By Phil Stella
How often does this happen to you? The day after you attend a networking event, you get a few generic email requests to Link In with people you had chatted with for two minutes. They say “I’d like to add you to my professional network …” Or even worse, “Because you’re a friend … or … someone I trust …”
I get several of these unsolicited requests a week from second-level connections I don’t even know, people I met very briefly or who were in the audience for one of my presentations.
First, I check out their profile. For those I’m not interesting in connecting with, I simply ignore their request. It was, after all, electronic junk mail sent to “occupant.”
For those people I am interested in, I politely respond by indicating that “I prefer to get to know people better before formally connecting” and suggest we begin an email dialogue.
For me, the purpose of that dialogue is to begin to answer the question, “Is this a person I can help … or who can help me?” Notice it’s an “or” and not an “and.” I’m continually amazed at the very high percentage of people who never respond to that initial suggestion.
Full disclosure here. I’ve been an enthusiastic and strategic networker since before we called it networking. Some colleagues even call me the “Godfather of Networking” – I like that. I prefer high touch to high tech and view social media as effective tools to enhance and expand relationships generally started by face-to-face or voice-to-voice conversations. If you consider that approach as old school or antiquated … I’m guilty as charged.
That said, LinkedIn allows you a fast, simple and no-cost way to make a very poor impression on people you just met or don’t even know. So, here are some simple Best Practices to help you avoid that:
Don’t be a LinkedIn Loser: Some people believe that it’s more important and valuable to have a large number of superficial contacts than a smaller number of solid and meaningful ones. I don’t. They call themselves “LION” – Linked In Open Networker … but Loser works fine with me.
Be selective about whom you invite to connect with you and whom you agree to connect with. A primary use of the site is to ask others in your network to refer or recommend you and to do the same for them. Pretty hard to do that when you don’t even know the person or where the only connection you have is that you’re both in the same discussion group.
Don’t be Generic: When you do invite someone to link in with you, avoid the generic system-generated request. Instead, take the extra minute to craft a brief personalized note indicating why you want to connect with them.
Try something like “Bill, I enjoyed our brief chat at the COSE meeting last night about your new venture at Glitztronics. I’d like to learn more about it and look for some ways to help each other. Please accept my invitation to Link In.” How hard was that? How much time did it take? More importantly, what kind of an impression did those three simple sentences likely make on Bill?
When you accept invitations from others, reply in a similar manner with a short note thanking them and suggesting some ways you might help each other.
Don’t be Superficial. When you ask people for a recommendation or referral, also send a personalized note. Make sure they know your work well enough to write a specific and meaningful testimonial. Indicate in that note which of your qualities you’d like them to highlight. And, of course, offer to reciprocate. When you agree to write a recommendation, check out their existing ones first so you can give yours a different spin.
This all sounds like basic common sense and common courtesy, doesn’t it. Well, our workplace culture killed off common sense years ago and we allowed common courtesy to die off slowly from lack of use. So, if you want to Link In with style and class, do it with uncommon sense and uncommon courtesy. How’s that for old school?
Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication and is a popular speaker on networking and workplace communications. He can be reached at (440) 449-0356, firstname.lastname@example.org or http://communicate-confidently.com.