Once you have a complete and up-to-date profile that is authentic, relevant, and compelling, it’s time to start using LinkedIn for networking.
Hopefully, you avoided reaching out to new contacts and accepting connection requests until your profile was in tip-top shape. You need to assume that people will check out your profile when you are connecting. And with many connections, that’s your first impression. Remember the advice from the 1980s Head and Shoulders commercial: You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
When it comes to networking in LinkedIn, there are two primary functions – just like in real-world networking: Building your network and nurturing relationships. I’ll cover both in this post.
Build your network
In growing your network, you want it to be both diverse and concentrated. On one hand, you need to benefit from the power of diversity in networking (here’s a great post that explains why this is important) – yet you must also make sure you have a concentration of connections to people in your sphere of expertise. LinkedIn lets you meet both needs at once.
Before we go further, I want to explain an important part of LinkedIn that will impact your thoughts on networking. Many people I speak to only want to connect with people they know. That strategy appears to play it safe, but it will work against you because of how LinkedIn is programmed. If you want to show up frequently in searches and you want to see the maximum number of full profiles, you need to be promiscuous in your connections strategy . Ignore LinkedIn’s advice to only accept connection requests from people you know. That may help them sell Premium subscriptions, but it won’t get you found.
If you’re still feeling a little queasy about being an open networker – accepting most connection requests – it should allay your fears to know that LinkedIn makes it really easy to remove, block, or report a connection. So any connection request you accept can be disconnected.
With that in mind, it’s time to build your network. There are four primary ways to do it:
- Reach out
- Accept connection requests
- Connect to people who are suggested by LinkedIn
- Use groupsPreview
Start by adding everyone in your professional life as a connection. You can link your email account and your iPhone contacts to make this easier.
If you’re just starting out with LinkedIn or you haven’t focused on it, you may have fewer than 500 connections. That will work against you. Once you reach 500, LinkedIn no longer displays the actual number you have. There is a psychological phenomenon where we believe people with 500+ in their profile are somehow more accomplished. So strive for five (hundred)!
1. Reach out.
When you’re reaching out, remember to customize the request instead of using the unimaginative “I’d like to add you to my network.” You can even customize requests when using the LinkedIn mobile app. Here’s how:
- While you’re at your invitee’s profile, click on the three dots in the upper right (don’t use the connect button).
- Choose “Personalize Invite.”
- Write a custom message, and then click send.
2. Accept connection requests.
Know your criteria for accepting requests (and remember what you lose if you are a closed networker). LinkedIn alerts you when you have requests. Get in the habit of accepting them soon after receiving them.
3. Connect to people who are suggested by LinkedIn.
LinkedIn has an algorithm that helps identify “people you may know,” who might be valuable to add to your network. Review the suggestions regularly and connect as appropriate. Your network will grow significantly over time.
4. Use groups.
Groups are the most powerful networking feature in LinkedIn . Why? Because they give you access to huge numbers of people who are all interested in the same topics you are. And LinkedIn allows you to join up to 100 groups. Research a variety of groups and join the ones that are populated by your target audience members. You can join groups related to your area of thought-leadership, social causes, alumni, etc. Look for groups that have lots of members and lots of activity.
Once you join a group:
- Spend a little time getting to know how the group works, who’s most vocal, what content gets the most buzz, etc.
- Introduce yourself. Let other members know you are new to the group and share a little bit about why you are there.
Nurture Your Network
Adding people to your network won’t help you build a relationship with them. You need to engage with them regularly. Here’s how:
- Provide status updates on a regular basis. It keeps you visible to the people in your brand community.
- Like and comment on LinkedIn posts that you think are valuable, and share the posts with your connections and other groups you belong to.
- Share content you find at other sites – like Fast Company or Forbes or Huffington Post – that you think would be valuable. When sharing, remember to add content saying why you think it is valuable and expressing your point of view.
LinkedIn does the heavy lifting when it comes to staying on top of people in your network. They provide notifications when someone you know has a birthday, work anniversary, or new job. You have the option of “liking” the notification or sending a message. I suggest choosing “send a message” and writing a personal note. Determine a time of day you will check in and get in the habit of doing it daily so you don’t miss any of your connections’ important dates.
Now you have the keys for unlocking the power of networking on LinkedIn. In all of these interactions, remember that successful personal branding is the result of being authentic and being consistent. In the next post in this series, I’ll share with advanced features you can use to truly differentiate your profile from your peers’.
William Arruda is the cofounder of CareerBlast and author of 13 Things All Successful Professionals Do To Fuel Their Careers.