Making Friends Online: When the Email Doesn’t Ring

Social networking is all the rage. People shop online, make friends online, and work online, never actually stepping foot in a traditional office. But sometimes a little email, or lack of one, can put a damper on things. Don't let it.

It is hard to believe, but when I first entered the job market this thingamajig called “email” didn’t exist. If you wanted to communicate with someone, then you placed a call, sent a letter, or… simply got up and walked over to them (gasp!).  But times change and with the new times come new standards for how we use these communications methods. Likewise, we also need to adopt new expectations for our experience with these channels.

Uhmm … Hello?
A few brave folks have taken the time to research response rates on social networking sites, mostly dating sites (more on this later). Their findings consistently place the typical response rate at somewhere near 30%, or that for every three emails sent, only one gets a response.

Frankly, those are pretty lousy odds.

When we embark on any new venture (such as finding new friends online), we do so with the highest hopes, the brightest eyes, and the bushiest tails. We expect that the effort that we provide will be met with an equivalent reward, or at least something close to balanced.

And when this doesn’t happen, it is a jolt to our senses; we take it as a judgment about ourselves or perhaps about our ability to communicate. The lack of a response might cause us to be embarrassed, or to even feel a bit of anger.

Yes, it is slightly rude not to respond when you receive an email, but with the prevalence of blind online introductions, the practice of simply not responding when the recipient isn’t interested has become somewhat commonplace in the field of “netiquette.” That’s why we strongly agree that the best practice when seeking new relationships online, be them platonic or romantic, is to have realistic expectations and don’t take it personally.

Perhaps your would-be new friend takes offense to the fact that you are a Capricorn; perhaps, although they too are seeking new friends, they only seek new friends who speak Portuguese; perhaps they are on a world tour and thus can’t response for several months; or perhaps they just didn’t feel a vibe after reading your profile and email (it happens).

The point to remember is that none—absolutely none—of these things has anything to do with you, so just move on and definitely, don’t take it personally. Use a low response rate as an indication that you may need to employ a new strategy in your quest to find friends online, not as an indication that there is anything wrong with you or the social network.

Change Your Game
A few years ago the popular dating site OK Cupid did a study about the response rate of emails sent by their members. They wanted to see what factors increased success or likelihood that their members got a response to a first email.   

As I mentioned earlier, the bad news is that the typical response rate for a first email sent by the members is a mere 32%. Now of course, we are talking about response rates for dating websites where men are emailing women and women are emailing men, all in the hopes of meeting a romantic partner. Although this metric is for behavior on an online dating site, it is the only information I could find, so I’m presenting it as a baseline.

The study also looked at thing like if it was better to start your note with “Hello, Howdy, or Hi”; if asking a question upped the odds of a connection; and what effect the fact that you sent your note on a Sunday as opposed to Monday had on the end result.

Now the good news. They found that regardless of how you begin your message, that no matter how many questions you ask, and irrespective of what day your email hits the recipient’s inbox made very little difference. What did matter—and mattered significantly—was whether you had a photo on your profile, and more so, if you were smiling in said photo.

Yes I am absolutely extrapolating these finding over into the realm of friendship networking because the evidence is so clear …  if you want success on a social networking site, whether for platonic or romantic pursuits, include a photo on your profile, and one that showcases your fabulous smile.

Be Short, Be Sweet and Be Shy:
Brevity is also a good thing, especially when it comes to first emails. So is sweetness, and shyness too. It seems that the best first emails sent on social networks had all of these characteristics in common.

The emails were short. Not short it the “Hi” sense, but brief in the 2 to 3 sentences sense.  Although folks love to hear from other members on social networks, they can get overloaded when the message is more a novel than an introduction.

Just as gals don’t want long-winded friends, they also don’t want gloomy friends. Emails that are bright and up-beat definitely get more attention than those filled with moans and groans. Don’t upload your list of complaints and worries on a potential new pal. Start your friendship off with positivity in your prose.

Finally, talking about your recent divorce, disclosing your love of all things Republican, or revealing your struggles with eczema—these are all topics that can wait for another time. Self-disclosure is absolutely a wonderful thing, but not so wonderful in the context of a first email with someone whom you do not know. Talk about your interests and hobbies; speak to your similarities, but save the self-disclosure for a time when you’ve established a relationship.

Try and Try Again
So now that you are assured that there is indeed nothing wrong with you, and you’ve fixed any would-be issues with your profile (by posting a photo) and email writing skills (by keeping things short and sweet and conversational), the best advice for using social networks to meet new gal pals is this … if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. There are thousands of women on all seeking the exact same thing—new connections. If one gal isn’t responsive to your introduction, there are a thousand others who will be thrilled to hear from you.

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