Have you figured out that the Internet has changed the way we do business and the way we connect with other people? Social media has exploded, and most of us are overwhelmed. Not only do we not know which platform to use, we don’t know how to use each one.
In the beginning of this explosion I tried each one of them as they came along. I felt inadequate if I wasn’t on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Google +, Flikr, Tumblr and all the others. If you look up “social media sites” online, the size of the list will take your breath away, just as it did mine. The experts are now telling us to narrow down our list so that we don’t spend every waking moment checking each site. They are also advising us to use two or three sites that make sense for our business. The general consensus seems to be that LinkedIn is the most worthwhile business-oriented social networking service.
It is one thing to identify LinkedIn as a valuable resource. It is another thing to use it correctly and courteously so that it works for you. If we think of LinkedIn as a networking site, then the rules of every day face to face networking should apply.
Here’s what I mean. If you were attending a business networking event, you wouldn’t just walk up to the first person you saw, shove your business card in their face and say, “I’d like to connect with you.” Yet many people do that online. Some days it is hard to keep up with all the cryptic invitations we receive.
What then is the answer to how you connect online? You do the same as you would in person. You approach another person, introduce yourself, mention your business and then ask questions about the other person. Your intention is to have a conversation to see if there is a business fit for the two of you. If you are really savvy, you would find out about the other person ahead of time and would already know if this would be a worthwhile connection.
Do the same online. Do your research before you contact people on LinkedIn. My technology guru, Jerry Gitchel, recommends that you don’t go snooping around on their LinkedIn profiles. People can see that you have been checking them out. Find the website of people you want to connect with and gather your information there. Then when you invite them to join you online, you can tell them who you are, what you know about them and why you think connecting would be of value to you both.
Don’t send that canned invitation that LinkedIn has created intending to simplify your life. It is impersonal and for most people, it is a turn off. If you simply can’t resist taking the easy way out, at least add the person’s name at the beginning. A little tweaking to the invitational statement can make a big difference.
What are some other ways to connect with people whom you don’t know but would like to? Once again it’s back to old-fashioned face to face networking. Have you ever asked someone to make an introduction for you? You can do the same on LinkedIn. Do your research and find someone you are both connected to and ask that person for an introduction. That strategy carries a lot more weight than any other.
Finally how do you handle invitations from people you don’t know or never heard of? You have several options. One is to ignore the invitation or check the box that says you don’t know this person. Another tactic is to reply, thanking the other person for the invitation and asking how this connection would be beneficial to you both. That stops people in their tracks if they were in this to grow their list haphazardly, or it elicits a worthwhile response from them. If you like the answer you receive, at that point you accept the invitation and continue the conversation.
Just as face to face networking is not about how many hands you can shake or how many business cards you can collect, online networking is not about how many people you can list on your profile. It is quality over quantity. The point is to make connections with the appropriate people and to build relationships with them in order to grow your business and theirs. My opinion is that LinkedIn should be called a mutual admiration society.