How often does this happen to you? The day after you attend a networking event, you get a few generic email requests to connect on LinkedIn with people you chatted with for two minutes. They say, “I’d like to add you to my professional network ...”
I get several of these unsolicited requests a week from second level connections I don’t even know or have only met briefly.
First, I check out their profile. For those I’m not interesting in connecting with, I simply ignore their request. 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 that we begin an email dialogue.
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,” not an “and.” I’m continually amazed at the high percentage of people who never respond to that initial suggestion.
Full disclosure here, I’ve been an enthusiastic and strategic networker since before it was called 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 an effective tool 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 poor impression on people you just met or don’t even know. So, here are some simple best practices to help you avoid doing that and ‘link in’ with style and class:
1. Don’t be a LinkedIn loser. Some people believe that it’s more important and valuable to have quantity over quality in the number of contacts. I don’t. They call themselves LIONs — Linked In Open Networkers … but loser works fine for me.
Be selective about whom you invite to connect with 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. That’s pretty hard to do when you don’t even know the person or the only connection you have is that you’re both in the same discussion group.
2. Don’t be generic. When you do invite someone to connect 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 LinkedIn.” 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.
3. 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 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 connect with style and class, do it with uncommon sense and uncommon courtesy. How’s that for old school?
Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication Inc., where he empowers business leaders to communicate confidently. A popular trainer and executive coach on workplace communications and sales presentations, he is also on the Cleveland faculty at the University of Phoenix and the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Initiative. Reach him at (440) 449-0356, or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit www.communicate-confidently.com.