An American Editor

June 19, 2019

How Not to Network

By Ælfwine Mischler

With spring weather comes conference season and plenty of conferences for indexers, editors, and communications professionals of all types. For those of us who are freelancers, conferences offer a chance to socialize in addition to learning more about our craft and networking that might eventually lead us to new work gigs, since people are more likely to recommend or offer work to someone they have met in person.

But conferences are expensive. While there are ways to reduce the costs, unless you are a fantastic trainer or speaker whose costs will be covered by the conference hosts, you will have to lay out a considerable amount of money for travel, hotel, meals, and conference registration. It’s one reason that so many of us interact with colleagues online rather than in person.

That expense is particularly difficult for those of us who are new to the field. With that in mind, friends of an indexing software developer who had been generous in helping indexers established a scholarship in his memory to help defray the costs of a conference for newer indexers. In 2019, they offered two scholarships to entrants who had completed some formal index training within the past five years and had registered and paid to attend one of the annual national conferences offered in the USA, UK, South Africa, or Canada. If there were more than two entrants, the winners would be chosen by a blind drawing. (Disclosure: I was one of the 2019 scholarship winners.)

This was a great opportunity for networking and professional development. Unfortunately, it also led to a level of bad networking behavior in social media. While this is only one instance of how not to network, and an unusual one at that, it might be instructive for colleagues.

It so happened that the other winner and I had both completed our training five years ago, so this was the last time we would be eligible for the scholarship. As soon as the winners were announced in one of the indexing e-mail groups, one person — whom I’ll refer to as I.M. Pistov — started to rage in the group. Pistov complained that the scholarship had unfairly gone to two established indexers and that this showed bias in the indexing organization. Pistov claimed to have experience in editing and writing, but having difficulty breaking into indexing. The organization was corrupt, this was a terrible field to go into, etc.

When some people tried to tell Pistov otherwise, he accused them of calling him a liar. At least one other person on the list said something about how entertaining Pistov’s behavior was. Others politely told Pistov to reconsider his marketing plan: Maybe he should concentrate on using his website, and he should consider how he speaks to clients — if it was anything like what he was demonstrating on the forum, he should reconsider being a freelancer in any area, not just indexing.

I stayed out of the fray until one of the administrators of the scholarship spoke up to reiterate the rules for the scholarship and to state that the indexing organization and the forum were not in any way affiliated with the scholarship. A few hours later, Pistov came back on the forum and apologized for his earlier behavior. At that point, I came into the discussion to say that I admired his courage in apologizing in public and to wish him well. One of the less-gracious posters from earlier in the day then apologized to Pistov, moving herself up a notch in my estimation.

This incident is an example of how not to network. It might not be as common as other kinds of rude behavior toward colleagues online, or something like asking colleagues to share their client lists, but it had the potential for Pistov to be known and remembered for anything but his professional skills and value as a colleague.

Nowadays, most of us do the majority of our networking in e-mail discussion lists, online groups, blogs, and similar outlets. We have to remember that our behavior in an online forum is just as important as our behavior in person. If you feel that you must publicly voice your disappointment with something related to your profession, at least do not accompany it with name-calling and unfounded accusations of bias or cheating. Better yet, vent your anger and disappointment in a Word file and delete it unused, so there is no risk of accidentally hitting the Send or Post button.

There are dozens, at the least, of associations and social media communities to participate in for networking purposes — but we all need to remember that our online behavior in these forums is also an important way to connect with colleagues. Over the years that I have been a member of the Copyediting List (CE-L) and various indexing e-groups, for instance, I have learned who the frequent posters are and what areas they specialize in, and I have also gleaned something of their personalities. One member seems to be very sensitive; I have to be careful how I word things directed to her. Another always gives such short, almost cryptic answers that I have to ask for clarification. I ask questions, but I also have learned to be of assistance to colleagues whenever possible, and to always use a polite, pleasant tone — it’s so easy for online communications to come across the wrong way.

It works both ways: Colleagues have contacted me both on- and off-list with questions in my area of expertise, and I have referred colleagues and been referred by colleagues for gigs. The ones who behave professionally are the ones who earn responses and referrals.

There are many more tips for networking online, some of which have already been discussed in this blog. See, for example,

Are Networking and Marketing Essential to an Editing Business?:

https://americaneditor.wordpress.com/2014/05/12/on-the-basics-are-networking-and-marketing-essential-to-an-editing-business/

Making the Best Use of Interaction with Colleagues:

https://americaneditor.wordpress.com/2018/02/28/on-the-basics-making-the-best-use-of-interaction-with-colleagues/

Have you had any difficult experiences in social media behavior? How have you handled such incidents?

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