Going from a stranger to a relationship online without coming off like a sociopath

With social media, business professionals that you admire or that you desire to partner with are more accessible than ever.  Business anchor Erin Burnett 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 almost anybody. 

Whether you want to call it “stalking”, being a superfan or even a groupie, I consider myself somewhat of an authority on the topic- I had my first “stalker”/superfan when I was 13.   He was a boy named Chris who used to call me up daily and proclaim that he was going to come over to my house with a bucket of Church’s Chicken and sleep in my backyard (totally random, I know, but you don’t get to choose who you are stalked by…).

When it comes to being a superfan, some folks are great at it and some aren’t so endearing.  The reality is that there is a protocol to being the #1 fan if you are really looking to establish more of a relationship.  Here are some of the do’s and don’ts:

Online “Stalking” Do’s (and for those of you who are going 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 their sense of humor- not everything translates clearly in writing.

Talk about your mutually favorite topic- them:  Everyone is open to some light flattery (don’t go overboard or you will look like a kiss-ass and a moron). Share what you like or admire about their work as a way to start the conversation. 

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

Know when enough is enough:  There is a difference between being a fan 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.

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 superfans 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 like an idiot, your “stalkee” will never engage with you.  Also, being pushy isn’t a good way to make friends either. 

Don’t lead with “free”: Don’t ask for freebies in your first few interactions.  True superfans have already purchased their “stalkees” products, so nothing raises the “mistrust” red flag faster than saying “I’m your biggest fan! Can you send me free books, T-shirts, CDs, and/or whatever items you have?” Again, building a relationship takes time and if you truly want some type of extras, the “stalkee” will be much more inclined to send you what you want if you have already followed the “Be helpful” tip first. (Thanks to Tracey Sage from the band SAGE4, who also has lots of experience with this topic, for this particular tip)

Don’t be creepy, even as a joke:  The fact of the matter is that trust isn’t implicit; it is earned.  When the other person doesn’t know you from Adam, 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.  (Note to my “stalkers”- I add all “stalkers”-good or bad- to that list…)

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

This post is dedicated to my personal favorite “stalker”, who definitely understands most of the do’s and don’ts…well done.