Should I connect to strangers on LinkedIn?

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.

Thanks for reading and if you enjoyed this article, do check out:

6 Step Guide to Asking for Recommendations on LinkedIn

Guide to Optimising Your Profile For LinkedIn Selling

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Andrew Ford

Marketing expert Andrew Ford, the founder of Social Star, has discovered the secret of ‘Powerful Branding’. With a fire for unleashing people’s inner brand and developing business models to generate profit from an individual’s passions, Andrew leverages ground-breaking digital and social media marketing techniques to create digital strategies for clients to attract maximum opportunities. Having established a strong name for himself in the field, Andrew blends traditional business techniques with now-necessary tools for entrepreneurs to achieve scale, quality, and influence in their niche. Andrew’s comprehensive business background and qualifications consist of a Bachelor of Business (Marketing) (RMIT 2003), a Graduate Certificate in Management (MBA Executive Program, University of Sydney 2005), and a Masters of Entrepreneurship and Innovation (Swinburne University 2011). Continually on the cutting edge of his own education, Andrew has tested his marketing theories in forums such as the BCG Business Strategy Competition, which he won in 2005 against all Victorian MBA schools, and the Venture Cup Business Plan Competition (Swinburne University 2003), which he won in the Masters category. With experience working at Hewlett-Packard, Sensis (Telstra) and IBM, Andrew also has mentored dozens of junior staffs to help them achieve their professional goals. Meeting and influencing high-profile public figures helped Andrew to realise just how many professionals require more understanding and control of their public brands or appearance, and need help with the skills to use the many amazing free tools at their disposal to generate success. At Social Star, Andrew consults with clients to uncover their personal brand – both where it is today and where it can be tomorrow – and refine and define how that should be displayed in social media in order to attract their perfect target audience. Andrew mentors his clients to rapidly grow their business’ audiences, resulting in larger potential client bases and higher revenue. Applying formulas that integrate over twenty years of Andrew’s business experience and fifteen years of formal business education, Social Star specialises in building clarity and velocity for clients’ brands using the ‘Understand, Build and Leverage’ methodology. ‘Having a Personal Business enables people to have an authentic, congruent connection with their valued clients and partners, using their brand as the bridge,’ says Andrew. ‘I’m highly driven to work with the new breed of entrepreneurs and small business owners – people who have a passion for making the world a better place. Traditional business models are stepping aside as people follow their innermost dreams and my role is to see them operate within their values while creating wealth. Some people think you have to sacrifice what you love to be successful in your business, yet it is actually the opposite. Follow your passion and success will come.’ Lecturing at Swinburne University from 2009 to 2011 on brand dynamics and digital marketing, presenting at numerous conferences, and consulting to hundreds of clients, Andrew has seen his philosophy work that if you follow your unique path, based on your skills, experience, values and goals, you will automatically attract the opportunities you desire and achieve the success you deserve. Living his mantra, Andrew has created a successful business and attracts high-profile clients including musicians, athletes, authors, models, entrepreneurs, professionals and small business owners, helping them find their ‘why’ in their business and fulfilment in their lives. Business for Andrew is more than work, it’s personal. Running a personal business means that he is able to fulfil all of his values rather than separating his life from work. It supports his two boys while providing social opportunities, educational development, fitness opportunities, spiritual fulfilment and many valuable friendships. Social Star has now become the vehicle for Andrew to crystallise his mission in the world, to help people love what they do, supporting his ‘why’, that if more people loved what they did, the world would be a better place.