Three Simple Steps to Shoring Up Those Loose LinkedIn Connections & Adding Value

What is your reaction when someone you barely know, or don’t know at all, seeks to connect with you on LinkedIn?

You may agree to the connection, but it will be a loose link at best, unlikely to generate much benefit to either of you.

Keep that in mind as you reflect on whether, or how, to reach out to people that you barely know, but would like to stay in touch with via the increasingly popular professional social media platform.

Here are three steps to consider:

1. Never seek to Link-In with someone you have not met personally or been in contact with previously.

Flouting this counsel will relegate you to the realm of the presumptuous or weird. At minimum, you will come across as unprofessional, and that’s the polar opposite of the first impression you are striving for. On those occasions where you want to Link-In with someone, take an intermediate step of introducing yourself, either in a phone call or an email, so that your LinkedIn outreach isn’t the cyber-equivalent of a cold call.

2. When making the LinkedIn invitation, personalize your greeting.

Especially if you have not met the individual one-on-one, this is paramount.

For example, a while back I was at a business panel discussion. Later in the day, I looked up one of the speakers online and his LinkedIn profile indicated that we share several mutual connections. In my invitation, I noted those mutual connections as well as the fact that I was writing a summary of his panel discussion. Armed with that context, he accepted my invitation.

3. Try to provide value to the new connection as soon as possible.

How often have you had the experience of Linking-in with someone, only to have them fade from memory days, or maybe even only hours, later? For all intents and purposes, you and the other individual are just taking up space on your respective rosters of names and titles.

To rise above that tendency, see what you can to serve the new connection. Maybe it’s a story that relates to their field, or a mutual connection that you can edify in a brief note, in such a way that it might spark a dialogue that leads to something mutually productive.

Best-selling author and acclaimed marketing leader Seth Godin puts it this way: “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.”

Be a person, not a bot: don’t cheapen your social media network with garbage-like invites

“Feel like a number
Feel like a stranger
A stranger in this land

I feel like a number
I’m not a number
I’m not a number

Dammit I’m a man
I said I’m a man.”
-Bob Seger

Those lyrics come at the end of “Feel Like A Number,” from the 1978 album, Stranger in Town. It chronicles the alienation that comes from being just another “spoke in the wheel” of some monolithic entity.

Don’t add garbage to someone’s in-box — it’s already overflowing with unwanted stuff

However, with disturbing frequency, it is the feeling that arises at least once a week when I receive a LinkedIn invitation from someone. The pattern isn’t slowing down, either, even though a growing number of people have had more time to adjust to this social media space and come to their senses.

It’s time, then, to issue another plea for common interpersonal sense. If you are prone to inviting people to link-in with you, based solely on words on a screen and not any real-life flesh-and-blood interaction, then this is especially intended for you: stop cheapening your social network by inviting every Tom, Dick and Harry who has some remote tie-in to you (such as the fact that you both reside on planet Earth.)

Each time you issue an impersonal, shot-in-the-dark LinkedIn invitation, you are contributing to the overflow of garbage in the world. You are also revealing some damaging details about yourself. It’s lazy, it’s presumptuous and it positions you as a LinkedIn lemming–a follower (of all the others committing this sloppiness) and not a leader.

When you meet someone, preferably in person but possibly otherwise, that’s the time when you should consider connecting on LinkedIn. As you do so, give context and briefly state how you see such a connection serving both parties. Consider writing a recommendation shortly later, to cement the relationship and add value.

If you find yourself with hundreds of connections, but hardly anyone for whom you could write a recommendation, then that’s a red flag.

Conversely, being able–and willing–to craft recommendations results in value that flows not only to the people you recommend, but yourself. After all, your connections’ networks are more apt to read the relatively tiny number of recommendations your common connections have received than wading through the long list of connections they have amassed.

So, a parting public relations and marketing tip for you as you consider your own version of You, Inc.: when you remember to treat people like individuals, not another spoke in some expanding wheel of superficial contacts, you build up the quality of your relationships.

And in a world where it doesn’t take much to have quantity on the surface, it’s the depth of your quality relationships that will serve you much more in the long run.

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

“You’re only as strong as the weakest link in your chain.”

That adage came about well before the arrival of social media, obviously. For many, when it comes to LinkedIn, for example, the formula is something 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, grumble about LinkedIn’s uselessness.

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–I have written over 60 recommendations, for example–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, an insight that may benefit them, or a story that you think they may find enlightening or amusing.

In “The Professional’s Platform,” Seth Godin 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.”

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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.