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LinkedIn – The Networking Tool

LinkedIn – The Networking Tool

LinkedIn is my favourite business social media channel – anyone who reads my blogs with any degree of regularity will know that! However, I have noticed over the years how it has evolved and, indeed, the way it is used seems to have evolved too.

In the Beginning…

At the time I first became aware of LinkedIn, the rule of thumb was that people should only connect with other people who they already knew, or at least knew of. This could have been through actual contact, though telephone / email contact was allowed, and could relate to business contacts or personal.

Members were discouraged from making “blind” connections, instead being invited to seek a referral / introduction via a shared connection, i.e. You want to connect with Clive Smith but don’t know him. You do know, and are connected to, Janet Mellor and Janet knows and is connected to Clive Smith. You thus ask Janet for an introduction to Clive…

These Days, Introductions are Rare

Whilst LinkedIn’s User Agreement (which all members must accept the terms of) states that you “Must not…invite people you do not know to join your network”, it is widely regarded as an online networking tool. In fact, their User Agreement starts out by stating that “We are a social network and online platform for professionals”, whose mission is “to connect the world’s professionals to allow them to be more productive and successful”.

By this introduction alone, it is (in my opinion) arguable that there is a direct conflict between its mission and its terms of use, since networking is about meeting people – online meetings are just as viable as face to face, i.e. more traditional networking methods. It would seem that many members these days tend to disregard the need to know somebody before inviting a connection anyway – I myself receive countless LinkedIn connection requests from people I don’t know, week in, week out. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I received a referred connection request, such as in the Janet Mellor example above (although I did today receive a request from a contact of mine to introduce him to another contact of mine, which I duly did).

Personally, I don’t mind these blind connection requests, as from my perspective, it serves to broaden my reach and increase the potential number of people who might read my posts. For this reason, I tend to accept most requests, though I do look at the profile of the person requesting the connection.

There is a But…

I do take issue though with what I find is becoming an increasingly frustrating tactic – what I call the “Post-connection hard sell”. In other words, the minute you agree to accept a blind connection request with somebody, they email you, either via LinkedIn or Outlook etc, to promote their services. This is often followed by repeated emails day after day, often not including any ability to unsubscribe. Besides being incredibly discourteous, what can these people possibly hope to achieve by being so forthright and, in my opinion, rude? In some cases, they even call you on the phone and run off into the “Hi Joanne, how are you today…” spiel that I so detest.

LinkedIn is a Networking Tool

My advice is this – treat LinkedIn as you would a face to face networking meeting. You wouldn’t walk into a networking meeting, shake someone’s hand and try sell them your products would you? So why do that on LinkedIn? Sure, it’s great when you get a sale directly from someone you network with, but if you’re networking correctly, you’ll do far better with the ethos of trying to sell through the group, not to it.

Take the time to communicate with your new connection. Find out some more about them and maybe ask how you can help them. Interact, involve, maybe join their groups or discussions. Start to build a rapport and develop trust. Recommend them, endorse them (when you are legitimately able to, not just as a back-scratching exercise), share their posts amongst your own groups etc. From this, you might find that reciprocity comes right back in your direction, just as it does with face to face networking.

Final Thought…

LinkedIn, when used correctly, is a great tool for making connections, finding resources and ultimately, making sales. Every abuse though brings a reduction in just how prolific it is and with that, a reduction in the chances of achieving the best results. Treat LinkedIn well and it will treat you well in return, I have no doubts.

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