20 Nov 2013
The biggest lie on LinkedIn is that you’re not supposed to connect with people you don’t know.
“We recommend that you only send invitations to people you know well and trust.”
LinkedIn Help Center, 4/17/2013.
LinkedIn’s business model feeds on discovery and requires growth. We join LinkedIn to discover and build new professional alliances. If we only connected with people we knew in real life; networking, collaboration, opportunity and growth would be severely constrained. LinkedIn tells you not to connect with strangers because it gives them cover, it’s the official line, crafted by lawyers, impossible to enforce and they know you’ll ignore this rule anyway.
LIONS (LinkedIn Open Networkers)
LIONS totally disregard the no-strangers networking rule. They’re at the opposite end of the connection spectrum – they’ll connect with anyone with a pulse.
They boast about having thousands of connections (usually they’ll put their Connection count in their LinkedIn Headline) but anyone can be a LION – no skill is required and I think their networks are inherently weak. LIONS are promiscuous, rabid and unsophisticated networkers, socially inept.
I built 6 LinkedIn Groups with close to 30,000 members. It took me 5 years. Though I’m not directly connected, I can send a message (via a Group Announcement) directly to all of them in seconds. I shape their public Discussions and decide who can join. I care for and about those communities. Think about not just what – but why you are building.
SOMETIMES, YOU NEED AN EMAIL TO CONNECT
You can change your settings to require an email address before somebody can invite you to connect on LinkedIn. But the person inviting you has no way of knowing for sure if the email they inputted is correct, since LinkedIn’s system just acts like everything is ok when they add the email and click ‘connect’. Presumably this is to avoid email guessing. If you are the person doing the inviting and a handful of the people you invite to connect mark your invitation as “Spam” then LinkedIn will impose the email requirement on ALL of your subsequent invitations as a penalty. This can lead to confusion. You may think that everyone you invite has opted to require an email or you could actually be in LinkedIn connection purgatory. LinkedIn doesn’t tell you that you’ve been penalized. Btw did you know that LinkedIn puts a lifetime limit on the number of connection requests you can make? It’s 3,000. That may seem like a figure plucked from the air and in a way, it is – because once you use your allotment, you can just request more. It’s a fire-break, designed to stop people who are trying to build a mega network quickly (i.e LIONS).
After much thought, I’ve decided to put that email requirement on my account. I’m tired of getting random/thoughtless connection requests. The vast majority of requests I get are irrelevant and have zero networking potential for both sides. I’m sure you know exactly what I mean. I’m ‘breaking bad’ for the following reasons:
If you’re in customer service living and working in Mumbai, I’m fairly confident – that our professional objectives will not align, ever.
If you don’t have a photograph, why would I want to connect with someone who can’t be bothered to complete this most basic step on their Profile?
If you don’t use your likeness or use a logo, I don’t connect. You lost me at “Hello”. First impressions count.
If you use the tenuous template “Since you are a person I trust…” or the tepid template “I use LinkedIn to keep track of my professional network…” you definitely have not made the effort.
If you don’t bother to read my Profile. My Profile states “Don’t invite me just because you can. I am not an ‘open’ networker (or LION).”
If you’re a fellow Group member but don’t explain why you want to connect. Just because we joined the same Group, doesn’t automatically make us sympatico.
If you say that we worked together at the same company/firm (but we didn’t). I really don’t mind the subterfuge but I still want to know why you think connecting will be good for both of us.
CIRCLES OF TRUST
I’m a methodical and strategic networker. It’s not just about connecting with people I can help or whether they can help me. It’s about connecting with people who know how to network. If I build my network strategically, it becomes an incredibly useful tool for me and for the people in my network. You’ve heard the maxim, “build your well, before you are thirsty”? I’m always planning for future collaboration. Credibility is also key. Just like real life, there are circles of trust on LinkedIn. If you have a handful of people in common and a strong Profile (with a bevy of Endorsements) the chances of successfully connecting with someone you approach on LinkedIn are greatly enhanced because you’re already connected with their contacts, this is the currency of credibility. You can seal the deal by giving a great reason for connecting in your connection request.
REID & ROBIN
LinkedIn Co-Founder, Reid Hoffman has publicly referred to 2 types of networks: ‘Allies‘ and ‘Acquaintances‘. ‘Allies’ are the small group of your tight-knit contacts you’ve built up over the years who are similar to you professionally and personally close to you. ‘Acquaintances’ are the larger group (numbering in the hundreds or thousands) who are more professionally diverse than you, typically you met them through school/college or work/play. Reid points out that ‘Acquaintances’ are not merely added to your network because you connected with them, he insists that there ought to be some kind of meaningful exchange between both parties and time taken to build up trust between ‘Acquaintances’. He says that one way to build up trust is by giving each other “small gifts” which can be intangible (i.e information or references). A British Anthropologist, Robin Dunbar theorized that there was a maximum number of people with whom humans can maintain stable social relationships with. He said that we can keep roughly 150 people happy as friends. He’s currently looking into whether the size of our brain is relative to the size of our social network, re-igniting a theory that was first floated in the 1970′s (by Nick Humphrey) that humans evolved big brains not to understand our environment but each other. I’m wondering if Endorsements qualify as “small gifts” and deciding which 150 people in my 5,100+ LinkedIn network to focus on this week….my small brain is hurting.
I AM THE ONE WHO KNOCKS
99% of my network has been built (carefully) by me. I am the one who knocks. If you’re not planning your network, you’re leaving it to chance. When I reach out to people to connect, I’m executing my plan and vision. Here are just some of the elements I look for when I connect:
(1) 500+ Connections – likely to connect (<500 implies they ‘don’t connect with strangers’).
(2) Shared location – likely to connect based purely on proximity, the coffee potential.
(3) Shared contacts – if we have 5+ connections in common, we run in the same circles.
(4) Shared field/function – we’re in the same business or the same role, the ‘career bond’.
I agree with Reid on ‘Allies’ and ‘Acquaintances’ (and the Dunbar 150 theory feels about right). I think there’s a 3rd networking category peculiar to LinkedIn which fulfills our desire to build and discover. I call them ‘Affiliates’. These are your 1st degree Connections that you’ve not met…yet. They are loosely affiliated to you but tightly bound to their own ‘Allies‘. When/if you meet them – they become your ‘Acquaintances‘. When/if you help and nurture them – they become your ‘Allies‘.
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That’s all from me for this week. If you found this post useful, don’t keep it all to yourself. Go ahead and share this article with your own network (see those buttons on the sliding thing on the left?). They’ll thank you for it.