LinkedIn-LogoMost business people I know are aware of LinkedIn. They know it’s a business networking platform within the larger catch-all known as “social media.” Many know LinkedIn is not only a great place to connect (or reconnect) with other professionals in their field, but also to engage with past, current and prospective clients and even find potential new hires.

It’s also a great place to form or join groups of like-minded individuals who can become or refer clients. And a lot of worthwhile information is posted there that can prove helpful in your everyday work life.

And since LinkedIn is 277% more effective than other social networks in generating leads, you’d be crazy not to be making the most of it, right?

What too many don’t seem to understand, however, is the best way to make meaningful and mutually beneficial connections with people on LinkedIn. I have observed the following (in my opinion) misguided ways in which people seek to connect on LinkedIn:

  • Sending invitations out of the blue to people they don’t know, using the pre-packaged invitation copy provided by LinkedIn (“I’d like to add you to my network.” Really? Why? Who are you? How do we know one another, or whom / what do we have in common?)
  • Indiscriminately joining every group that has a word within its name relating to their business (for instance, “marketing,” “law,” “construction,” “restaurant,” etc) and then failing to interact, interacting too infrequently, or contributing only negative or “know-it-all” type comments within the groups they’ve joined.
  • Endorsing others’ skills and expertise when they don’t have sufficient knowledge to do so.

Here are my best tips for making the most of LinkedIn’s unique opportunities:

1.  Trust Counts

If you are approaching someone you don’t know, there must be a reason for it, right? How about citing that reason in your invitation to connect? It just might increase the likelihood of making the connection. Something like:

Karen, as a fellow Bar Harbor area marketing professional, I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.

– Linda Chell Rooney

Similarly, if you are reaching out to someone you know in real life, remind them how you know one another, or mention your existing connection in your invite. Such as:

Hi, John! I’m so glad Jeff Maxwell introduced us at the conference in Orlando last week. I hope you will join my professional network on LinkedIn.

– Linda Chell Rooney

Invitations limit the number of characters you can use and they cannot contain live links (say, to your website), so keep it pithy, giving enough info to jog the recipient’s memory of you, within LinkedIn’s constraints.

2.  Authenticity Counts

It is never enough to simply “Accept” an invitation to connect and go about your day. You are a real, live person, and your virtual connections need to see you as such. I recommend spending a few moments to craft a unique response to those invitations, as well as to those who’ve accepted your invitations. This is also where you have an opportunity to shine, since messages are not as restrictive as invitations. My own responses include the following elements:

  • A thank you
  • Why I’m glad we are now connected
  • How they can connect with me on a couple of other social media sites
  • An invitation to sign up for my free eNewsletter (and why they might want to)

BTW, I do all this in a very short paragraph of about 85 words.

I also always use the person’s name in the first sentence so the recipient knows my response is not “canned.”

If it’s someone I know but haven’t heard from in a while, I would mention how nice it is to reconnect on LinkedIn and say how excited I am to learn more about their current projects, or congratulate them on the new position they’ve just accepted – something specific that lets them know I’ve actually taken the time to look at their profile.

There are a ton of ways to personalize your outreach on LinkedIn – and thus come across as more authentic and worthwhile than many of the invitations out there – and I hope these few suggestions get you thinking creatively about some ways you can personalize your interactions.

You can’t put any live links in the body copy of your message, but you can do so in your signature, so take advantage of that, if applicable.

3.  Engagement Counts

Let me just put this out there: It’s not a numbers game. So when you join 50 groups, you don’t get anything for it. If you never participate in most (or any) of them, you don’t get anything out of it, either. Here’s an alternative:

  • Choose 10 to 12 groups that might appeal to you
  • Read the Group Profile for each to be sure their mission / purpose is a good fit for you
  • Review several of the currently open discussions within each group
  • Narrow it down to the Top 5 groups – those that attract either your peers or your target audience (I recommend you include at least one of each type), those with a vibrant and engaged community, and those where you would have something valuable to contribute
  • Start or respond to group discussions on a regular basis in a way that showcases your expertise without coming off as a know-it-all (which doesn’t help generate the kind of interaction you’re seeking). Remember, too, that this is not a sales forum but rather an excellent way of establishing yourself as an expert in your field. By piquing their interest in this way, you will drive traffic to your LinkedIn profile and / or your website for more information about you.
  • Add groups as you get comfortable interacting with your first five
  • Don’t be shy about deleting groups you find unworthy of your time after a reasonable amount of time (and effort) on your part

4.  Integrity Counts

This is a relatively new pet peeve of mine on LinkedIn, ever since the introduction of “endorsements” last September. Endorsements are not to be confused with Recommendations, where someone has to actually put a few minutes’ time into writing a blurb about their experience working with you. Now you can “endorse” your connections’ “skills and expertise” with the click of a mouse – and almost no thought process – and LinkedIn  enables this by “suggesting” skills and expertise you might want to endorse right at the top of each connection’s profile. (“Does Jon have these skills or expertise?”) You have a choice to “endorse” or “skip.” If you choose “skip,” another box appears asking, “What skills or expertise do your other connections have?” Two months ago, LinkedIn reported that there had been 550 million endorsements with another 10 million piling on every day.

Now, I don’t say “Never endorse,” but if you do, please have some integrity about it. Endorse only the skills and expertise of which you have personal experience or knowledge with that person. Before endorsing the skills and expertise of a stranger with whom you have never worked and never seen samples of their work – ask yourself this: “Do I know enough about this person and his / her professional reputation to be comfortable vouching for them in person with one of my own clients or a valued colleague?” If the answer is no, don’t endorse on LinkedIn.

Let’s close out on a lighter note: For an example of some of the more amusing endorsement suggestions you could face on LinkedIn, see this article.

And if you’re so inclined, I hope you will reach out to me on LinkedIn here.

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© 2013 Linda C. Rooney

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