A couple of weeks before I was due to head up to Manchester to speak at the CIPD Annual Conference, I scrolled through my LinkedIn network to see who was in the area with whom I might be able to meet up. I found two first-degree connections. So, I reached out to both. One answered and we had a lovely caffeine-infused meet-up (thanks Richard!). The other person never responded. What does it say about your connection if they’re not even bothered to reply when you’re coming to visit his town. In this particular case, it’s not like he was the CEO of an important company situated in a global capital. I noticed, moreover, that he’d never replied to any of my other messages over the years. YET, it was easy to see that he’s active on LinkedIn. You don’t have to be available, that’s fine. But at least respond. This is a classic case of a feeble, if not worthless, connection. So, I disconnected.
Building bona fide relationships
There’s an expression I enjoy using which is that we are only as strong as our network. And I add: make your network is a reflection of who you want to be. I’ve always tried to be careful about the people I accept into my network. I’m not strictly dogmatic, but I really only want to connect with individuals where we have a mutual trust and benefit. Thus, I would never try to connect with some important CEO whom I don’t know unless I have a genuinely strong case for why it’d be in their interest. Otherwise, I’m just a nuisance. Having the ability to determine the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) for the target person takes research and/or some useful data points.
Every request should be measured and personal. Clearly, this isn’t a widespread approach judging by the myriad empty connection requests I receive from complete unknowns. Very few of them are actually searching for bona fide connection. What I mean by “bona fide” is: authentic, trustworthy, responsive and mutual. Whether it’s through a lack of time or empathy, being over-stretched or having a heightened sense of self-worth, many people just seem to float, lost in a sea of worthless connections and hapless activity. As I’ve written in the past, if you want to get LinkedIn right, you need to engage authentically. A healthy connection is mutual. When connecting, it behoves the requester to figure out the receiver’s WIIFM. Anything less is a waste of everyone’s energy.
Getting it right is (hard) work
Would if there were an easy way to whittle out the weak links among my LinkedIn connections. This experience above got me thinking about how it is that, 20 years since its founding, LinkedIn remains a very mixed bag. Is it any wonder that the way we communicate and network is messy, inefficient and fraught? On the one hand, the business model of LinkedIn relies on the volume of connected individuals. There’s no friction in sending requests. LinkedIn in fact tries to prompt us all the time. And, on the other side, to the extent most of the senior management of larger companies was educated in a pre-social media environment, each has had to learn on their own. And the example they set isn’t exactly good. While I willingly allow that I started off my journey on LinkedIn somewhat blithely, I quickly picked a strategy to only connect with people I know and, ideally, trust. Today, LinkedIn still hasn’t made any effort to strengthen the way we connect. If networking is too easy, it won’t stick. Easy in, easy out. Getting your network right involves work, and that means doing your research. Make your connection requests meaningful, truly personalized. Out of the pandemic period, I note that it does seem that the quality and timbre of the content on LinkedIn has become more personable, if not personal.
Connecting with purpose
When we connect, it should not be about the size of our network. We ought to seek quality and connect with mutual purpose. In my eyes, just because we have connections in common is NOT a sufficient reason to connect. Just because we share a passion for a broad topic (e.g. marketing) is not sufficient reason to connect. On the other hand, a very niche topic is a bit different as I’ll always entertain the message if it’s a topic that is not so common and is part of my particular zeitgeist (e.g. padel tennis!). Lastly (but not least), wanting to be a part of my network or just liking what I may do is no good reason to want to connect with me, either.
Some do’s and don’ts
Here are some important Do’s and Don’ts when connecting and networking with people on LinkedIn. Of course, at a meta level, your level of commitment and activity on this ‘social’ network should be in line with your current strategy and what’s important for you. If you don’t think you’ll need LinkedIn in your career, then just ignore it. I know plenty of people who are living fine without it.
- Don’t haplessly connect with strangers. The principle of a good network is that you know and trust the people within it. This goes hand-in-hand with not pandering to vanity metrics. In an effort to have the largest ‘network,’ many people just accept connection requests willy nilly in order for the number of followers to swell. Not only does this look bad for you, it cheapens others in your network because they’re now a second connection to that ‘stranger.’ So don’t blithely accept connection requests from strangers.
- Don’t spam someone with an impersonal message as to why YOU want to connect with them. Help them understand why it’s in their genuine interest to accept your connection request. If you are trying to connect with a stranger and have good reason for them to want to connect with you, show them through smart research.
- Don’t immediately rush, as soon as someone has accepted, to ask for something until you’ve given yourself. Give before expecting in return. I call this karmic communications.
- Don’t leave messages from first-degree connections unanswered? Either you trust one another or you don’t. Part of a healthy network is being responsible. I.e., you are responsive to one another.
- Do connect with consideration. At a minimum, I suggest you always add a note to explain why you’re requesting to connect. Unless it’s a close relationship and you both know each other well, make sure to add a reason (“note”) why you’re connecting. I suggest you might visualize the individual as you write them. It will bring your networking message into focus.
- Do engage with the content from those producing good material in your network. You shouldn’t think of LinkedIn as a way only to broadcast what you do. At the very least, check out what others in your network are writing or commenting about. Don’t be afraid to click a LIKE or comment yourself.
- Do FOLLOW someone you’re interested in rather than always requesting to connect. At the end of the day, that may well be all you need to ‘achieve’ with some connections.
- Do make sure that your profile is complete. Otherwise, it’s hard for anyone to assess how serious you truly are.
Your thoughts and comments are most welcome!