A case against open networking
If the title sounds familiar, it’s because I wrote this piece a while ago as a guest blog for a friend. Since it no longer appears online in the original form, I decided to refresh it a little and add a couple of tips in there I hope you’ll find useful! Let me know your thoughts in the comments :)
When I started working as a sourcer, it quickly became apparent that what was expected and seen as a proof of success was a large network, mainly measured by the number of connections on LinkedIn. Open networking is aimed at getting you just that by accepting all of the random requests you encourage others to send you. At the time it made sense as it allowed you to review more profiles on LinkedIn without having to find your 3rd level connections through an external search. It also allowed you to message more people through the platform without having to pay for InMails.
But LinkedIn keep introducing changes and last year’s changes in particular mean that open networking just doesn’t bring you the value it used to anymore. Instead of creating a low value database of people you’ve never met, I’d like to encourage you to take a more strategic approach to creating your LinkedIn network. Here’s a couple of tips to help:
Identify and describe your target groups
You can access the full LinkedIn database at a relatively low cost but connecting with people is about more than just being able to view their profile or to send them a message. The real opportunity here is to create an audience that you will be able to interact with on a regular basis. By inviting the right people to your network, you are really giving yourself a chance to show your expertise, learn from others and maintain high levels of engagement. So answer a simple question: who is it that you want to interact with on LinkedIn? Your candidates? Clients? There will probably be more than just one group. Make sure to think about what their characteristics are and how they use the platform.
You can even use personas to better understand your target groups and how you can help them get value from staying connected to you. I personally find that this helps me keep my focus and avoid from projecting my own needs onto my network. That is probably a subject for a separate blog – in the meantime I think you might find this article quite helpful.
Personalise your invitations and messages
It seems this would be quite common, doesn’t it? But the truth is we’re all very busy and not everyone will find the time to make that extra effort. If you want to stand out, the easiest way would be to personalise LinkedIn invitations (good news: you can also do this on mobile) and messages. When I talk about personalising them, I don’t just mean using the recipient’s name. We’ve come to expect that as it’s part of most template InMails anyway. Add a little bit in there that proves you’ve done your research and read the recipient’s profile. It could be as easy as asking them a question or admitting you need help.
Here is an example of what I mean. Raf’s profile suggested he enjoys helping others and sharing his expertise – so I went for a simple message and just ask for help. A couple of hours later we were connected and Raf was happy to have a chat with me!
Share relevant content and add your own comment
Sharing content is how you can interact with your audience but remember to keep the proportions right. If you target too many groups, it will be difficult to make sure that our name comes up above updates they will find relevant. Try to think about the content they could all enjoy to ensure this isn’t too much of an issue. And listen to your network or even ask some of your closest connections for feedback. Remember, unfollowing your connections on LinkedIn is very easy and you definitely don’t want to lose the members of your audience that you’ve chosen so carefully to connect with!
One thing that I found is that if you add your own comment to whatever content you share, people are more likely to read through it and engage with your updates. If you do this, it won’t matter if you’re the first or the only person in someone’s network to share an article – your comment will add unique value no one else can bring. So what should be in a comment? This really depends on why you decided to share a piece of content in the first place. It could be a quote you found particularly interesting, a short summary so people can decide whether it’s a relevant read, or a question inviting them to share their own thoughts on a particular issue raised in the article.
And here’s an example – again, I usually keep it quite simple, but I hope you get the idea :)
Connect people and make introductions
If you create a more narrow network based on your target groups, then you’re more likely to keep track of all of the people you’re connected to. That puts you in a good position to make introductions, which is a great way to add more value to your network. You can even make that process easier by using a template for these messages, adding a short line about why you wanted to make the introduction or about your recipients. A bit of background will help them start a conversation of their own and will show that extra effort you go to for your connections.
I also use this approach whenever I’m asked for help but can’t personally offer too much, e.g. when I’m asked about roles that I don’t recruit for. Since recruiters all across the globe form a big part of my network, I keep an eye on my feed and, depending on my relationship with the candidate, either make an introduction or simply forward the updates I think would be relevant. That way, I still help the candidate, even if it’s not exactly what they were looking for in the first place.
Offer to help… and follow through
I like to help my connections as much as possible and I’ll often offer help. Unfortunately, not every request for help is very specific and sometimes I’ll have to take time limitations into consideration. I’ve found the easiest way to deal with this is to walk your connection through what you can do for them. That way I am able to choose the most time efficient ways to help out and make sure I can handle all of the requests I receive.
Occasionally, I get too busy or I’m simply unavailable for a period of time. In these cases, I am honest about not being able to help right away so whomever asked me for help can look for it elsewhere. Whenever possible, I share a name of someone I think will be able to help or refer my connection to a source that’s likely to have the answers they’re looking for. This is likely to happen when you’re moving into a new job, but still receiving messages from candidates interested in your previous employer. It really doesn’t take much to leave things on a positive note, as I think the following example proves:
While my network remains rather small (still under 4 000 connections), I never found that to be an issue at work. In fact, it’s proven to be an asset quite a lot of times! Whenever I need an introduction, advice or information, I can easily remember who in my network could be in a position to help me out. It’s worked for me but however you choose to build your LinkedIn network, make sure it helps you achieve your own individual goals. There are no universal solutions, so take what works, adjust what doesn’t and learn from the feedback you’ll receive from your network on the way. Until next week :)