As an early adopter of LinkedIn (member 554,000-ish) I’d like to think I have a bit of experience and insight into this business network. I am not a LinkedIn expert, but I do know enough about it to understand the value from the viewpoint of a candidate, recruiter, salesperson, and business owner. When it comes to expanding my network and invitations to connect, I have some strong opinions.
The Business Network
When LinkedIn first started, its “suggestion” regarding invitations to connect read:
Carol Schultz wants to be your connection on LinkedIn. We recommend that you only connect with professionals you know well and who you are generally willing to recommend to your other business contacts.
Now, LinkedIn invitations read:
WHY MIGHT CONNECTING WITH CAROL SCHULTZ BE A GOOD IDEA?
Carol Schultz’s connections could be useful to you
After accepting Carol Schultz’s invitation, check Carol Schultz’s connections to see who else you may know and who you might want an introduction to. Building these connections can create opportunities in the future.
These are two very different guidelines.
The first is simple and to the point. It makes sense to me, and seems geared more toward relationships that are already in place. I’d be happy to recommend a business contact I know and whose work I know.
The second seems geared more toward what a connection can do for me. This is self-centered; e.g., I should connect with John so that I can see who is in his network who can do something for me. This leaves me feeling like I need a shower.
That said, I certainly understand the value of creating future opportunities. I just believe that connecting with total strangers is not the best strategy for creating those opportunities.
I was approached by someone this week regarding hiring his company to do some work for me. I’m very interested and asked him for references and some examples of work he’s done. He didn’t give me either. He responded, “References are a non-issue, however for a program at this price, we ask you to reference our testimonials versus taking our very busy clients’ time on a call or email.”
He was quick to mention the names of a few large companies he has done work for and that he’d closed $100,000 in business in the past three days. That’s fine and dandy — and a conversation to discuss at length elsewhere — but I want to speak to some people who have retained him. I began to search for people to provide me with blind references. I always check blind references regardless of the references that are given to me, and I find references in a number of ways. I find blind reference checking to be quite effective.
I decided to use my LinkedIn network as my jumping-off point. He is a second-degree connection of mine and there are 13 people between us. I reached out to 6 of the 13 who I know best. Each responded to me that, though they were connected to him, they didn’t actually know him. I will continue to reach out to the others in hopes I will find someone who does actually know him and/or done business with him. In addition, I will use the other methods I have to get information.
Although I connect with people I know, others don’t, as I’ve pointed out. So what good do they do to have them in your network?
Your Connection Strategy
Do you actually have a LinkedIn strategy, or are you just slinging spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks?
What is it you’re looking to accomplish with LinkedIn?
- Are you there because you think you need a profile?
- Are you hoping people will find you?
- Is your profile written professionally so people get an understanding of the value you offer?
- Are you there to have as many connections as possible? If so, have you heard of Facebook?
- Do you believe if you have as many connections as possible that more people will help you?
- Are you trying to generate business?
People are so busy these days that it’s hard to get in touch with folks who do know you. What do you think the chances are that people you are connected to, but don’t know you, will make time to help you out?
Call me old fashioned, but I still believe that building relationships is the best way to create opportunities; consequently, I am still guided by the early LinkedIn recommendation. I subscribe to the quality over quantity strategy because I want to know if I reach out to someone in my network they will be more apt to assist me in my request.
There are some people on LinkedIn who connect to anyone and everyone. There are LinkedIn Open Networkers, or LIONs. I know some LIONs who have more than 10,000 connections. I can’t even imagine having that many, let alone what value they’d bring to me … or me to them. I only just reached the 500-connection mark late in 2011. That took seven and a half years.
We Worked Together, Where? Being Dishonest Is NOT an Effective Strategy
I’m not interested in having people in my network I don’t know or have never spoken to. My profile clearly states that I don’t connect with people I don’t know; however, if an individual feels we should be connected I ask that they please send a note with a reason we should connect. I have accepted invitations from people who take the time to give me a reason to connect. I received an invite a few months ago from an inexperienced corporate recruiter who had read an article I wrote. She took the time to tell my why she wanted to connect and I accepted.
What really burns me up is people who send invitations under the umbrella that we’re “friends,” “colleagues” or “we’ve done business together.” What is up with that? If you’re going to lie and send me an invitation that says we’re friends or worked together in the past when we’ve never so much as met, emailed, or spoken, what makes you think I’d want to connect with you? Do you think I want people in my network that begin contact with dishonesty? Do you think I’ll want to help, or do business with, someone who lies out of the starting gate? Is it really that hard to compose a few sentences that tell me why you’d like to connect?
I don’t know if you realize it, but if you send an invitation to connect and the receiver indicates they don’t know you, LinkedIn will require you enter an email address to all invitees going forward. To me, that is much more work than composing two or three sentences introducing yourself and why you’d like to be connected.
What About That Headline?
I imagine my headline grabbed your attention enough that you read the post. How do you feel about a dishonest headline that drags you in and doesn’t deliver: a bit like a bait and switch?
Let me know how you feel.