If you feel that LinkedIn 'isn't working for you; if you are overwhelmed by irrelevant information; if your network is stale and inefficient, read this! You may have to set new standards for yourself and others.
I was inspired to write this blog post after a number of personal experiences as well as discussions with colleagues and friends who had similar disappointing experiences and observations.
LinkedIn can be immensely frustrating to use, but can also be an excellent tool for everybody by observing a few guidelines for engagement. What makes the difference? Read on to find out.
LinkedIn has some ‘design features’ and prioritization which exist purely for the benefit of LinkedIn as a business and which act as proponents of bad behavior. LinkedIn’s constant push for everyone to have more and more connections is one example.
The 'need for speed' and convenience has, in many cases, displaced quality in communications. Not too long ago, one had to print a letter, find an envelope, buy a stamp and go to a mailbox to contact somebody or apply for a job. Today, the ease with which anybody can fire off dozens of emails or clicks on links, has lowered the overall quality and raised the 'noise level'. As a result, organizations and individuals are bombarded with communications. How does one find the gold nugget in such a haystack? (Using an amalgamation of metaphors).
Symptoms of the problem
Some of the observations that triggered me to write this blog:
I realized that many of my connections were superficial - I really didn't know them and they didn't know me. So, why would they help me, a stranger, and what was my incentive to help them, if they asked?
We all have received many empty (Containing only LinkedIn's standard phrase) requests to connect. Often, shortly after you connect, you get a message about a product or service the contact wants to sell. I find this approach highly annoying and non-value-added. At other times, the sender genuinely wants to connect, but you have no context in which to place that person.
I have asked contacts of mine to introduce me to somebody in their network. In most cases, the response is: "I don't really know him/her and I'm not comfortable asking him/her" or something to that effect. My thinking is always: Why do you have this stranger in your network?
I recently adopted an approach where I ask every new connection for a 15 minute phone conversation. So far: Zero response to that request. Why would people want to connect with me without getting to know me?
We can make a difference if we adopt some virtues and behaviors that I feel characterize a valuable LinkedIn community member. Virtues such as Contribution, Responsiveness, Willingness to help, Sharing, and Award and be a proponent of Quality.
LinkedIn is a two-way street, a give-and-take. It’s a forum to learn, to exchange ideas, to build your network, to promote your company and products and, not the least, to promote yourself. All these are fine motives. What matters is HOW you do it.
My thoughts here are focusing on personal networking and promotion, but, conceptually, apply to everything we do on LinkedIn. You may or may not agree and I would appreciate a good discussion about this topic.
#1 - Make a Good First Impression
As a leader, a customer, a colleague and hiring manager, I am always on the lookout for talent, quality products and services and inspiration for how to improve my business and find solutions to my challenges. I value and respect quality, effort, transparency, dedication and other virtues. If you make a good first impression, I will listen and help as much as I can. Conversely, if I demonstrate the same virtues, please respond in kind and consider what I have to say.
#2 - Focus on Network Quality, Not Quantity
‘More is Better’ is a fallacy in networking. If you want to be a “LION”, be a LION (LinkedIn Open Networker). But what is the value of having thousands of contacts, out of whom you only actually know a small fraction? It dilutes your newsfeed and significantly adds to the noise. Instead, focus on Quality, not Quantity, and maintain a ‘small’ network of people who are valuable to you and to whom you can add value. ‘Small’ can still mean hundreds of people. To keep my network ‘crisp’ and relevant, I regularly cull it for contacts who are no longer relevant to where I am and where I’m going. They are all fine people, but may be part of an industry I’m no longer associated with or or we may not have spoken for years so they no longer really know who I am.
#3 - Make An Effort (Request to Connect)
Customize your 'request to connect' message! If you send a 'connect request' to a friend or close colleague, it is fine to send it without a customized message (Although I almost always customize my message because I want it to be MY message). However, if you are inviting somebody you met recently or it is a complete ‘cold call’, do include a customized message about why you want to connect and how the connection may benefit both of you. I personally reject most ‘empty’ invitations.
#4 - Reward Effort Made by Others (Responding)
Be selective in responding to requests to connect. You may want to ignore (most) empty or sloppy requests. Reward the request that demonstrates effort and time spent to attract your attention and interest. Those are valuable attributes and there may be value to you in return!
Responsiveness is another nice trait. If people ask for your help or your opinion, try your best to support them.
#5 - Add Value as an Active Participant
Add value when ‘liking’, posting or re-posting, by adding comments that put the ‘like’ or post in context of your world and views, by explaining why you like it or why it caused you to contemplate a topic or why it made you re-consider an opinion you had. I rarely click on postings with an ‘empty’ like. Granted, LinkedIn could be a bit more helpful here in allowing you to directly ‘like and comment’.
#6 - Offer Up Your Expertise
Sign up for the ‘Career Advice Hub’ and let others benefit from your knowledge and expertise. It is good for others and it is good for you. Experience the power of helping others.
#7 - Sign Up for Select Groups
This is in your own interest and less for interacting with others. Select the groups by industry, geography, topic and whatever else is important to you. Be focused in order to maintain strength in your network and to not dilute the quality of your newsfeed.
If you like this, do check out who I am at www.kurtjensen.net and do send me a request to connect if you think we can add value to each other's professional lives.