When I joined LinkedIn in 2004, I was confused. Why would anyone publicly endorse me? Why would anyone introduce me to their closely guarded business contacts? And why would anyone share important information like email addresses and phone numbers? Who does this?
I jumped in, learned, and quickly gained a reputation as "the guy who knows everything about LinkedIn." At networking events, I spent more time explaining LinkedIn than talking about my business. Before long, I was running educational events. People were confused about how to tap the value of LinkedIn, and I was happy to offer my assistance.
Ten years later, they are still confused.
LinkedIn has improved its technology and added tons of beneficial features, but unfortunately, this increase has resulted in a worsening of its signal-to-noise ratio, too. So my friends are still asking, "How do I use LinkedIn?"
Here are five things that work:
Have you ever received a LinkedIn invitation from someone you don’t know? It’s not a good experience.
LinkedIn makes it easy to send an invitation to connect with no context, especially when you land on the "People You May Know Page." When you send an invite, always add a personal note. Use the allotted 250 characters to remind that person if you’ve already met or tell them why you want to connect. Give them a reason to say "yes."
The last invitation I sent to someone I didn’t know was short and sweet. "Luke, I had TEDx drinks with Kathy A. She told me that you’re involved with the company Entrepreneur in Residence program. Could we meet for lunch to talk about that?" This example is strong because it references a mutual friend, an interesting business pursuit, and an invitation to further the relationship. Since I produce TEDxOmaha, I dropped a subtle hint about something I do that would be interesting to him.
Wayne Breitbarth, author of The Power Formula for LinkedIn Success, offers an outline for what he calls a "five-star connection request".
Use the person’s name.
Mention where you met (in person, on the phone, online).
Suggest a face-to-face or phone meeting if you want to develop a deeper relationship with the person.
Offer something of value based on your review of the person’s profile or your personal knowledge of the individual.
Explain how you can help the person or how he/she could help you.
Help the person feel good about the connection; Breitbarth usually says, "I would be honored to have you join my LinkedIn network."
Include a friendly closing statement. "Sincerely" is a little bit stiff in most circumstances. Instead, Breitbarth might say "Go Pack Go" to a fellow Wisconsinite.
With limited characters to spare, however, you won’t be able to fit in all these details. Instead, Breitbarth encourages you pick the points that are most relevant to the situation.
Reverse Self Promote
It often seems like every status update or group discussion is self promotion. We all want to build an audience and blog traffic, but you must be smarter about it. Instead, post about a friend who is doing something great. Focusing the attention on someone else offers three important outcomes.
It gets that individual’s attention.
It puts you in front of that person’s network.
It shows that you are a resource for thought leadership instead of someone clamoring for attention.
Here's a recent post from my LinkedIn profile:
My friend, Hugh, just published a new book. [product link] #getit.
I tagged Hugh, which gets his attention and activates his network. I put a link to his book on Amazon and added an encouraging little hashtag. All memorable, all helpful. Plus, it helped me celebrate his victory!
When you have something to share, make sure to keep in mind the best time to do so, too. The site’s busiest hours are morning and midday, Monday through Friday, according to LinkedIn. And sharing on LinkedIn shouldn’t be just a once-a-week activity. In order to reach 60 percent or more of your unique audience each month, LinkedIn recommends posting at least once each workday—20 status updates per month.
An easy way to keep on top of sharing news about your network is to queue up LinkedIn updates in Buffer, a social media scheduling app, when ideas come your way. Buffer also connects with Zapier, making it convenient to create LinkedIn posts from new RSS items.
Track Who Listens
When people respond to your posts, like your updates, or engage in conversation in groups, they are interested in you. They are your true fan base.
I make a list of the people who pay attention, and I foster the relationships. Write a response, invite new people to connect, and ask questions about their experiences or challenges. This is where the power of loose connections—and opportunity—comes to life.
I recently accepted an invitation from someone I didn’t know. She broke rule No. 1 (personalize invitations) but wrote back when I responded with my secret response. (Want to know how to handle invitations from people you don’t know? Email me with "Secret Response" in the subject line.) The next day, she contacted me and said she enjoyed my articles and was using them in her sales meetings. Then, she asked if she could introduce me to her mentor. My first response was "YES!" My second response was to put her on the watch list. She finds value in my work and is willing to connect me with people she respects. That’s a big win.
If you connect with someone on LinkedIn, follow them on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, or Instagram. Interesting people do interesting things, and not all of the good stuff gets posted a single platform.
You are more than your work history, curriculum vitae, or resume. So too are your LinkedIn connections. By locating them, listening, and responding, you can often get a better insight into their personalities and interests. Using myself as an example, I use LinkedIn to manage my business life, Facebook for my private social life, and Twitter as my public playground. If you only rely on LinkedIn, you miss much of the picture.
Prune Your Network
Quantity and quality are two very different characteristics on LinkedIn. Last year, after amassing over 1,500 connections, I decided it was time to significantly cut my list. So in one day, I trimmed my list of long-time LinkedIn connections by more than 25 percent, cutting 443 people from my business circle.
A smaller number of connections means I’ll hear from voices that are important to me. Downsizing my list wasn’t an easy task, so I came up with guidelines to do so.
People you feel will be breaking out into another career
Friends in your social circles but have a place in your business circle, too
Meaningful connections you made through an industry event
The fun ones
Friends in your social circles but not business circle
People who you can’t recognize by name, face, or employer
People you feel were mainly around because you were trying to "sell" them in a former job
People you feel were mainly trying to "sell" you
People who stayed in an industry that doesn’t interest you
Most freelancers and consultants, such as photographers, bankers, insurance agents, and graphic designers
Before I joined LinkedIn, I tracked people on an Excel spreadsheet. Email addresses and phone numbers were almost a form of currency. Connectivity means something different now. We can find and connect with people all over the world, but what does it all mean? How can you cut through the clutter?
The answer is timeless. Pursue quality in everything you do. Stand out with personalized messages. Spend time with people who matter to you and will help you grow. Listen well. And don’t let technology replace the value of human interaction.
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Header photo courtesy Nan Palmero. Best time to post on LinkedIn graph courtesy Buffer.