Most guides to LinkedIn recommend that you begin your foray into that virtual cocktail party by building your profile. That makes sense — in the virtual world as much as the real, appearance matters.
But the next steps recommended by your helpful LinkedIn cruise directors are to build your Connections. And there LinkedIn advice comes in to conflict with business wisdom. In the land of lead generation, customer qualification, and successful conversion, the quality of lead outweighs the quantity. But not so for LinkedIn.
As Jake Swearingen of BNET writes:
“After you’ve created your profile, it’s time to begin to connect to others. LinkedIn will allow you to search for people you know to see if they’re already members. But once you connect to someone, you can also look at the profiles of anyone they know, and in turn anyone those people know. Because of these three degrees of separation, your network can grow exponentially. Fewer than fifty direct contacts can translate to millions of business users.”
Millions? That’s a lot of people to talk to and potentially rub the wrong way.
Here are some suggestions for making quality contacts as you sort through the multitudes (and they sort through you).
Reach Out and Thank Someone
Online Business Networker writes:
“Tell your new contact that you are happy to Connect, ask them specifically how you might help them, and then offer to help them in any way you can. Send this to everyone that accepts an invitation to Connect with you. I recommend that you include your email address and phone number as well making it easy for them to contact you.”
In other words, don’t send a generic thank you note that effectively closes the conversation you just opened. Asking for specifics indicates that you’re genuinely willing to help. It’s the difference between telling a friend who’s moving that they should call you and offering to be at their house at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday.
Answer Questions, and Ask Them
When answering questions, be ever mindful of tone.
Answering questions establishes expertise but, if you must lay down law, lay it down gently, unlike the gentleman who responded to my query about a fine point of writing marketing copy by stating, “That you have to ask betrays that you have no critical awareness in relation to style.”
I asked a question, in part, to test quality of answers I could get from the Q&A section. But I can’t be the only person on LinkedIn who, in asking questions, learned more about the quality of the respondent than the response.
Also, consider how you might make connections by asking questions. From my one question, I got one snarky response, sure, but also 16 truly helpful responses (and counting), several of whom offered to connect. Remember that while people like help, they also like to help.
A word of caution: word your questions carefully and consider what impression of you, the asker, they give. Too many softball questions may suggest that you don’t know your field, while obscure or poorly-worded questions will net you only obscure and poorly-worded answers.
LinkedIn Time = Real Time x Life Time/Half Time
There’s a Roz Chast cartoon titled “The Party, After You Left” that perfectly encapsulates the anxiety you may experience if you’re a newbie reading about all the wonders of LinkedIn. Read one post intended to introduce you to LinkedIn and suffer a little anxiety that you’re missing something. Read several and become convinced that everyone but you is connected.
However, in the middle of a detailed post about creating community on LinkedIn, F. John Reinke, offhandedly comments, “Create a LinkedIn group (It takes weeks to get this done)…”
Remember that most of the people writing about the benefits of LinkedIn have, in truth, been poking around LinkedIn answering questions and making connections for months, possibly years, before they posted their article making you feel inadequate, behind the curve, and left out.
Yes, LinkedIn can help you create a wide, diverse, and supportive community that can provide opportunities for you and your business. But it won’t do it immediately.
Think of the math this way:
- Building your LinkedIn profile can take you anywhere from one hour to many hours, especially if you update. That’s real time.
- Including all your life experience into “a resume and sales letter combined…that tells others who you are and gives them a reason to connect to you,” is a brief phrase for the work of a life time.
- The swift response from individuals and groups validates your effort, literally cutting the time you would spend networking in half.
In conclusion, finding contacts and groups is both immediate and time-consuming. It’s LinkedIn time — a rapidly accelerated process that requires as much maintenance as you’d put into real world connections.
[Editor’s Note: While you’re on LinkedIn, you can also connect with our team of analysts and researchers via the MarketingExperiments Group.]