LinkedIn can be a powerful tool. It can help you connect with current and former coworkers, expand your business, and even find a job. But like all good tools, there are right and wrong ways to use it. As a blogger who is somewhat in the public eye, I receive around 10 connection requests on LinkedIn every week. I delete most of them.
It’s not that I am an elitist. It’s not that I don’t want to get to know people. The fact is, I don’t know the people who send those invitations, and they haven’t taken the time to introduce themselves to me.
Here is a screenshot from a recent invitation to connect on LinkedIn (note: private information redacted). Almost every request I decline is similar.
Why did I decline? Because I had never met the person, their profile didn’t tell me anything about them, and they didn’t introduce themselves to me. I love to connect with people online, but I don’t just “collect friends.” Just adding people to your list of contacts isn’t networking. It only serves to inflate the number of connections you have. Doing something with your contacts, however, can change your life.
Use LinkedIn Effectively to Connect with People
I am not a LinkedIn expert, but I have been using it long enough to know that there is no value in collecting names for your wall. The value comes when you make a real connection with someone and find a way to get to know that person better through other channels. At the minimum, a connection on LinkedIn should be someone you know personally, or someone you have had, or hope to have, a professional relationship with. Adding 100 friends with the sole hope that one of them will pass your resume to the right person doesn’t constitute a professional relationship.
Getting Started on LinkedIn
It’s important to understand that just having a LinkedIn profile isn’t a magic button that will get you a job, get you an automatic interview, or immediately expand your business. You get out of LinkedIn what you put into it. Here are a few LinkedIn profile tips to get you started:
Create a full profile. Opening a LinkedIn account and simply listing your name is only half the battle. You also need to include your personal and professional experience, give recommendations to people you know, join groups, and request recommendations from associates. Don’t be afraid to personalize your profile either. It’s perfectly acceptable to have a little fun and share some insight into who you are. If you really want your LinkedIn profile to stand out, then add a video to it. Here are a few tips to help you build a better LinkedIn profile, and use it more effectively.
Create a LinkedIn company profile if you are a business owner. This is essential if you are looking to post jobs on LinkedIn, but it’s also important because it can help build your brand and establish you and your company as potential business partners. Keep in mind your personal LinkedIn profile will reflect upon your company profile and vice versa. But if you use them well, this can have a positive effect.
Connect with people you already know. The easiest and most effective way to connect with people is to find your current and former coworkers and send them an invitation to connect, or an invitation to create a profile if they aren’t already on LinkedIn. It’s also a good idea to offer to write a recommendation for them if they are someone you have worked closely with and would recommend to others.
Join or form a LinkedIn group. Joining a current LinkedIn group is a great way to tap into a network of professionals who share a common interest. There are groups for just about everything, so you should be able to find a group that relates to your profession. If you don’t find one, then consider starting a LinkedIn group. This gives you more long term exposure and can help you be recognized as a subject matter expert.
Connecting with People on LinkedIn, Including People You Don’t Know
This is where most people mess up, as evidenced by the screenshot above. I receive several identical invites each week, and the problem is that I just don’t know the person behind the request. If you want to connect with someone, you need a reason.
Send a personalized note with your connection request. If you know someone very well, you might not need to personalize the invitation, even though it is a nice gesture. I admit I’ve sent a few connection requests without changing the default request form, but in all cases, the invitations to connect were with people I knew personally and professionally for a long time; in other words, we were already friends (out of 100 connections on LinkedIn, I have done this maybe 5% of the time). If you don’t know the person well, or if the contact is strictly professional, then you should always personalize the invitation to connect on LinkedIn.
Ask a friend to make a connection for you. A great way to meet people is to ask a common contact to make an introduction for you. This can be an easy way to meet someone you may not normally have access to, and could possibly grease the wheels to a professional (or even personal) relationship. But don’t use that introduction to ask for something. Instead, follow the next tip.
Offer to help someone. How often has someone you don’t know offered to help you? It probably doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it will most likely leave a good impression. This will exponentially increase the likelihood that the person you want to meet will at least hear you out. Want to work with Ramit Sethi and Tim Ferris? Ramit shows you how Charlie Hoehn approached him and offered to help him for free. It didn’t end there. Charlie did awesome work for Ramit, who then felt good about introducing Charlie to Tim Ferris, who then introduced him to other people, and so on. All of this helped launch Charlie’s career. It’s networking at it’s finest.
Looking for more info about how to use LinkedIn?
This article isn’t designed to be the end all, be all, LinkedIn user guide. My goal is to share a quick LinkedIn tutorial to get you thinking about how you use LinkedIn. The primary takeaway is that LinkedIn should be used as a tool for helping other people. Look at the above example with Ramit, Tim and Charlie (be sure to read the linked article for the full story). Charlie offered to help Ramit. From there, Ramit wanted to help Charlie, so he introduced him to people in his network, including Tim Ferris. It wasn’t about obligations, it wasn’t about payment. It was about getting to know someone and providing value. If you can do that, you are learning how networking really works. And that is what LinkedIn is all about.
Further reading. If you are looking for more in-depth information on maximizing how you use LinkedIn, then I recommend reading Lewis Howes website. He is one of the leading LinkedIn experts, and I recommend checking out his website or training materials if you are serious about mastering LinkedIn.