A Publicist Looks at 500 (LinkedIn Connections)

I’ve become one of them.

I just joined the “500+ Club” on LinkedIn, meaning I am connected to more than 500 individuals. (For the record, as of 3 p.m. today, I’m at 502.)

Why have I resisted this milestone? Because in all my communications, I strive for quality, not quantity, and I’ve long associated “500+” with indiscriminate name-list building for its own (ineffective) sake.

I turn down many more LinkedIn requests than I accept, largely because I am adamantly opposed to connecting with people I don’t know. This includes the self-described “Master Networker” whose impersonal–and unintentionally ironical–LinkedIn request I rejected out of hand last year.

As I have eyed my rising tally of connections in recent months, I have verged on panic. Who can I cut? That weeding-out process led to dropping about 20 from my list–these, by and large, were people with whom I had a tenuous connection in the first place.

However, as I continue forging relationships with people, this climb toward 500 has forced me to concede (hope?) that a rising quantity of business relationships doesn’t automatically translate to a declining level of one-on-one connectedness.

For sure, cultivating an expanding lineup of relationships takes diligent tending, like someone who’s gone from growing a few tomatoes to filling an entire backyard with a variety of fruits and vegetables.

In this regard, I have been relatively conscientious, taking the time to reconnect with old friends and colleagues and touching base with newer people in my life from time to time.

But now, I’ve got to step up my game. So here’s my pledge:

At least once every six months, I will reach out to every single individual with whom I am Linked-In. That translates into an average of four people per business day–not an overwhelming task, but one that needs to be intentionally pursued to achieve.

In that outreach (typically by email), I will build on what I’ve done from the start: offer a brief update, both personal and professional, ask how my LinkedIn connection is doing, and then let him or her know that I’m available to be a resource. Otherwise, why are we on LinkedIn together?

My hope is that some business will flow from the effort, in both directions. LinkedIn has helped lead to Inside Edge PR business in the past, though it’s been the exception more than the norm.

And if someone doesn’t deign to give even a superficial reply?

That’s a good clue that he or she is no longer a good fit for me on LinkedIn. We’ll see, maybe over time I’ll be back in the less-rarefied air that I’ll dub the 499-Minus Club.

I can’t be the only who would gladly trade 400-something legitimate connections for 500+ watered-down contacts.

What about you? Whether you have five connections or 5,000 (the maximum allowed by LinkedIn is 30,000), I challenge you to implement your own variation on my ReachOut strategy. Otherwise, you may just find you’ve got a glorified name list or, worse yet, a lame list.

Psst, you may also be interested in checking out my prior writings and exhortations related to LinkedIn.

 

Stop the Senseless Cranking Out of LinkedIn Invitations

It takes quite a bit to coax out the cranky side of me.

Some sample scenarios: seemingly bright souls who fail to see the humorous relevance of “irregardless” in certain contexts; running across mention of the Red Sox collapse in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series; and getting yet another LinkedIn invitation from someone I’ve never met.

Of that irksome threesome, the last happens with alarming frequency. So from time to time I feel it my social-media duty to rail against it in the spirit of promoting common sense, basic 21st century etiqutte and sound interpersonal practices.

If you are guilty of inviting people to link-in with you–and you have never met (either in person or in cyberspace), then stop!

With every impersonal, mud-on-the-wall LinkedIn invitation, you are communicating laziness, sloppiness and presumptuousness. Those are the hardly the traits to get you off on the best footing.

If you’ve not met someone and you think you’d be a good LinkedIn candidate, then go ahead, tell them so–but be sure to provide context or indication of how such a connection would be mutually beneficial.

I have written at length about LinkedIn, mostly via posts here on Tips From the Inside Edge, and the theme I keep returning to: treat people like individuals, not some additional notch in your Cyber-Rolodex belt.

Another tip I’d offer: make the effort to provide meaningful recommendations of people with whom you are LinkedIn—add value, so that it’s not about a quantity of connections, but a high quality of any given connection.

I’ve made more than 60 recommendations and it not only benefits those I recommend, but also showcases my ability to string a few cogent thoughts together (on good days)–a rather relevant “show, don’t tell” element when one is in the public relations and communications industry.

Social Media Pruning: Time To Trim `Deadwood’?

At first, it seemed strange. Then, it happened so often that it started to seem, if not normal, at least not so out of whack. And eventually it became almost commonplace.

I’m referring to the experience of someone I’ve never met asking to connect with me on social media sites, specifically LinkedIn and Facebook.

Usually, I’ve declined the invitations. But not always—and as a result, more than a dozen names have crept onto my accounts without my really understanding why.

So I recently went through the process of pruning these tenuous connections. I call it “pruning” because it’s not about subtracting names (and the individuals and their spheres of influence that flow from those names). More importantly, it’s about elevating the value of those with whom I choose to remain connected.

As the Wikipedia definition states, in part, “pruning is a horticultural practice involving the selective removal of parts of a plant…Reasons to prune plants include deadwood removal, shaping (by controlling or directing growth), improving or maintaining health (and) reducing risk.”

A little reflection on some of those keywords is instructive in thinking about the “how” and “why” of our social media activities:

Selective: When we say “yes” to too many, including people whom we don’t know (or at least couldn’t pick out of a crowd), we are diluting the quality of affirmations we’ve given to people we trust, respect and, in some cases, actually love.

Especially on LinkedIn, it’s important to have your connectedness mean something beyond a list of names or glorified business cards.

Deadwood removal: How many of our contacts and connections resemble “deadwood,” insofar as our social (think Facebook) and professional (think LinkedIn) lives are concerned?

Now, I don’t doubt that, for the most part, these are good people who play a vital and positive role in the lives of any number of people. But to me, they are like “deadwood.” Lest I seem harsh, I should add that I have no illusions about my own speck-on-the-map status with these very same individuals.

Yes, I am sure that I too must resemble deadwood in some circles.

But until and unless they (and I) take the time to alter matters, then I’ll be the proactive one and say it’s time for me to let them go (and vice versa).

This can be a bit scary—I’ve played out vague scenarios in which, at some magical future juncture, Joe Linkedin suddenly emerges as a significant connection to have, and now I’m kicking myself for cutting him or her loose.

Then, after reflecting on the years of my own personal and professional history on LinkedIn and Facebook, I’ve come to a conclusion: such a scenario simply hasn’t played out yet.

Besides, if and when an opportunity arises with Joe Linkedin (or Jane Facebook), then that’s a great reason to kick-start a re-connection with him or her.

For a related post, from April 2009, see “Time To `De-Link’ a Non-Responsive Contact?”

Overcome Weakness in Your LinkedIn Chain: Invest in Relationships When You Don’t `Need To’

As the saying goes, “You’re only as strong as the weakest link in your chain.”

And when it comes to LinkedIn, the formula that some follow goes like this:

1. Accumulate as many contacts as possible by sending an impersonal, automated request to Link-In.

2. Proceed to ignore aforementioned contacts for weeks, months or even years. (If you’re especially ambitious, write one or two recommendations.)

3. If and when you lose a job, or have a decline in business, send impersonal, mass notes to LinkedIn contacts announcing that you’d appreciate their steering leads your way.

4. When you come up dry on Step 3, complain that LinkedIn is useless.

Referring back to the introductory line–and boiling down these four steps in one word: weak.

If you’ve read any of my prior social media tips and observations, you know that Inside Edge PR has derived significant benefit from LinkedIn and other social media: new clients, stronger relationships, media coverage, and the development of social-media workshops that have led to more work.

And here’s the biggest reason why: I’ve sought to help as many of my links as possible…without seeking anything in return.

That’s not bragging, and that’s not charity–it’s straight-up common sense about human nature. Think of it this way: when is the best time to buy a car or sell a house?

When you don’t need to.

That way, you’re not desperate or otherwise painted into a corner. You can take the deal or leave it.

The same principle goes for LinkedIn, Facebook or any other personal or professional transaction, online or offline–the best time to nurture a relationship is when you don’t “need to.”

The truth be told, if you don’t want to do this, for the sheer enjoyment of maintaining and strengthening connections with other human beings, you ought to consult the closest mirror.

Even failing that basic test, you should consider exercising some self-discipline, consistency and long-term thinking. Drop a note to five or 10 people at a time, simply saying “hello” or offering some words of encouragement or insight that will benefit them.

In “The Professional’s Platform,” one of Seth Godin’s recent blog posts, he eloquently makes much the same point. An excerpt:

“We remember what you did when you didn’t need us so urgently…It means investing, perhaps overinvesting, in relationships long before it’s in your interest to do so.”

Candidly Drawing the Social Networking Line

I recently asked someone to be my “friend” on Facebook.

He declined. My immediate, gut response: pleased and impressed.

On the surface, my reaction may seem odd. But let’s consider some background:

I’ve spoken with this particular individual, a newspaper reporter, about five times over the past few years, as he worked on stories with which I had some public-relations connection. We’ve never met, and we’ve never built any kind of tie beyond our respective jobs.

He works alongside some others that have made Facebook Friend requests of me, which I’ve approved. Their outreach to me is really what prompted me to reach out to him.

With that as a backdrop, here was his written response, which he sent via e-mail:

“Thanks for the friend request, but I just wanted to let you know that I keep my Facebook account to friends and family only. I like to keep business contacts separate. No offense intended of course, I just prefer to keep my job and my personal life in separate worlds, so to speak.”

I respect his stance. And I respect even more that he articulated it.

In the four years that I’ve been social-networking on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, he is the first to take the time to broach the potentially awkward situation and explain, in his thoughtful way, why he was declining my request.

In this burgeoning social-media realm, it is so much easier to simply ignore requests that place us in an uncomfortable spot. And there certainly remain scenarios in which I am stumped about how to navigate someone’s interest in getting into my cyber-world. In the future, I fully expect to continue ignoring some requests–and to be ignored.

But whenever we have an opportunity to convey our (often-evolving) criteria as to whom to let in to our SM world, we simultaneously have an opportunity to improve at least our little corner of this growing sphere’s universe.

Indeed, inspired by my own fond memory of being diplomatically stiff-armed, I recently crafted a long-overdue reply. I created it for those seeking to connect with me on LinkedIn but with whom I have had little, if any, contact:

“Hello,

Thank you for inviting me to Link-In with you!

Whenever possible, I like to have more than a cursory personal connection with / knowledge of someone before Linking In. Since we are both so local, would you be interested in meeting in person sometime and establishing that face-to-face connection?

In these few words, I hope that I’ve reasonably and effectively explained my rationale and that you don’t take offense to this proposed intermediate step. I genuinely hope we can create a stronger connection that can benefit us both in the future.

Best regards,
Matt”

So far, I have sent that message to two individuals. I am sure it will come in handy often in the future. Already, my newfound mission to improve the quality of my connections–and not merely strive for quantity–has borne fruit: one recipient responded by essentially stating “whoops…I intended to Link-In with someone else whose last name is Baron.”

So there’s one MisLinked-In Misadventure averted.

What do you think? Do you have another way of handling this potentially delicate and awkward topic? I welcome your ideas. And who knows–even if we don’t know each other yet, we may just build enough rapport for us both to want to join one another’s social network.

Just don’t take offense if I suggest we meet in person first.

You might also be interested in reading some previous Inside Edge PR commentaries about LinkedIn.