LinkedIn is the largest social network for professionals. Now 10 years old, it has more than 200 million members in its network, with representation in more than 200 countries and territories, in 19 languages1. If you are going to invest time in one social network for professional and career development, then LinkedIn is the one to concentrate on.
Many people create an account on LinkedIn, connect to a few key colleagues and friends, fill in a basic profile, perhaps join a relevant group or two and then stop. However, LinkedIn is a great resource with immense potential.
There are many ways to leverage your use of LinkedIn. This series of articles looks at how the free standard version of LinkedIn can be used as a knowledge tool: how LinkedIn can be used for connecting to experts, learning and knowledge-sharing.
The first in this series of articles looks at “know who”: connecting with the right experts.
In this Information Age many of our queries can be answered through online research, but the trickier issues relating to experiences and insights can be harder to solve, so “know who” is just as important as “know how”. LinkedIn can help you to widen your network of go-to experts for your questions about skills, insights and experiences, linking you across the globe to millions of experts in a wide variety of fields. Where they can’t help personally, they can usually signpost you to the best means of tracking down the information that you need, giving a rounded view.
Who should you connect to?
There are a surprising number and variety of people you could connect with, beyond past and present colleagues, customers and suppliers. For example:
· Alumni – university, law school, post-graduate courses, sports teams
· Interesting people that you’ve met at events
· Interesting people that you’ve met in your personal life – friends of friends, parents of your children’s friends, book club friends, sports club members
How many people do you say hello to at the school gates without understanding what they do or that they’ve just changed role?
Beyond this, there are a number of different tactics that LinkedIn users follow when deciding who to connect with. At one end of the scale, some maintain small networks of close contacts, linking only to those they have worked with personally and would vouch for. At the other end of the scale are the LIONs (LinkedIn Open Networkers) who link to anyone who wants to link to them, provided they aren’t abusing the system. Most of us are somewhere in the middle, concentrating on those whom we know or have interacted with, if not met in person. There is no right answer to how you manage your network, but you must decide upon your purpose(s) in being on LinkedIn before you can pursue an appropriate tactic.
Although you must of course be strategic in how you spend your time finding connections, don’t concentrate purely on colleagues and customers. Variety in your network gives you a variety of viewpoints. These can challenge your pre-existing perceptions and give you fresh insights. They can build your knowledge of different industries and how industries tackle the same challenges differently, and a sprinkling of serendipity is always surprising and interesting. And, lastly, you never know who knows who.
Finding people using LinkedIn and encouraging them to accept your invitation to connect
Once you have connected to those you know well from the groups listed above and more, you may want to look more widely for relevant new connections.
Although it depends on their preference settings, you can often see your second degree connections: that is those who are connected to your network. This is often an excellent place to start widening your network. As with all interactions on LinkedIn, you want to avoid being thought of as a spammer, so concentrate on asking your first degree connections for a limited number of key introductions for specific reasons, explaining the reason why a connection would be advantageous to both of you.
You can also search for a particular person or group of people, narrowing your results by a number of variables, including job title, school, industry, language, relationship to you (i.e. 2nd or 3rd degree connections), country and group members. All your searches can be saved and reviewed or rerun another day. You could also track who looks at your profile, who you interact with on other social networks and who contributes to your groups. Watch their LinkedIn activity and interact with them, and then, if they seem suitable and willing, ask them to join your network.
You can take a more automated approach and use the LinkedIn “add connections” tool, which checks your e-mail, from which it gives you a list of potential connections and the option to send a generic invitation to all or some of them. Personally I find this too impersonal, but it does provide a useful check that you have remembered everyone you want to connect to. Lastly, add your LinkedIn profile to your e-mail signature and let others reach out to you.
When trying to encourage people to accept an invitation, it is a good rule of thumb to make the invitation more detailed and personalised, the less you know someone. You can send the standard invitation to your brother, but if you have only met someone once or twice, remind them where and when you met, how you know each other or why a connection would be a good idea. If people feel valued individually and not simply a notch in your numbers game, they are more likely to accept your invitation and join your network.
Be friendly and keep your connections happy
Once you have connected with someone, investigate whether there is a simple and authentic way that you can thank them for joining your network. Do you know them well enough to endorse them for a skill or even write a recommendation? Can you “like” one of their updates or discussions? Can you honestly “like” one of their products or services on their company’s page? Can you introduce them to someone useful to them? You might prefer to spend your time strategically on connecting to future clients, but authentic helping and sharing is the best way to build the kind of close relationships that translate into valuable long-term working relationships.
Try to keep an eye on all your connections and give them a boost occasionally. You might want to keep a close eye on target client connections, but keep everyone under review.
In the next article in this series, I’ll look at how you can use LinkedIn for learning, current awareness, knowledge-sharing and personal branding as go-to expert, using updates and groups.
Hélène Russell (Knowledge Management trainer) and Mark Stonham (social selling trainer) are hosting a training day on 13th June at Clarke Willmott’s Bristol office. Learn more here.
1 Nishar, D., (2013), “200 Million members!”, LinkedIn blog, 9 January 2013,http://blog.linkedin.com/2013/01/09/linkedin-200-million/ (accessed 1/4/13)