There has been a great discussion thread in the Women’s Network Australia LInkedIn Group, started by Michelle Dunn, of IDoTo.com.au about the efficacy of LinkedIn connections. Michelle asked the question; ” Connecting with people you don’t know on LinkedIn, is it worth it?
Clearly, this touched people.
We are all in LinkedIn, but how many of us really know how to use LinkedIn to connect and build relationships that truly reward our time in terms of business? After all, and this may be confronting question to pose, “if it is not ultimately for the purpose of doing business, then why are we in LinkedIn?”
This is not to imply a harsh commercial world in which the sub text might read, “I have spent a few minutes of my time on you, so now send me a cheque! ”
But, even if our quest is to build a business community online to which we deliver valuable, meaningful information and advice, are we not doing this so a percentage of that community will result in good repeat custom and a percentage will advocate for us. Would that be fair?
It seemed from the lengthy discussion that ensued for some weeks, from more than 20 people contributing (which is remarkable for a LinkedIn discussion), that there is a fair amount of ambivalence about how people feel about the business of connecting.
Friend or Foe
While the question was based on the worth of connecting with people you don’t know, many talked about how to respond to an invitation to connect. Bearing in mind that LinkedIn, to the uninitiated to which I belonged before this enlightening conversation, offers only the friend status option, if you genuinely don’t know someone.
On this subject, extracting from the thread, opinions seemed caught between two camps of thought: The first believing that being connected to by saying you’re a friend when you weren’t, was inappropriate, annoying and troublesome.
The other camp suggested that being connected to as a friend was no different to to a handshake and exchanging business cards at a networking function. You may have their card, but they remain nonetheless a stranger.
One commentator suggested that you will know more about a person from reading their profile in LinkedIn, then from a brief face to face meeting at a networking function.
In response to this concern about being connected to, perhaps, I mused, LinkedIn should provide some other categories. ‘Interested’ or ‘Two Degrees’? Or for the scrupulously transparent – ‘blatant self promotion’ or ‘just adding to my collection’!
A few exclaimed that there was no point to networking, if all you were doing was talking to people you knew and not engaging with strangers.
There was a good deal of very good advice about joining appropriate groups and inviting people from within the groups to avoid the friend issue. Or that you could go to your connections on the home page, click on who you may know and send them personal invitations, which apparently obviated the need to select friend.
In the end, it seemed we were all agreed that the choice remained yours, to accept or ignore. Added to which was advice that you could change your settings if you wished to only receive invitations from those who had your email.
I am grateful to have not known about that setting. Many of the opportunities I have been fortunate to enjoy through LinkedIn connections would have been missed.
How to use LinkedIn to connect
The second thread that ran through the discussion was about how to use LinkedIn appropriately to connect. Universally it was agreed, that if you were inviting someone to join your network, you should take the time to look up their profile and explain why you are making the request.
Generally, it was agreed that if you were invited or you were inviting, part of exploring the invitee’s profile, would be to see if there was a synergy with your business outcomes.
The more proactive commentators said they would extend invitations to meet in person through their groups and, that in some cases, this had translated into business.
Invite of be invited
Maybe there is another way to look at this. I rarely invite people. Not that I don’t want to, I am just prioritising my time. Almost all of my LinkedIn connections have come through invitations, for which I remain delighted.
As explained in the discussion thread, we spent decades in a consultancy business, which relied on our sales funnel starting with cold calling to find out to whom we could send our meticulously developed marketing material.
After that we needed to get past the receptionist, then the gatekeeper and sometimes the custodian as well. It was a thankless task, so the notion of being invited to join someone else’s network and the opportunities that come with that, is positively refreshing.
By way of thanks, I spend some time reviewing their profile and website. It is rare not to be able to find something to offer as a networking suggestion, online marketing tip or a shared belief.
LinkedIn Connections. Are they worth it?
This bigger question remains. Many people talked positively, even with passion about their experiences in LinkedIn, but there was not a lot of hard evidence given from their discussions as to how their efforts had resulted in business.
When I started internet marketing, it was disappointing to be told by an internet marketing coach, that it was really just a number’s game. Not want I wanted to hear at all, even though our experience in our previous communications consultancy gave credence to this view, at least offline.
While we had prided ourselves on our conversions from the various new business strategies we employed, it was indeed a numbers’ game. We would send out 100 targeted direct market pieces, follow up and be pleased to make eight to ten meetings. From those meetings, we would consider it a success to gain one long term client.
By comparison to this often thankless task of bringing in new business offline, I love being in the global marketplace of conversations online. A recent survey in NuffNaff, a bloggers’ network asked, “what would you do if the internet disappeared?” I was bereft even considering it.
New business and business development. Offline or online?
What is interesting to consider here, is that most small businesses view new business (the acquiring of clients through targeted direct mail campaigns, networking, advertising) and business development (nurturing and building existing client work), as vital to the growth of their business. They are prepared, or should be, to spend a high proportion of their time involved in the activities associated with both.
Many small business owners do it themselves. Some are prepared to pay highly for a new business manager, client services manager or sales person to do it for them.
Why should time spent genuinely making LinkedIn connections be viewed any differently?
We have experienced all these scenarios. Doing it ourselves offline, paying someone to do it for us and now building our business predominantly online, although we are still involved in face to face networking.
The connections I am making in LinkedIn, together with my blogging, are presenting opportunities at a far greater rate.
Here is the real reason.
As in everything online, done well, it is exponential. Like Facebook, once you connect with someone, you are potentially exposed to their network and their networks’ network.
Agreed, to make this work, you have to work. Is this more or less work than all the other offline activities associated with bringing in new business? This may depend on the discipline you bring to how you use LinkedIn.
In a nutshell:
A simple daily plan, well implemented will reap rewards.
Answer your invitations with a real response.
Look at their profile, look at their website and offer a helpful comment or appraisal.
Extend invitations to meet if you get a response.
Join appropriate groups.
Look at discussions everyday that you can join.
Seek first to help.
Do this everyday.
Leverage off your blog – very important of course.
Lurking doesn’t count!*
If you respond to the opportunities that are presented by being invited into someone’s network, contribute regularly and with interest and passion in the groups, then the worth of connecting in LinkedIn will be manifest.
Michelle summed it up in her conclusion: ” As many of you have said, you never know where a connection may lead.”
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