you when you need it.