Does Your Networking Come Across as Stalking?

Some freelancers are natural networkers. They have no problem introducing themselves to clients and colleagues, and they know how to build real relationships that benefit both parties. Other freelancers don't have the same social skills. In general, that's okay. I'd like to think we're a fairly welcoming bunch overall. But every now and then someone takes networking or marketing too far, and they come across as more of a stalker than a colleague people actually want to get to know.

This has happened to me a few times in the past, and I know the same is true for a few other established colleagues. Usually it's not a big deal. It's a case of a new writer trying too hard. And that's forgivable. Sometimes, however, it's more than that.

Crossing the Line Between Networking and Stalking

Over the last several months I've dealt with an individual who seems to struggle with this line. They bill themselves as some kind of marketing expert, yet their own marketing turns off colleagues like me because they resort to abusive tactics like spamming and trolling, and they engage in the stalker-like behavior of following me around from site to site. Here's a quick look at what's happened:

  • This writer found me on a colleague's blog where I published a guest post. Their initial comment was fairly typical troll-like behavior. In this case they were being deliberately provocative while adding absolutely no value to the conversation. They took an article about the importance of the business side of freelance writing (as in knowing your value), and commented that they agreed with it. But they went further, explaining that they "agreed" that writers should not be paid well for their work (because then "everyone will expect better pay" -- paraphrasing). They took the position of the article, turned it upside down, and commented to agree in a way that implied my position was that writers were not worth decent pay. You know me well enough to know that's bullshit.
  • I didn't think much of the comment initially -- perhaps that someone just didn't bother to read. This was also a person promoting their own copywriting business -- very clearly the pushy marketing type desperate for traffic, even if it comes through trolling. I responded, clarifying my actual position. Later on that blog owner actually removed the comment exchange after seeing the pattern of this person's comments.
  • Shortly after this person followed me to my own blog. That's fine. That's why we write guest posts -- to build our own audiences. But I started noticing a trend. This person was pushing links left and right, blatantly spamming with meaningless comments to get backlinks (to a site that was somewhat spammy in its own right). And there were a few other instances of twisting words to imply I meant the opposite of what I said. I don't tolerate spammers or trolls here, and as per our comment policy that person was put on a permanent moderation list. For months they have continued to try to comment here, and not a single comment has been approved. Now I put them on a moderation list rather than a block list so I could reconsider them if the behavior changed. Sadly it has not.
  • This person followed me around to a few other blogs, responding to comments I'd left when there weren't posts of my own for them to respond to. And this wasn't a case of them responding to everyone -- most were direct responses to what I personally shared.
  • This same individual sent me emails trying to get me to send my clients their way or outsource some of my work to them. Remember, to that point their only attempt at networking was to push their links down my throat, act like a stalker following me around from site to site, and twisting my words whenever they wanted to be controversial to get attention because they had nothing substantive to add to the conversation. I'm all for being open to controversy. But you must have something to say.
  • I've ignored this fellow writer. I don't do anything to encourage them to continue. Yet every time I think they are finally backing off, they resurface. They don't seem to grasp the fact that their attempts at networking are a turn off rather than a legitimate marketing strategy. For the record, I'm not the only writer who has dealt with this person and had to block them or remove comments due to spamming and trolling. But for some reason, I can't seem to shake them.
  • Most recently this person followed me to a client's website. Again, they're back to posting useless shallow comments that add nothing of value or that are completely irrelevant. This is a case of a typical manual link spammer as they toss in home page links to their website in nearly every comment they leave (no legitimate reason, it's already there tied to their handle, and it's frequently irrelevant to their comments). The sad thing is that their comments are just coherent enough that some people don't notice the pattern and they get away with it. That's why they aren't likely to learn from their mistakes. They're still being rewarded for virtually stalking colleagues and littering their work with spam. I chose to leave my client out of it for now, so those comments were approved although I still won't acknowledge them. If it becomes an ongoing problem and they move from simple link spam to more aggressive trolling again, I'll chat with the client about it.

Sometimes it's almost flattering when someone new to the industry follows you around and tries to pick your brain on a near-constant basis. You can dismiss it as growing pains and a certain amount of excitement on their part. They grow and mature and settle into the networking scene eventually. But sometimes aggressive networking and pushy marketing feel more like stalking. Does yours?

Remember that networking and marketing have long-term effects, not just immediate traffic. And your colleagues do talk privately. Once you're identified as a troll or spammer, chances are good word is going to spread even if you don't see that happening publicly. Don't risk it. Don't abuse members of your network. Don't leech onto someone with desperate pleading for attention, and don't do that with sites just because you think they'll send a lot of traffic your way. When networking with colleagues, act like the professional you're trying to be, no matter how new you are. While it's nice to know a new writer values your opinion or appreciates your site, it's something else entirely when that person is there every time you turn around.

Have you ever dealt with a situation like this -- where one person has been so pushy with their attempts at networking or marketing to your audience that you have to cut off all ties? I'm happy to say this is extremely rare, and most colleagues are amazing people to chat with whether we're bonding over experiences like these or having a heated debate. At what point would you feel the need to cut someone off?

Profile image for Jennifer Mattern

Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

Subscribe to the All Freelance Writing newsletter to get freelance writing updates from Jenn in your inbox.

35 thoughts on “Does Your Networking Come Across as Stalking?”

  1. Ugh. I always get the Bobbsey twin. You know, the writer who follows you around and then is suddenly an expert in all the things you do, says they have the same type of clients, and talks about having the same projects coming out–but yet they never seem to actually be as successful as the portrait they try to paint, possibly because they are too busy running around the internet following you and telling you all about their work like a kid pulling his mom’s sleeve for a cookie. Then, they copy (or…mimic) sections of your portfolio site enough that you see they are copied but anyone you point it out to (who doesn’t get the extent of the stalking) would say you were a narcissist. One of these folks even stole a frickin’ line out of my ebook and used it on their site.

    Oh, I also get the poacher. This is a freelancer who paints a picture of extreme success and then emails you privately about needing clients and asks you to give them details about yours because they’ve decided that they want to work with them as well. Then, when you don’t don’t give out private details about your clients and contracts, they make disparaging comments about how you probably don’t work with clients that pay as well as the poacher demands anyway–because the poacher is doing SO VERY AMAZINGLY WELL.

    And people wonder why I withdrew from the freelance writing community last year….(okay, people probably don’t even know who the hell I am, but I wanted to end on a mysterious and romantic note before I copy your website and pretend it’s mine and then email you to ask you to GIVE ME WORK SO I CAN EAT ;-P).

    Anyway, I think this is why, so often, your message (and mine, back in the day) was for freelancers not to trust the image that others try to project. Read between the lines and stop acting like a freelancer with lots of stories of success is the messiah on a mountain. Grains of salt, people. Grains of frickin’ salt.

    • Yeah Yo, I know we’ve both had that issue in the past. It’s beyond obnoxious (especially when they start swiping your branding and such or try to poach your own clients). But as annoying as that is, I can ignore it or tolerate it and try to be flattered at lease a tiny bit while they find themselves. This latest guy is just creepy.

      I haven’t dealt with the poacher variety quite as often. I’m all for giving referrals. But if someone nags me for them, their name quietly drops off my list. A bad referral to a client of mine risks tarnishing my own reputation with them in the future. No thanks.

      And remind me to give you crap privately later about the Twitter disappearance and deletion. 😛

  2. Hmm, wonder if I should be hurt that this hasn’t happened to me 😀 What I have started getting a bunch of are requests from individuals to submit guest posts to my business writing site. Not a problem if you demonstrate SOME kind of thought went into the request, other than you wanting a backlink.

    You know, like actually reviewing my blog for its theme and the topics covered in the posts. And I hate them expecting me to give them a topic (unless it”s someone I already have a relationship with). Some are questionable at best.

    Never understood how the stalker type thinks that is good strategy.

  3. Thank GAWD I’ve never had to deal with the colleague stalker before. The one you describe sounds like that needy past love interest everyone not-so-affectionately referred to as the Stage 4 Clinger. 😉

    I have, however, been dealing with a wannabe client stalker. They want me to work for free, don’t you know! And they have emailed me, stalked me on FB and spammed my blog comments in their attempts to get me to write and promote their organization out of the goodness of my heart. All that despite a firm NO from the get-go.

    Some people! Sheesh!

    • Emily – I’ve had needy clients in the past who thought they were entitled to little freebies whenever they wanted them, and cutting them off cold turkey was the only strategy that worked. But this wasn’t even an existing client? That’s just odd. You’d think all the time they put into hounding you would have been better spent recruiting a willing volunteer or just doing it themselves!

  4. Whew! I will admit when I read the first paragraph, I was thinking, “OMG! Is it ME? Have I been a stalker?!?!” heh heh. Happily, upon reading the rest of the article, I can say with certainty, I am NOT a stalker.

    (Maybe I’m having middle school emotional flashbacks today? When I taught middle school, the kids would always say: “Is she talking about me? Who is she talking about?” when I lectured them about being kind or something.)

    • lol No, it definitely isn’t you Dava. Always happy to see you around. 🙂

      Fortunately I’ve dealt with worse (stalked by an ex and a guy we banned from a major forum for scamming people who decided to hunt me down because I wouldn’t restore his account as per the rules there). It’s crazy what people do to get on your radar or try to make your life hell online. This person’s a peach in comparison. More like a little bug I have to swat away every now and again. It doesn’t eliminate the creep factor though.

      The saddest thing is that they really might have thought they were engaging in good marketing practices at the time, given all the spammy BS advice floating around the Web. Unfortunately for them, they’re too far gone now. Their current brand is shot to hell with too many people in the niche. But like I said the post, whether they see it publicly or not, word spreads.

  5. Jenn, I have not been stalked although I was once called some very bad names in an open forum by someone whom I didn’t know who had apparently taken exception to my style of writing and some content.

    I have dealt with stalkers and trolls in an on-line network. They usually end up getting banned from whichever network they frequent, and they are generally the sort who have no insight into the way they upset people. If they do not understand how their behaviour offends they are not likely to reform and have to be dealt with on a “case-by-case” basis unless of course they commit a criminal offence.

    I do sympathise with you. These difficult types are very unsettling.

    • Been there, done that Jon. So I feel your pain. I hope it wasn’t too awful. I find it’s better to stay true to yourself and your style, regardless of whether or not it rubs some people the wrong way. You can’t please everyone.

      I responded in part to your comment about forums and bans in my previous comment. But that’s exactly what I’m hoping to do here. While I’d love comments to be an open free-for-all at times, there will always be limits. Had it just been him following me around, I’d probably let them go through. It was the spammy nature of the majority of his comments which crossed that line for me.

  6. Hi Jennifer, your article made me think. I’m usually an anti-stalker: while I do follow interesting folks to the blog posts they read (after all, we all share stuff around for this very purpose), I try not to comment too much: don’t want my online friends feel as if I’m tailing them.

    Or maybe I’m just being anti-social.

    I used to work in Human Resources when I lived in Japan, and real-life stalking there was a no-kidding problem. We had to relocate some ladies stalked by shady types. I clearly remember their expressions of fear and disgust; so I’m a bit hyper-sensitive to it even on-line, I must admit.

    Anyway, most of us share stuff with an intent to keep the connection and to share / entertain, so 99% it’s all good. Maybe I’m saying this because I’ve not been stalked online yet.

    • “usually an anti-stalker” — Does that make you a “sometimes stalker?” 😉

      I don’t think there’s anything wrong with seeing the same colleagues around and commenting to each other frequently. I’ll use Cathy Miller as an example because she commented here. Cathy and I see each other around all the time — this blog, her blog, my personal blog, sometimes on my clients’ blogs (usually if I promote the article), on Twitter, via email, etc. I don’t mind that one bit. Cathy’s one of my favorite folks in the writing community and we’re in touch fairly often. But we’ve also taken the time to get to know each other. She wasn’t a complete stranger who suddenly started appearing everywhere. Even that would have been okay if it was a case of her reaching out to a lot of writers in those different outlets. In the case of this creep, it’s more directed my way and it got uncomfortable a long time ago.

      This isn’t the first online stalker I’ve dealt with. It’s funny that Jon Stow mentioned that they tend to get banned from communities after that behavior. In the case of my first, he started with the stalker routine after instead. He was banned from a large community where I was a moderator. He was breaking rules left and right. He had a secondary account banned (only allowed one) because he was using it to post fake reviews of his own products in an effort to sell them from his other account. He was lucky both accounts weren’t banned. He flipped out telling me I was ruining his business and threatened to destroy mine. Tracked down my email addresses, home phone number, etc. It was pretty bad. We had policies in place to ban people for this but the forum owner decided not to. That’s when I told him it was no longer my problem. I left and haven’t looked back. I don’t have much tolerance for that crap. The other case was an ex. That was worse because not only was it online, but he knew where I lived. I’d get messages telling me when and where he’d seen me. Now that was terrifying at times, and thankfully it didn’t go beyond that and it eventually stopped before I had to bring in the authorities.

      Seeing someone comment too much is a far cry from those real-life stalker situations, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Getting involved with the community is a good thing. The problems only seem to arise if too much attention is turned toward a particular person. One of many good reasons to branch out your network. 🙂

  7. This hasn’t happened to me, possibly because I’m a little bit on the outside of the writing community (that happens when you’re sleeping while everyone else is online!). The worst I’ve had is people who send long-winded emails asking for advice (usually on getting started as a copywriter), I reply, and never get so much as a thank you.

    I guess that is a problem with the internet though; it makes it easy for people to make a nuisance of themselves with little fear of repercussions.

    • On the other hand, the time difference might help with productivity! 🙂 Out of curiosity, is that the case for you — less networking and more productive writing time, or would you prefer more community time?

      You’re absolutely right about the internet making this kind of behavior too easy. I just accepted work from a regular client on a new site of his. Normally I ghostwrite for his blogs, but in this case I’ll receive a byline. When I found that out, all I could think was “Pleeeease don’t let this creep follow me there too.”

      • Really I don’t think it makes a whole lot of difference to either productivity or networking because there’s always something you can do to slack off when you don’t feel like working, right? And I wouldn’t spend THAT much time on Twitter et al anyway. It just sometimes sucks to find an interesting conversation in somebody’s blog and comment, only to realise that nobody else replies because the discussion was done before you got there.

        • Unfortunately true. Sometimes the easiest thing to motivate ourselves to do is to procrastinate. Twitter’s sometimes my biggest enabler. Then again, others’ blogs are even worse. I get so caught up reading that I sometimes forget to stop to write.

          I can see how that would be frustrating and how you might feel left out of some blog conversations. Your comments are always welcome here at least. Whether we’ve hashed things out or not, other feedback is always welcome. Besides, we just love to chat. 🙂

  8. Jenn, I’m glad you posted this.

    First, anyone who thinks vomiting up links and chasing you down everywhere you go is marketing isn’t a marketer – he’s a fool. I hope the guilty party sees this and backs off. I’m VERY glad I don’t have a stalker.

    I’ve had similar experiences to what Yo describes – the poacher, the twin… it’s frustrating only because your stuff is being swiped or your reputation trashed by someone who won’t put the work into their own career.

    I’ve been condescended to/lectured by people who have no idea what I’m doing but think they need to put me in my place to make themselves feel better. I’ve had writers swipe my blog posts and even my ideas that are unique brands to me. I’ve been around writers who are so busy yelling “Look at me!” they don’t realize their audience is holdings their collective ears and running the other direction.

    There are right ways to market and wrong ways. The wrong ways get you noticed, but they sure as hell don’t get you work. Not in the long run.

    • So far so good Lori. 🙂

      The twin thing is obnoxious. While I get that imitation is supposed to be the sincerest form of flattery, in business it’s not. It’s someone else trying to monetize an image you’ve spent your career building instead of finding their own. I get peeved the most when it’s a near branding copy or they flat out swipe copy from my sites. Part of me wants to flick them in the nose and tell them to back off. And part of me knows they’re just new and still trying to figure things out, so I want to sit them down and have a chat about figuring out their own identity (so they’ll leave mine alone). I can think of two cases where newer writers didn’t even mimic one colleague — they pulled bits and pieces directly from several to create a piecemeal identity of their own (as in swiping exact copy — a line from here, a line from there). Those are a bit tougher to tolerate because you know what they’re doing is intentional.

  9. Wow. I admit, I swallowed hard when I first read the article headline, because I’m not the most socially adept person. I don’t think I’ve spammed anyone or gotten any trolls, but I also tend to be very… oblivious.

    Not that oblivious, thank God. (And yes, I do actually thank God for that.)

    That entire Bobbsey twin thing is why I’ve been careful with my own site design and such, studying more than one source. Besides, comparing sources helps you figure out what works for you.

    I sometimes have folks ask me for advice on things, but so far, everyone’s been great about publicly thanking me. Of course, that “everyone” could just be a side effect of my aforementioned obliviousness…

    • I should have clarified the Bobbsey twin thing because I might have made it sound a little territorial and weird (“IF YOU USE THE WORD “the” ON YOUR PORTFOLIO, YOU COPIED ME!!!!”). I think we all look to professionals we respect for ideas about presenting ourselves, and there is nothing wrong with that. And a lot of portfolio stuff is just common sense that no one “owns.” If 50% of us all have an resume page on our portfolios, that’s not copying–it just makes sense and if you are a new freelancer, it’s a great way to start a portfolio site.

      Twinning is more about the little, subtle touches being mimicked –or the big things like actually copying another writer’s site copy and template and changing a few words around (happened to me a few years ago).

      • I understood what you meant about the twinning; I just know how easy it can be to accidentally twin (or plagiarize) something if you study it too hard.

        I was referring more to studying others for ideas of what to include in my site, how to include it, and how to lay it out.

    • Well, if you have Misti, I sure haven’t seen it. 🙂

      Studying multiple sources is a good strategy. There’s nothing wrong with pulling inspiration from things that have worked well before. We just have to make sure that “inspiration” isn’t a direct swipe of someone’s copy, images, etc. But we’re creative folks, so that should be easy, right?

  10. That is really creepy! Have you tried confronting the person directly and pointing out that their behavior is inappropriate?

    • I responded to his first comment pointing out that he was putting words in my mouth (“agreeing” with something I clearly didn’t say). And I’m pretty sure I responded to his first email telling him I wouldn’t outsource my work (although I can’t check that anymore because my sent box was lost in my recent hard drive failure). He didn’t get a clue. He’s still deliberately provocative. I’m all for controversy. But lying to make it happen is never okay. And I don’t have any interest in getting in touch with him again directly. I don’t want to risk that encouraging him to try harder.

  11. When I wrote for a health blog, I was trailed by a nay-sayer….whatever I wrote about, he had the “facts” to back up the opposite view. I ignored him, and I guess he got bored and went away. So I guess I’ve been pretty lucky. Except occasionally I get ripped off.

  12. I am new to this blog (hi everyone), so I’m obviously late to this post.

    Buuut anywho. I almost accidentally “twined” Peter Bowerman. Although I’ve long been a fan of his books and blog, I had never been to his business website. I swear it!

    Anyway, I started working on website copy for myself and FINALLY came up with a simple concept that I really liked for the home page. Just before I was ready to launch I ended up on Peter’s page. I think I was looking to see how other writers had formatted their samples.

    When I read the copy on his home page, I wasn’t sure if I should be annoyed at myself for not looking around at other sites in the first place, or happy that I came up with a similar idea as Peter Bowerman (big fan of his). I had the same “You: no time for this, busy, blah blah blah…Me: Writer, I do this…yada yada” format. The words were not the same, but the format was close enough that I knew I had to change it. I’m sure his is much better than mine was, but I still like to pretend that me having a very similar concept means I don’t suck as much as I think I do at times. 🙂


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