We’ll connect with friends from elementary school in Facebook. We’ll reciprocate a Follow in Twitter (unless you are a teeth whitening spammer). But when it comes to LinkedIn, everybody has their own rules.
Admit it. You’ve received this generic LinkedIn invitation from somebody you don’t know:
I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn. – John
What do you do? So I went searching for the answer…I contacted a LION (LinkedIn Open Networker) in DC, a Marketing Executive in California, and a Product Manager at LinkedIn directly.
Let’s start with the official recommendation from LinkedIn: Whom should I invite to connect? which highlights the following…”If you know little about the connection you weaken the integrity of the recommendation and your network.”
At the other end of the decision tree from the official LinkedIn recommendation are LION’s.
Here is the official statement from LinkedIn…”L.I.O.N is an organization that is not affiliated or endorsed by LinkedIn. There are several user created groups with this name that can be found, each with their own group’s summary and meaning.”
It appears LinkedIn is not a big fan of open networkers (commonplace for professonal third party recruiters). For example, LinkedIn limits a user’s displayed connection to “500+ Connections”, and it limits the number of invitations a user can send out to 3000 (which is why most LIONs need for you to send them an invitation to connect). For more information on LIONs on LinkedIn, please reference Neal Schaffer’s blog post.
Meet Brett Brody. Brett is a LION and is LinkedIn to over 9,600 professionals. Brett and I had the opportunity to talk on the phone for an hour before we LinkedIn (see my criteria below). Brett is not a recruiter. He owns his own company and is passionate about connecting people. If you’d like to connect with Brett, simply send him an invitation.
Meet Tim Tyrell-Smith. Tim is a marketing executive in the consumer goods industry. Tim is also the Founder of Spin Strategy, an outstanding source for career advice and resources. Tim’s general rule for becoming LinkedIn to someone new is to speak first with that person over the phone.
So whatever your rule for building connections in LinkedIn, I recommend some Tips for LinkedIn Professional Etiquette:
1. Never Go Generic
When sending invitations, always include a personal note in the invitation. Answer the question: What is your connection to this person? Go beyond something system-generated like “Bob Smith has indicated you are a classmate at James Madison University” (when you know, if you did a little research, the person graduated 8 years before you). For example, if you read an article the person posted on the alumni news section, be sure to mention that. I also make a point to send a personal note back when I accept an invitation. Never forget LinkedIn is about building professional relationships so start it off with professional courtesy.
2. Be Timely
When you meet other professionals in person (clearly the most valuable way to connect) and exchange business cards, get LinkedIn within 24 hours. The other person will remember your conversation and appreciate your timeliness.
3. Have a Goal in Mind
When you send a LinkedIn invitation to someone, what is your goal? I find it refreshing when someone clearly states why she reached out. I always try to follow this rule when I send invitations. Is this someone I feel I can help his business or career through some form of collaboration? Is this someone I just met and would like to get to know better?
4. Stick to Your Rules
Be consistent with your personal rules for sending and accepting invitations. Don’t forget the other person has his own rules too. Unless you are connecting to a LION, never assume. Nobody wants to have his invitation rejected or ignored (archived).
So what are my 5 guidelines for getting LinkedIn?
1. I accept / send LinkedIn invitations if I have had the opportunity to work with you
2. I accept / send LinkedIn invitations if we have met in person
3. I accept / send LinkedIn invitations if we have spoken on the phone (and an in person meeting is not feasible)
4. I accept / send LinkedIn invitations to initiate a professional relationship where phone, online, and/or in-person collaboration is expected
5. My goal in every LinkedIn relationship is to be able to recommend your services to other professionals who trust my opinion.
That’s it. Pretty simple. I believe in quality of relationships, not quantity. I believe in focusing on your needs, not mine. I believe in communication the old fashioned way.
Am I LinkedIn to people I could not recommend at this time? The answer is yes (see criteria 1 through 4), but my goal is still to be able to recommend your services to someone else. I hope the people who are LinkedIn to me have the same goal for me. Success in your career is about your reputation to help others. Period.
Final tip: Do not ever assume a person’s LinkedIn list is the body of his or her connections. It’s not even close. For example, LinkedIn actually erased my identity last year so I’m still rebuilding. Until you build an actual trusted relationship with someone will you ever be introduced to the politician the person knows at church, the executive who lives down his street, or the person he plays golf with.
To borrow a quote from Bob Burg, “It isn’t just what you know, and it isn’t just who you know. It’s actually who you know, who knows you, and what you do for a living.” Stated another way…when looking at your LinkedIn connections, ask “Who do you know that knows what you know?” Those are your most valuable relationships. I’m not a LION, but I believe in relationships (see criteria above).
My LinkedIn address is http://www.linkedin.com/in/brentpeterson. Please help me understand how I can help you. I welcome the invitation. Please share your rules for getting LinkedIn as well as other tips you may have for others. Thanks!
Brent Peterson, PMP, MS, MBA, is the founder of Interview Angel Inc, a company that offers a comprehensive guide and toolkit for job seekers to use in interviews. Discover customer testimonials, blog posts, upcoming events, and media interviews at http://www.interviewangel.com/.
Brent is also on Twitter at (twitter.com/InterviewAngel).