This article, originally posted on Serviam Partners’ blog, was written by Randy Hain, President of Serviam Partners.
I wrote the last version of this article well over three years ago. Much has changed in the world of social networking with the explosive growth of Twitter, Facebook and others. It is clear that how we build personal and business connections is ever evolving.
Without a doubt, the best tool for connecting business people is still LinkedIn. It focuses on connecting business professionals and doesn’t bore you with the minutiae of Twitter or the more social, casual focus of Facebook although both are gaining popularity among recruiters to find candidates and sales/business development professionals for finding new business.
Despite the rising popularity of these new tools, LinkedIn has also enjoyed rapid growth as a recent search of their website revealed that LinkedIn has more than 313 million members as of August 2015 in over 220 countries, and is adding new ones at the rate two new members per second.
Consider these statistics:
- LinkedIn counts executives from all 2013 Fortune 500 companies as members
- LinkedIn members did over 5.7 billion professionally-oriented searches on the platform in 2012.
- More than 3 million companies have LinkedIn Company Pages.
- There are more than 1.5 million unique publishers actively using the LinkedIn Share button on their sites to send content into the LinkedIn platform.
- LinkedIn members are sharing insights and knowledge in more than 2.1 million LinkedIn Groups.
- In the second quarter of 2014, mobile accounted for 45 percent of unique visiting members to LinkedIn.
- More than 2.5 million members self-identify as senior executives
- Most members tend to be between 30 and 55 years old
For the purpose of this article, I make two basic assumptions: you are familiar with LinkedIn and you are interested in expanding your network for personal or professional reasons. With these assumptions in mind, let’s explore different ways to approach LinkedIn, changes to LinkedIn since the first version of this article, paradigm shifts among users of the site, and best and worst practices.
“I have a profile, now what do I do?” This is the question I hear most often. Whether you are a job seeker, a business development professional, a recruiter or simply interested in making new connections, you will see your best results by approaching LinkedIn with this mindset:
- Have a “pay it forward” attitude. Be open and willing to actively help people connect to your network and accept invitations from people who provide at least some context for why they wish to connect.
- Focus on finding people you don’t know. This seems obvious, but it can be easy to fall into the habit of “collecting” contacts you already know. I find the real value of LinkedIn is connecting with people of different backgrounds and capabilities outside of your current network who can help you with your objective.
- Reach out to people not currently in your network. A majority of people on LinkedIn are open to networking, so don’t be afraid to introduce yourself. Networking is likely why they joined in the first place.
- View LinkedIn as an enormous spider web. Your direct connections and their connections and their connection’s connections are all part of your network. So, work to grow your direct connections to ensure that you can run searches within a very large population.
- Be transparent in your profile and complete it fully. Give clear descriptions of the jobs you have had and always include a bio under the Summary section. Also, I advocate sharing personal interests, charitable causes you support, hobbies, affinity and social groups, faith, etc. We will review why this is important later.
- Keywords are critical! All searches in LinkedIn are driven by keywords, so make sure your personal profile is filled with those words which accurately describe who you are and what you care about so you show up in the searches of others.
- Recognize that the Internet does not allow you to hide. In the age of Google, it is practically impossible to hide work and personal information. Utilize LinkedIn to showcase the information you wish to share in the manner you wish to share it. Therefore with the typically high placement of LinkedIn profiles in Google searches, you are likely to have this seen first by others.
- Don’t let LinkedIn serve as a substitute for human interaction. Any people oriented business thrives on relationships and face-to-face meetings. Utilize this tool to make the connection and build a bridge, but always follow up with a phone call and a meeting.
These approaches to working with and maximizing what LinkedIn offers have served me well. And it continues to evolve as my needs change and the technology becomes more sophisticated over time.
I am always keenly interested in how different people use LinkedIn and I routinely ask clients, candidates, friends and peers for their perspectives. The results may surprise you. Here is what I have learned over the last few years:
- Most of my clients look at a prospect profile on LinkedIn before they make contact. Their intent is to gain insight into the more personal side of the individual and understand their professional background. Don’t let this scare you! Sharing the right personal information just might give you the edge you need to forge a warmer connection.
- A number of my friends in professional services utilize LinkedIn to research their client prospects and gain a competitive advantage by being well-informed. The ability to discuss different aspect of a person’s professional and personal history adds depth and distinctiveness to the conversation.
- LinkedIn is becoming an excellent way build a personal brand. Be deliberate in how you use this channel to market yourself and your particular areas of expertise. You should consider adding a link to your LinkedIn profile at the bottom of your e-mail signature. This is becoming very common and I think it is a great idea.
- LinkedIn profiles are not meant to look like regurgitated resumes. This is YOUR brand and it should reflect all of you, not just a chronology of your work experiences.
- If you do not want others to know you are looking at their profile, go into your personal settings (click on your picture in the top right hand corner of the Homepage) and change to “anonymous.’
- Corporate recruiters and executive search firms have realized over the last few years that LinkedIn is a rich source of high-quality candidates and use it as a primary recruiting source.
- LinkedIn is a great channel for sharing content-your own writing, your company’s thought leadership, interesting news stories, etc.
- LinkedIn User Groups are exploding in popularity and are transforming into “mini-communities” of like-minded users with shared interests. Join the ones relevant for you and your work.
There are likely countless others, but these are the shifts I’m hearing about most frequently. Just to reiterate, there are no secrets on the Internet and you have complete control over the content you share on LinkedIn. You must simply exercise good judgment.
In general, aren’t we interested in learning a better way of doing things? Adopt that strategy with LinkedIn. Nobody has all the answers, so an open mind and willingness to innovate will serve you well as you turn this into an effective tool. Here is a sample of the best and worst LinkedIn practices I have observed.
First, the Best Practices:
- Look at LinkedIn daily, especially the Homepage to track movement in your network that may benefit you—job changes, promotions, new connections, etc. Because LinkedIn is continually refreshed throughout the day, it is a good idea to keep an eye out for new names that may be of value to you. If you don’t have time to look each day, you can have a daily or weekly recap of all activity in your network sent to you from LinkedIn.
- Upgrade your account. The entry (free) level of LinkedIn is tedious if you are using it to make a large number of connections. Pay for at least the first upgrade level so you can connect to people in your network directly through InMail, and not wait weeks for a referral. This will quickly pay for itself and is not very expensive.
- Have a transparent profile that will attract broad interest. You are screening in and not screening out on LinkedIn and it is important to connect with as many people as possible in the network. A broader sharing of your background is likely to gain more contacts for you and allow you to connect with others with similar backgrounds. Also, list personal and business accomplishments that will help showcase your achievements.
- Post your picture on your profile. Your picture humanizes the connecting process and facilitates relationship building. Make sure the headshot is professional. I always tell people “I have a face made for radio and if I can put my picture on there, so can you!”
- Have several recommendations on your profile. Recommendations are analogous to a good Seller rating on eBay—you are viewed as credible if a viewer sees that people think highly of you. You can recommend people in your network and they will be prompted to recommend you in return. This is a good “pay it forward” strategy. NOTE: I am referring to the more formal written recommendation here versus the endorsement of skills which you are prompted about when you visit the profile of someone in your network.
- When looking for people, run Boolean searches for keywords relevant to your background. My examples might include “University of Georgia,” “Boy Scouts” and “Catholic Charities.” Search any key words relevant and important to you that will help build a connection to someone who shares these words in their profile. Keep playing with key words and companies you are interested in until you find people you would like to meet. This is called affinity based connecting
- Focus on contacts who can help you get to the right person. Don’t focus exclusively on finding the decision maker, you’ll only be disappointed. Look for people in the target organization who share common interests, schools or LinkedIn connections with you. They are more likely to want to help you and make a friendly introduction to the right person—it’s so much more effective than a cold call. However, if you can’t establish common ground with someone in a target company, the cold contact may be necessary.
- Always offer to help someone BEFORE asking for help. When reaching out via InMail (assuming you now have the upgraded LinkedIn account), never state your desire/need in the opening sentence. You’re not likely to get anywhere fast with “I would love for you to hire me and my company!” I’ve had success with this approach: “John: I came across your background on LinkedIn and noticed that we both are UGA alums and involved in Boy Scouts. I run a consulting firm here in Atlanta and am always looking to grow my network. Would you be open to a call this week and perhaps a cup of coffee? I would like to see if there are ways I can help you and maybe we can share stories of our college days! You can check out my firm at www.serviampartners.com and I can be reached directly at (404) 510-5804. I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you, Randy Hain”
- Invite every person you meet to join your network. This will help build your list of direct connections and expand your searchable pool. Mention when you meet that you will connect with them on LinkedIn to increase your chance of an accepted invitation. Also, if you click on the Connections button at the top of the homepage, you will see “Add Connections.” Click on that and LinkedIn will search your Outlook (or Yahoo, Google, etc.) address book and bring up a screen which shows which of your email addresses have LinkedIn profiles. You can invite them as a group (they receive individual invitations) to join your network. You can also import a contact file from this screen if your email service is not listed. This is an effective way to grow your network with people you know.
- Join Groups to enhance your searches and help you be strategically identified. You can join affinity Groups on LinkedIn in almost every category ranging from Alumni Associations to HR Executives to Faith Groups. Groups become “safe havens” where you can easily gain new connections, share in discussions, etc. Choose wisely because your profiles are visible to everyone in that network and your choices should not raise eyebrows (like Recovering Shopaholics!). Also, there is no cost to send a message to someone inside of a Group.
- Review the “People You May Know” section on your homepage each week. LinkedIn frequently refreshes a list of people that are in your extended network who you may want to know. Caution! Always send a personal message along with any invitation to someone you don’t know personally which explains the reason for your request.
- Utilize the “Share an Update” feature at the top of your Homepage. This is a great way to let your network know what you are working on and share links to great articles or causes. Reminder: another good reason to do this is because every change to a LinkedIn profile shows up on the homepage of the people in your network. This keeps you on their radar.
- Download the LinkedIn App for your smartphone. This is invaluable to manage your connections on the go and to look up important information about a client or prospect before a meeting. Seeing what the person you are meeting looks like is reason enough to use this App!
… And Now the Worst
- Join LinkedIn, develop a profile and don’t accept new contacts or requests for help. Why go to the trouble if you are not going to use it? It won’t put you on a secret “bad” list, but don’t waste your time if you aren’t willing to utilize the true value of LinkedIn. Also, if the tables are turned one day and you need help, these people will remember.
- Abuse your network. Be careful not to go to the same people again and again for referrals. They should be open to the request, but too many requests will create negative feelings and burn a bridge.
- Send invitations to people you don’t know without a personal message of explanation. This is becoming an enormous problem on LinkedIn and makes the person sending the invitation look unprofessional. Take the time to provide context for your request to connect.
- Be afraid to reach out to people you don’t know. This is a common stumbling block. Remember that LinkedIn users are generally open to referral requests and direct contact. Direct connections to people with whom you share something in common will accelerate your business development, recruiting or connecting efforts exponentially. The scripts provided at the end of this post are very helpful for this approach.
- I don’t want my information “out there” on the Internet, so I won’t share much. I hate to tell you, but it is already “out there.” Google yourself and if you are a business professional with any experience, you probably show up. Show your career information and use discretion when sharing the personal information if you prefer. Remember, you control what is shared. This is the direction technology is taking us, so I encourage you to try and manage it! NOTE: Don’t be afraid to share your interests and activities as this may be the reason someone will connect with you if they share similar interests.
- Don’t share access to your connections. If you plan to ask others for access to their connections, you must be willing to share yours. Some people do use LinkedIn as a kind of master contact manager, but I argue that part of the value of the network is open and transparent sharing of information and referrals. If someone you don’t know or trust asks for a referral to one of your connections, simply say “no.” Also, people in your network can always say “no” to requests from others.
- Don’t fill out your profile completely. You can’t make LinkedIn work for you unless you have a profile that legitimizes you as a credible professional. I see many half-completed profiles and I wonder how many opportunities they miss.
- Treat LinkedIn like Twitter and Facebook. Please don’t share the boring minutiae you often find on Twitter-we don’t care that you are going to the grocery store! Also, even though Facebook encourages this, don’t post a potentially embarrassing casual photo of yourself on your profile or other information that would shed an unfavorable light on your professional image.
There are literally thousands of articles out there on how to use LinkedIn, so I certainly don’t profess to have all the answers. Most of what I do on LinkedIn has been self-taught through experimentation, observing others’ best practices, and logically evaluating what works best for me. I was user 917 on LinkedIn and assure you that I have seen a significant ROI in utilizing LinkedIn effectively.
Starting today, view LinkedIn as an enormous network of potential new friends but with a word of advice—don’t let it become one of the omnipresent technological devices that make it so easy to hide behind. LinkedIn should be used as a catalyst, not a substitute, for human interaction and conversation.
Employ a “pay it forward” strategy of helping others through referrals and recommendations. Operate out of enlightened self-interest as you reach out to people and offer to help them first. Ask for what you want later, after rapport and common interests have been established. Use LinkedIn to promote your personal brand and develop your profile as a marketing showcase that will attract others. LinkedIn has become an effective and essential networking tool for me and I hope it becomes the same for you.
A sampling of script ideas for use on LinkedIn when reaching out via InMail:
One of the biggest challenges I hear from people about using LinkedIn is “What do I say when I reach out to people?” To alleviate that issue, I have developed scripts to be used when communicating via InMail or the free message feature inside Groups on LinkedIn. These scripts have been tested and work effectively to solicit a positive response from who you are trying to reach.
_______-good afternoon. I came across your background on LinkedIn and noticed we have a few things in common including our time at UGA and a shared interest in Habitat for Humanity. I would like to connect with you this week by phone to see if we might be able to help each other. What is the best way to reach you and what days can you chat for a few minutes?
__________-good morning. I noticed we are both members of the Emory Alumni Group on LinkedIn. I am always interested in connecting with fellow Emory alums in the Atlanta business community and would appreciate an opportunity to meet with you in the coming weeks if you are interested. How can I reach you by phone? My number is (770) 888-888
Script Ideas for connecting to a business development lead on LinkedIn:
___________ – good morning. My name is _________________ and I came across your profile on LinkedIn. I am a Principal with _________________ and am very interested in connecting with fellow Emory grads. I also noticed that we are both active in the sports activities of our children. Would you be open to a cup of coffee or lunch in the next few weeks? I am available on Monday and Thursday this week for coffee and next Friday for lunch. My daytime number is (770) 888-8888. I look forward to hearing from you.
Thank you- ____________
______________-good afternoon. My name is ______________________ and I came across your profile on LinkedIn. My firm does a great deal of work in your industry and I would like to make a connection and see if our expertise can potentially serve your needs. I would appreciate an opportunity to connect by phone and schedule coffee or lunch. Also, I encourage you to look at my LinkedIn profile to gain a feel for my background. You will notice that we both worked for Accenture years ago and are graduates of UGA. Let me know the best way to reach you this week. My number is (770) 888-8888.