LinkedIn connections were easy to come by when LinkedIn first started. There was a shiny, new feeling to connecting with people. A lot of professionals didn’t think twice about connecting with people.
Now it’s 2012 and the environment is much different. LinkedIn and social networking is no longer shiny and new. The general idea of connecting with people online has been hashed out through countless social networks and some suggest that a feeling of social networking fatigue has set in. It’s no surprise that the folks with the most LinkedIn connections started building their network in the beginning. Simply put, although it may be harder to build connections on LinkedIn, it’s infinitely more important.
If you are just starting out on LinkedIn or if you are just now waking up to the reality of its importance in the professional world, where do you begin? Don’t worry – even if you’ve waited until now to start building a serious connection network, you haven’t missed the boat.
Tips for Building LinkedIn Connections
- Look for the Hubs: The first thing that you want to do on LinkedIn is to look for the networking hubs within your chosen industry, profession, and geography. These connection hubs are a little harder to pinpoint now that LinkedIn doesn’t show the exact amount of connections. However, you can perform people searches and then sort by number of connections. Look for people with a high number of connections, lots of shared connections with you, and extremely well-developed profiles (indicating active use.) These are people that you want to connect with; it’s worth taking the time to physically meet them if you can add value to their business. Developing associations with the strongest networkers in your chosen group creates the mathematical connectivity happen. You need to be connected to the centers of any connection cluster or you will never have an expansive network.
- Use your Real Life Connections: The next step in building contacts is to connect with your real-life contacts. It’s very easy to forget to include a particular group of your contacts. Set aside an entire day and run through all of these different types of contacts – make sure you include everyone from these broad groups of connections: Colleagues, Friends, Family, School buddies, Teachers, Clients/Customers, Vendors, Partners, Relatives, Service Providers (your accountant, banker, IT provider, etc.), Social media buddies (people you routinely connect with on other networks), People that you have met in the last year (save those business cards!), Competitors (that you know personally) and Ex-colleagues. Connecting with all of your closest real life contacts in a systematic way will immediately grow your network. You should have close to a 100% acceptance rate to these LinkedIn invites – if you don’t, re-check your methods.
- Be Consistent: Consistent growth is one of the least mentioned aspects of building a strong LinkedIn network. Building a strong professional network is not a one-time task, but rather a daily routine. Make sure that every externally facing aspect of your professional life contains your LinkedIn profile. Common items for review: Email signature, website, social profiles, business cards, and any kind of auto-responders. After you add your profile to every channel, the next key is consistent invites. Make asking for a connection a part of your regular workflow. Every time you meet with a customer, talk with a partner, make a sale, go on an interview, go to a meeting, etc… send an immediate LinkedIn connection invite. One common short-cut is to use LinkedIn invites as a substitute for a thank-you email. As long as you write a nice personal note, it saves a step and may deliver more long-term value than an email or even hand-written note.
- Make Yourself Visible: While active methods of developing LinkedIn connects are best, passive methods are also important. Make sure that you have a well-developed, comprehensive LinkedIn profile and that you include all of the common phrases about what you do and what your company does. It’s a mistake to write your LinkedIn profile like a resume: people want to connect with successful professionals in their own area of interest, not with job seekers or network-hungry marketers. Make sure that you look like someone that you would want to connect with. After ensuring your profile looks good, it’s time to get active. Participate regularly in LinkedIn groups and LinkedIn Answers. LinkedIn also has an update field (much like Twitter) where you can share interesting articles, status updates, and anything else you want to discuss. Make sure that you aren’t ignoring this update feature – it’s a powerful way to make yourself visible in your industry.
- Connect, Don’t Friend: LinkedIn is a professional network, which means that it’s not about becoming someone’s friend. Connecting isn’t about seeing pictures of someone’s kids or finding out that they like Lousy Robot. The primary different between LinkedIn and other social networks is the bifurcation between personal and professional data. Now that the general public understands the network, the lines of decorum are being regularly crossed. Invites are often either overly personal (and creepy) or complete marketing related spam. When trying to connect with people, ensure that you differentiate yourself through your language.
- Don’t Sell Yourself: Professionals are often told to come up with long value statements about themselves and their companies. This leads to LinkedIn connect invites that read like marketing brochures. Does anyone care that you were instrumental to upgrading your company’s accounting platform? Unless you tailor the message in a highly specific manner, don’t use this kind of marketing-speak. Either write a very brief and courteous message requesting a connection, or use LinkedIn’s standard messaging (if you have a great looking profile and can trust in that.)
- Use your LinkedIn Network: This will become more important as you develop a more comprehensive network, but don’t forget to use the connections that you already have. Once you are connected with someone, they can introduce you to people to whom they are connected. If you are looking to connect with someone of a high influence, be sure to do a check to see what connections you have in common. Don’t be afraid to ask your connections for an introduction. However, be careful here: introductions can quickly get annoying with any sort of volume. Use your connections for introductions sparingly. It may in fact be a good idea to note when you do ask someone for an introduction to ensure you don’t do it again for at least a few months.
- Don’t Connect with just Anybody: If you are using LinkedIn for purely professional matters, it’s tempting to just connect with anyone. Although you may not be sharing Facebook type family updates on LinkedIn, you should treat it with the same respect if you value your email address. Connections on LinkedIn can see your email address, which means that if you connect with just anyone, you could end up on a lot of unwanted lists. Also note that your connections receive notification of who you connect with: do you really want your next employer seeing you connect with a fake profile?
- Nix Short-Cuts: There are a lot of quick ways to build your search capabilities on LinkedIn. This includes joining “open connector” type LinkedIn groups, joining email lists, and putting your contact information inside your LinkedIn Profile. Some people are even tempted to buy LinkedIn connections! All of this stuff just isn’t worth it anymore. Here’s the math: if you connect with the people who connect with everyone, you do end up with a broad search network. However, it’s the same search network that everyone else has. To build a valuable network, you need to get to the fringes of the connection-matrix – to the cluster that matters most to you. Once inside that “hub of people that matter”, you need to do everything you can to become a center of influence within that sphere.
Developing a high-quality, diverse, and powerful group of LinkedIn connections can give you an invaluable resource for professional success. A solid LinkedIn network can be of value to almost any project, whether you are recruiting new talent for your company, looking for a job, building sales leads, trying to get published, or just looking for a great service provider. Good luck and happy connecting!