LinkedIn is the business networking tool of the now. Respect is represented by getting over the magic 500+ connections and everyone is clamouring to build their databases. But the question arises of 'who should you connect or not connect with?' Is more better than less? The answer, like a lot of advice, is it depends. However, after consulting to hundreds of clients on LinkedIn I have developed a few strategies that will help you formulate your own LinkedIn connection rules.
The choice of who to connect to on LinkedIn and who to ignore really comes down to three key questions. Answer these and you will well on your way to having a personal LinkedIn connection strategy. The three questions are as follows:
1) What is your personal brand plan? In a few words describe what you want to change in your working life. What do you really want? Your most important desire with your work life will be reflected in how you use LinkedIn to attract people and opportunities. For more about attraction, or e-ttraction as I call it read this blog.
From my experience there are three main business desires: I want a better job, I want more clients or I want to be a recognised thought leader in my niche. Your desire may seem a bit different than these broad categories, but they are the actions you will need for whatever is your goal. For instance, I work with a lot of entrepreneurs and corporate escapees to start their own business. This might seem like a new category, but from a LinkedIn perspective they want to either attract clients or become a thought leader or both. The process is the same.
If you need some additional advice on setting your intent, have a quick read of thisplanning blog I wrote recently. Once you know what you want then we need to examine how to best get their before we start to connect to people.
2) What is your target market? To get where you want to go, who are the people you need to connect to, how many of these do you need and where are they?
If you are a job seeker you need to know if you are looking in your local area, your city, state or anywhere in the world. This will determine who you connect with and how you conduct your searches to find them. For instance, if you are only interested in your local city then concentrate your activity there, but be aware that people in other areas can still refer you. More on that later...
Perhaps you want more clients for your business. If this is the case, how many do you need - specifically? It seems obvious, but it is a truism that common sense isn't that common. I have created business plans for many intelligent clients that want to broadcast their message to thousands of prospects, yet they only need a handful of clients. As a general rule, you will reflect your clients. If your service is high end and niche, so will your marketing plan and your clients profiles. Only spread your efforts as wide as you need to in order to attract the clients you want.
Once you understand your target clients and where they are, the last phase is to examine your industry and the position you have in it. The culture of the industry will help determine what is the natural way of using LinkedIn and your position in that industry will reflect how much attraction you can muster.
3) Your status in your industry. A question I ask my clients to help understand how best to use LinkedIn is regarding formality. How formal is your industry on a rating of 1 to 10. The more formal it is, the less likely people will be to connect to others on LinkedIn. The more casual the industry the more you can build your LinkedIn database easily. Neither way is right, they are just different. Having a small but very responsive LinkedIn database, where you know everyone personally is great for referrals and niche businesses like Accounting, medical or Lawyers.
Having a huge LinkedIn database, with less personal connection can be just as useful for broad based marketing programs where you need to connect to a lot of customers, suppliers or partners.
The second part of this question is what is your position in that industry. Are you a leader or a follower. If you are a leader people will be inviting you to connect all the time, if you are a follower you will be the one inviting people to connect. Either way you still need a strategy to decide who get's through and who doesn't.
Once you have worked through these questions and found your LinkedIn intent, defined your target market and how your industry operates you will have a framework to decide what your LinkedIn community looks like. But there is one more question that can help decide more specifically who you connect too on a daily basis. The key question is this -Can this person help connect me to someone who has what I want?
The reason this is such an important question is that most people don't see a connection for what their network is, they only see the single link in the chain. It is useful to look beyond that one person and see what their connections they could bring you. A student might not buy a house from a Real Estate agent, but I'm sure their parents would. A recruitment consultant might want to connect to offer me a job, but just think about how many people they have in their networks that could utilise my services. A junior staff member might not offer me much value individually, but if they have a large youth network and are inspired by my vision, imagine how many new blog followers I could gain.
My personal strategy is more is better than less. I don't want to miss out on a potential opportunity simply because I haven't met the person face to face. I connect to most people. remember it's not Facebook, it is a business tool. They are not your friends, but potential business associates. Would you stop someone from coming into your shop because you don't know them? Do you have a gate on your database subscription to stop people you don't know signing up? Didn't think so.
Look past the single person and look for the larger opportunity. That is the magic of LinkedIn and if you connect to more than your standard client you will discover a rich source of new work, referrals and followers.
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