A “Foolish” Thought about LinkedIn

LinkedInI’m a firm believer in the power of LinkedIn. As the go-to Fool for PR and company-wide networking, LinkedIn is an absolutely crucial tool that I use every day. With it, I can search and dig through company rosters to ensure I’m reaching out to the right person for my specific request. I honestly can’t imagine doing my job without it.

Because it’s a network aimed at professionals, the growth of LinkedIn has brought with it a number of etiquette questions. For example: What should you post on your page? With whom should you connect? How should you describe yourself? And on and on.

On the subject of connecting, the best advice I’ve read is to use the “help test.” Ideally, you would be willing to help any of your “connections” if they reached out to you with a request. If that’s not the case, you might want to reconsider some of those connections. On the other hand, if you’re inviting someone to connect with you, and you don’t think they’d say yes if you reached out to them for help, it might be worth re-examining that invitation.

One of the more bewildering things I come across is what I call the “cold connection request.” Occasionally I’ll get an invitation from someone I don’t know, whom I’ve never spoken to or corresponded with in any capacity. The person might be in a similar field, but not necessarily. Either way, I’m hesitant to accept cold requests. You wouldn’t accept a face-to-face meeting with someone you didn’t know unless they gave you at least a little context, right?

If you ever find yourself needing to “cold connect” with someone, I highly suggest tailoring the invitation. LinkedIn allows you to write your own invitation instead of using the standard “I’d like to add you to my professional network.” If someone personalizes the invitation, it shows me that they at least care enough to put some thought into why they’re reaching out to me.

To be sure, I’m not looking for anything fancy. Just tell me something about who you are and why you wanted to connect with me, and I’d be much more likely to respond. It’s a low bar, really.

As you build out your networks on LinkedIn, be thoughtful about who you include. After all, a well-constructed LinkedIn network can be a powerful tool when it comes time to ask for help. Just make sure that your connections are people who’d be willing to help you, and vice versa. You’ll have more success that way. I promise.

3 thoughts on “A “Foolish” Thought about LinkedIn

  1. Krista,

    Interesting approach to “why and why not to connect”. And, although I agree with part of what you said, let me add something that will be somewhat counter to what you advise.

    I lecture to groups and corporations on LinkedIn and have had a successful LinkedIn SEO maximization business for several years. I help people get found on LinkedIn by showing them that just uploading a resume is a guaranty that you WON’T get found by those doing advanced searches on your skill-set keywords and how companies can capitalize on having all of their employees on LinkedIn.

    The key to being found has three main ingredients – Profile SEO Maximization (targeted to the internal LinkedIn search algorithms, as well as Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.), how “full” your profile is constructed (there are hidden points you receive for every section in your profile that work in tandem with your SEO for search results), and how many people are in your network.

    Aside from trying to be found (usually for job searching), your network is, as you said, one of the most powerful tools anyone in business has. But, there are two main concepts to “networking” that people forget. One, if they don’t have many people in their network they can’t really network – it’s all about numbers. But the biggest concept in “networking” has to do with the “action” of networking, not just having 500+ connections.

    If I’m just “networking” with my close friends or playing “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Cold-Connection”, I’m not really networking – I’m “cocooning” – I’m staying in my safe little circle and never going outside of it, never expanding it, and never knowing all the other resources I may have at my finger tips. Since the average number of “connections” most people in LinkedIn have is around 150, then for every person you are directly connected to there are an addition 150 connected to you through them (your second tier) and each of those people have 150 and so on.

    If you do the math that comes to (on average) 22,500 people. What that means is that for every person you say “no” to who sends you an invitation and you don’t connect because you’re trying to play it safe, you’re giving up 22,500 possible future connections from that point.

    And here’s the biggest lesson when it comes to networking – you may not know THEM (possibly because they tried to “cold-connect” with you), but if you never connect with them, you’ll never know who THEY know.

    Case in point: I recently was lecturing in Dallas to a large group of HR professionals (HR directors, people from HR firms, head-hunters, recruiters, etc.) and I mentioned that the old concept of “6 degrees of separation” was no longer valid – it’s now about “3 to 4 degrees of separation” due to the Internet, FaceBook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Google+, and all the other social networks.

    And here’s what’s interesting – it’s ALWAYS been 3 to 4 degrees of separation – we just never knew it – the original mathematical study was done in the 1960’s (although proposed by a Hungarian author in the early 1900’s), but was based on how we communicated during that time period. Now, however, we get to see who our connections know and so on.

    Well, during my presentation I said I would like to go out on a limb and try something. I asked for anyone in the room to just yell out the name of someone in the world they would die to meet. Almost before I could finish my request, a gal from the back of the room yelled out, “KELLY CLARKSON”!

    I ask her is she and I had ever met prior to that day – she said “no”. I asked if she had known anything about me before the presentation – she said “no”. I asked if she knew anything about my past before I got into webdesign, LinkedIn Profile Make-Overs, application development, and the many other career skills I now do – she said “no”.

    I proceeded to tell her and the group that for over 30 years, prior to going into technology, I had been in the music production / audio production / video production / and media arts training industries, a former voting member of the Grammys, a former studio musician and music producer, even being a musician in the US Air Force directing bands that performed concerts for high schools and colleges for the recruiting division where I had met a country western guitar player. Where am I going with all this, you ask?

    Well, I then told her and the group that just two days prior to the lecture I was giving that day, I had met that guitar player for lunch after we had not seen each other for over 20 years. While having lunch he says, “You’ll never guess what my daughter is now doing.” – I said, “I have no idea” – he said, “She’s the tour manager for – wait for it – Kelly Clarkson”.

    I then looked at the gal in the back of the room who had shouted the name out, and I said to her, “So, when did you want tickets”?

    The point of this is to show you that you may not know a person at all – but what could hurt YOU is the fact that unless you connect with them you’ll never know who THEY know – you may not think much of the guy down there on the street corner with the sign that reads, “Will Work for Food”, but you might think more highly of his brother, Bill Gates – but then, you would never know because you never tried to connect with that person – when you give up one connection, you give up thousands – that’s what is called “networking”, and that’s why it is so powerful.

    My advise is to connect with anyone and everyone you can so you find more people you you may already know (you’ve just forgotten about them) or that the ones doing the “cold-connecting” are really no different than you – but connecting to them could be very valuable – you just never know.

    Just a thought.

  2. Hi Terry — Thanks for your comment. You definitely make some valid points. Though there’s a very big difference between LinkedIn and the other social media channels you mention — in that LinkedIn is tailored only to professionals at this point. So one could make the argument that you would treat those connections differently than you would with Facebook friends or Twitter followers or MySpace…wait, does anyone still use MySpace?!

    Again — I’d like to emphasize that this is an extremely low bar we’re talking about. Just a couple of lines in an explanation can go a long way to making the connection seem more relevant and legitimate. If someone wants to connect with me, but they can’t articulate why — or worse, they don’t feel like they should have to articulate why — then how much value are they actually placing on reaching out to me? Not much. And in turn, how much value should I place on connecting with them? Not much.

    Connecting for connecting’s sake isn’t as valuable as connecting with the right person, for the right thing, at the right time. And that’s what I think we should be striving for — though, as I noted, I do think you make a compelling counter-argument.

    Thanks for reading — and have a great day!

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