Social networking and social media is all the buzz these days. Just ask Kelly Blazek. And if you’re a business professional, chances are you’re familiar with LinkedIn. If you’re not… you should be. LinkedIn is a website that is designed for professionals to, “Get the most from your professional network.” Oftentimes referred to as “Facebook for adults”, LinkedIn is an incredibly valuable tool from a networking perspective. However, simply HAVING a profile on LinkedIn isn’t enough. The power of the site comes when you build out your network. As the saying goes, “It’s all about who you know.”
Let’s say you walk into a meeting with someone you’ve never met. You sit down across from the person to an awkward silence and gradually work your way into the flow of the meeting after some small talk about the weather, the local sports team, etc. Now contrast this with sitting down in a meeting with that same person, but being able to start the conversation with, “I see from your LinkedIn profile that we both know such and such. WE go way back…” Boom… instant rapport. And it’s thanks to your network.
There are several ways go about building your LinkedIn network of friends and colleagues.
- The Tight Knit Group – These folks essentially only accept their closest friends and colleagues. Folks in this group tend to be a little uncomfortable with the concept of “social networking” and have privacy concerns. (NOTE: LinkedIn does allow you to modify your privacy settings so you can determine who sees what). They tend to ignore LinkedIn requests and don’t look to expand who they’re connected to. This leads to them having a small network on LinkedIn. I’d advise against this method as it severely limits the power of LinkedIn essentially defeating its purpose.
- “You” Incorporated – This “middle ground” is my preferred method of building a network and it’s the way I go about it. Add people to your network that you’ve worked with in the past. This group of people knows you (at least professionally) and can vouch for your talents. It allows you to build your network as you move through your career. Additionally, I tend to accept requests from people that I share a LinkedIn Group with as we normally share quite a few connections and I know that we share at least a few interests.
However, just because we’ve worked at the same company does not necessarily mean that I’ll accept a request. As an example, if I worked for Company A 10 years ago and the person works for them now, in all likelihood I don’t know them. Unless we have some common connections or groups I’ll typically decline the request.
- The Collectors – Just as on Facebook, you’ll see people who look at their LinkedIn network the same way they did with their baseball card collection. They want to “collect them all”. These folks will request connections with anyone and everyone whether they share any connections or not. Unless you’re in a business where there may be a specific reason to go this route (recruiting, cold calling) I’d strongly suggest against this method. Whether it’s fair or not, you’re judged by your social networks. I personally want to be familiar with every person in my networks. This way when someone calls or emails for a recommendation I can speak intelligently about the person.
If you’ve got a job, you need to be on LinkedIn. If you’re not, you are severely impacting your opportunities from a sales, networking and job opportunity perspective. As you grow your network do it with purpose. You never know when who you know is going to help you.