5 Steps to Thrive on LinkedIn

I posted this video as one of the last Linked Intuition posts.  Unfortunately the URL was corrupted and left out the .com in the URL.  So Here we go again.  This is an interview in which I talk about the 5 Steps to Thrive on LinkedIn.


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Wednesday LinkedOut Comic 12: Spare a Few Connections?

12_linkedin_spare_connectionsThe concept to this comic just popped into my head one day and here I am months later trying to see how I can use it to make a point or share some wisdom.

Reading it now I liken the economically disadvantaged (want to be Politically correct in this day and age) person’s request to sending out an invitation using the canned LinkedIn invitation template.

“I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.”

–Your name

If you use the above invitation to connect with another member you will be making a mistake 99.9% of the time.  The only wiggle room might be if you know the person extremely well and they would connect regardless of what the invitation says.

I even customize these.  My invitation to a good friend might say “I can’t believe that you haven’t had the sense of mind to connect to me yet.  Once again I have to clean up your mistakes.  You can hit the Accept button now”.

Of course knowing some of my friends they immediately hit the IDK button.

The canned invitation is simple.  It’s fast.  It’s convenient.  It’s against the laws of the universe.  LinkedIn should replace the copy with “Type your invitation message here”.  That’s what I think.

All that from a simple comic.  What do you think?

The Fallacy of Protecting Your Network

There are two sides to every story, and in LinkedIn’s case three.  There’s the Lion, the Turtle and the Hound Dog.  In Jeff Foxworthy’s linguistics:

~You might be a Lion if you check your LinkedIn inbox every 5 minutes to see who has accepted your invitation.

~You might be a Turtle if you can name every person in your network on the spot.

~You might be a Hound Dog if you’re just happy to be here.

The LION is what you call an open networker.  The Turtle and the Hound Dog to some extent limit their connections.

The most common reason people give when they explain why they are not an open networker is that they want to protect the value of their network.  This used to make sense to me, but not any longer.  Once I actually stopped to think about networks and value a question popped into my head – “How do I know whether or not someone in my network could benefit from a connection that I do not personally know”.

It’s amazing that it took me so long to get it because the event that caused me to realize that LinkedIn could generate opportunity was a connection invitation from someone I did not know.  This person contacted me to help some of her client’s with their health insurance needs.  This was an opportunity that came from someone I did not know and was not connected to.

I had been on Linked for a year and a half at this point but only had 19 connections and maybe looked at the site once a month.  As I started learning more I simply adopted the view I saw others write about “if you want a valuable network you have to protect it by only connecting to those you know”.

I held onto the “protecting my network” belief for another year.  I now think about all of the opportunity that I missed out on – to help myself and help others.

Calculating Your Network’s Value
Let’s talk about network value.  Suppose my network is made up of only 100 people that I know fairly well.  If I assign a value of 10 to each connection that I know, my network’s value would be 1,000.

Let’s also assign a value of 1 to any connection that I do not know.  If I were to add 900 connections to my network that I do not know the value of these new 900 at 1 point each would be 900.   My expanded network would have a value of 1,900.  Almost twice as valuable as before.

Notice that the value of the original 100 hasn’t changed.  They haven’t been devalued because I surrounded them with the unknown 900.  I simply now have 100 people that I know well and 900 that I don’t know well.  The only change is that the value of my network has nearly doubled, and I’ve increased the chance that I will encounter unexpected opportunities.

The phallacy of the “protecting my network” argument is that for each unknown person you connect to, your known connections become less valuable.  The reality is that these 100 well known connections have not changed simply because they are surrounded by the 900 unknown connections.  You still have the same relationship.

Think about this.  Does the value of your local Chamber of Commerce increase or decrease as new members that you do not know join?  It goes up because each new member is an increased opportunity to interact with someone you do not know.  The value increases not just for you but for every other Chamber member.  Your LinkedIn network is simply your personal Chamber of Commerce.

Exposing Your Network to Unknowns
I’ve also heard the thought expressed that if you connect to others you don’t know, they will be able to see your connections and potentially wreck havoc.  It’s true that the unknown person can now see your connections (if you allow your connections to view your direct network).  Sort of like when you have coffee with someone you know at Starbucks and everyone else can see that you know the person you’re meeting with.  Red alert!  Red alert!

When you add someone to your network your direct connections become their 2nd degree connections.  What ways do they have to cause harm?  They can ask you for an introduction.  They can contact the person directly by finding the phone number on a website.  Am I missing anything else significant?

So how is not connecting to a person you don’t know protecting them?  How do you know they want to be “protected”?  Have you polled your network?

To Each Their Own
There are a lot of people who get angry when discussing “Open Networkers” and I don’t get it.   Who cares if someone else on LinkedIn chooses to connect to anyone?  It doesn’t directly impact you when others choose to expand there network.

If you want to connect with every other LinkedIn member do it.  If you only want to connect to 100 people do it. Nobody should care, because the choice you make should be based on your LinkedIn strategy.  They should have their own.

That’s what I think.  You might have a different opinion.  My only suggestion is that you think it through before deciding.  For a long time I used someone else’s strategy because I didn’t take the time to develop my own. Since taking ownership of my strategy I’ve found more opportunity in the last six months than the previous 2 1/2 years.

Whether you agree or disagree everyone will benefit from you sharing your opinion.  Join the conversation.

Wednesday Comic 09: Expanding Your Network

09_linkedin_connectionsConnecting is a contact sport.  If you want to build your network you need to be active on LinkedIn, seek out others to connect, and utilize offline networking to meet others.

The North Fulton Chamber of Commerce has been my best source to find connections.  LinkedIn in return has helped me build deeper relationships in the chamber.

Offline and Online networking are a great compliment to each other.  It doesn’t matter if you are a LION, a Turtle, or a Hound Dog, if you want to be exposed to more opportunities you need to expand your network.

Expand connections…contract wasteline.  Well, batting 500 in baseball would make me a superstar.

How about you?  What has been your best source for finding new connections?

Ed Jones Had Me at Hello!

I received the following invitation this week from Ed Jones of Atlanta:

“Sean, good perspectives on LinkedIn! I am in Atlanta but we work world wide assessing ROI on events. My business manager will call you regarding our health insurance search. 

I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn for several reasons. We have several common contacts. Take a look at my profile and associated websites and blogs, then add me if you find common interests. http://constellationcc.com”

I write a lot about personalizing invitations when you wish to connect.  It’s even more critical if you’re trying to connect to someone you don’t know.  I didn’t know Ed before receiving his invitation.  But after reading it was there any doubt that I would connect?

In the movie Jerry McGuire, Rene Zellweger’s character says “You had me at hello”.  Well Ed had me at “My business manager will call you regarding our health insurance search. ”  Right off the bat he hit me with value.  

Now it’s unrealistic to expect that everyone can offer the possibility of being a client with every invitation.  But everyone has value to offer.  You just need to determine your value and then offer it in your invitation.  

Ed didn’t stop with the value offer.  He complimented me on my blog.  That shows he’s taken the time to look at who I am and I know he’s not just trying to pad his connection stats.  He also stated that we had several common connections.  37 is a bit more than a few.

Before accepting I took a look at his profile and it was well detailed, allowing me to get a feel for the type of business person he is.  30 years of experience in sales & marketing and 20 years in Event Measurement, ROI, Strategy and Effective Communications is a wealth of experience.  What a great resource to have in one’s network.  Take away the offer to help him with his benefits and I would have still connected.  

How you personalize your invitations and how your profile represents you will go a long way in improving your invitation acceptance success.

I can’t help thinking about a couple of what if’s:

A)  What if I wasn’t open to connecting to other’s that I don’t know; and
B)  What if Ed had decided to wait until I connected to mention anything about their health plan 

I would have missed out on a great “Unexpected opportunity”.  On LinkedIn there are two types of opportunity:  “Expected” and “Unexpected”.

Expected opportunities arise from the direct connections that you’ve known or had a relationship with outside of LinkedIn.  These opportunities likely would have presented themselves without LinkedIn.

Unexpected opportunities are those that arise because you connected to those you don’t know.  They’re unexpected because outside of your LinkedIn connection there would be no relationship and you likely would not have crossed paths.

In the last week I have had 7 unexpected opportunities present themselves.  Four were people seeking my help in Georgia with health insurance needs, one was a blogging opportunity, and two were folks in San Francisco asking for health insurance assistance.  I couldn’t help the two people in California find a health plan but I was able to point them in the right direction.

And that’s the point about opportunity on LinkedIn.  It isn’t just limited to your opportunities to directly benefit, it’s also the opportunity to help others.  I believe that a network with 100 people that you know and 900 that you are simply connected to will present more opportunity than a network of only 100 people that you know.

Ed gets it.  And I think as other start to realize the unexpected opportunities they are missing out on you’ll see a little more connecting taking place.

Are you missing out on those unexpected opportunities?

***In the next post I’ll be discussing the Fallacy of Protecting Your Network.

On LinkedIn Mean People Suck

With that title I probably violated several things that I recommend doing (act professional, be careful of what you say and how you say it, etc.).  

I stumbled on a blog that was titled “The Stupid Things People Do on LinkedIn”.  The poster then proceeded to lash in to people that violated his perception of what LinkedIn should be and how people should behave on it.  My first thought was relax it’s not your site.  You’re just  another member.  The second was that did this person realize that their post was part of their online brand.

So there are two points to discuss.  The first is about your online brand.  The second is about unwritten protocols on LinkedIn that many people may not be aware of.

Your Online Brand
Remember this:  Everything you do on LinkedIn (and within the Social Web) either “adds to” or “subtracts from” your online brand.   This isn’t some college football board where you can denigrate and abuse fellow posters if you don’t like their view or comment.  There are no cute user names to hide behind.  On LinkedIn your comments are easily associated with the person behind them, YOU.

I don’t know the person behind the “stupid LinkedIn” post, but I already have an opinion of him.  Want to guess whether it’s positive or negative?  If this were a person that I was considering connecting to, partnering with, or engaging in their service, I would walk away.  There is enough negativity in the world without having to knowingly engage in it or with it.

This may not matter to him.  But it should to the average LI user.  When you ask or answer a question, post a discussion or news article in a group, add a blog to your profile, and how you respond to those who attempt to connect all contribute to your brand.  

Consider this.  You receive a connection invitation from John who works for an advertising agency.  You don’t know John so you mark the Invitation “I don’t know this user” (when you could have simply Archived It).  A couple of weeks later you connect to Bill who runs a graphics firm that you want to develop as a client.  You get an appointment and everything looks good.  Later John, who happens to engage Bill’s firm for his advertising agency notices that you are connected to Bill.  In their next conversation, John mentions that he saw that you and Bill were connected and mentions that you recently refused his connection invitation.  And rather than Archive it you marked it “I don’t know this user”.  Now his account has been restricted.  Bill thinks “that wasn’t a nice thing to do to John” and calls you to say they’ve decided to go in a different direction.

Is this an extreme story?  Yes.  Is it a possibility? Yes.  Your actions carry implications…some positive and some potentially negative.  Act in good faith and in a neighborly fashion and your brand will benefit.

The Unwritten Protocals
Over time acceptable practices evolve as do unacceptable ones.  As a member of LinkedIn you should adhere to the acceptable norms.  There aren’t to0 many and most are common sense, that often gets overlooked due to lack of time, imagination, or knowledge.  Here are some and I’m sure there are others that I have not thought of or encountered (violated) yet.

1.  Never send a canned invitation.  Always personalize the invitation.

2.  Don’t send out mass invitations.  It makes it difficult to personalize the email

3.  Don’t send out Mass Canned invitations…see #1 and #2

4.  When participating in answers or group discussions do not blatently sell.  How you phrase a sales pitch can be seen as spam or an interesting question or post.  Which of the two following statements is likely to be viewed as spam?

A.  Mortgage rates dropped to 4.5%, call me if you are looking to refinance; or
B.  With mortgage rates dropping to 4.5%, how do you determine if it’s a good idea to refinance your loan?

5.  Respond to all messages in your inbox.  If you don’t want to connect send a brief explanation as to why (see my post:  http://linkedintuition.com/blog/no-thanks-the-right-way ) .  Don’t feel comfortable providing a recommendation or passing on an introduction reply with why.

6.  Don’t ask for recommendations from people who don’t know you very well.  Recommendations should be appropriate and sincere.  It’s rude to ask when there’s no basis for one.

7.  Don’t expect everone to have the same approach that you do on LinkedIn.  Some are open networkers and some are closed networkers.  Each person decides what works best for them.  No one has a monopoly on the right way.

8.  If you do not want to connect, “Archive” the invitation.  Don’t select “I don’t know this user”.  Doing so gains you nothing and it can negatively impact another member.  Is it such an evil thing to want to connect to another that you do not know.  Isn’t that what networking is about.

Not everyone will agree with every point that I made.  Each person interacts with LinkedIn based on their expectations and beliefs and that’s a good thing.  What we should be able to agree on is that acting in a friendly and respectful manner will always do more good than harm.

What do you think?

LinkedIn Part 9: Be found

linkedin_billboardPop Quiz:  Who is more likely to be found on LinkedIn?

A.  Has 60 connections B.  Has 500 connections
A.  Never answers questions B.  Answers 3 questions each week
A.  Never gives recommendations B.  Provides recommendations
A.  Rarely updates Status B.  Updates status 3 times per week
A.  Has minimal info in profile B.  Detailed profile with photo
A.  Has not listed interests B.  List several non-work related interests
A.  No Applications B.  Has 4 applications on profile
A.  Belongs to 5 groups B.  Belongs to 50 groups

I could continue with the list but I think you get the point.

Think of your profile as an interactive billboard.  The billboard has been erected but you’re waiting for traffic to drive by it.  You can wait and hope that someone takes a wrong turn and sees you, or you can try to detour traffic past your billboard.

The majority of billboard owners simply wait for something to happen.  Everyone has told them how great LinkedIn is and it cost nothing to put up their billboard.  Periodically they link to other billboards hoping that something will happen.

When you first put up your billboard it’s on a lonely two way road out in the country.  Your goal should be to move it towards a busy traffic filled interstate.  That takes time and activity.  If you wait for it to happen it may never do so.  If you take control and determine that you will have traffic, it can be done with a little elbow grease.

Here are some ways you can drive traffic (really pull) to your billboard:

Design it Well:
Its words and pictures presented in a cohesive effort.  You need to make sure that when someone sees your billboard that it effectively tells your story.  Having a profile photo that supports what you do is important.  Doing keyword research on your industry and product or service, and then listing these wherever possible on your profile is a huge part of the equation.

Customizing your URL’s isn’t much but it matters.  The same goes for listing hobbies and interests.  You never know how or why someone will find your billboard, it just matters that many people do.

Try to update what you are doing at least three times a week.  I prefer business related updates, but I’ve seen some who post everyday like on Twitter.  PingFM is a good resource that will allow you to update micro-blogs at several sites.

Finally applications allow you to take your profile from two dimensional to three dimensional.

Your profile should be a work in progress.  Each time you update a piece of it your network is notified on their Home page that you have an updated profile.  This will drive traffic.

Answers:
Asking questions allows you to tap into the knowledge resources of other users.  Answering questions allows you to share knowledge.  Both are part of the credibility building process.  And both result at a minimum in a link to your profile.

Doing both will drive traffic to your billboard.  It’s not necessarily targeted traffic, but once again you never know where the next opportunity will come from.  Whenever I see an answer that captures my attention I always view the profile of the person providing the answer.  Sometimes that’s all, but in some cases it’s led to new connections or opportunities.

Try to answer 5 questions a week and commit to asking one question per week.  The caveat is that you have to provide value when answering a question and generate interest when asking a question.

Recommendations:
Recommendations given are a way to provide value to someone who has helped you or someone that you think highly of.  Recommendations received are a way for your network to provide value to you.  In both cases a link is created back to the giver and the receiver’s profile.  It’s another great way to be found.

Recommendations from clients go a step further.  It gets you a listing in the LinkedIn Service Providers directory.  This is probably one of the least utilized features of LinkedIn and that’s a shame.  Service Providers used to be one of the main LinkedIn sections but when the Companies section was launched it was moved within the new section.  The only reference you will see is a text link on the Companies home page.

Often I will be asked to help someone with their insurance in another state that I’m not licensed in.  I always search through the Service Providers directory to find a resource to help the person.

You should strive to have at least 10 recommendations and provide at least 15.  Once you hit those numbers keep it going.

Groups:
On a webinar last week one of the moderators mentioned that they thought the real value to be found on LinkedIn was within groups and not your direct network.  That’s a bold statement, but I think they may be on to something.

Within your personal network reaching out to 2nd and 3rd degree connections is cumbersome, unless you have a paying account and have access to InMail.  With groups the barriers to communicating with anyone are removed.

I have about 490 direct connections and close to 4.5 million total people in my network.  I can only easily contact those 1st degree connections.  Within my groups there are close to 250,000 members.  I can reach out and contact any at any time.

When I update my profile my 490 connections are notified of my action.  But with groups, when I participate in a discussion question or post a news article I can potentially reach 250,000 people.

If I choose my groups wisely then I have the ability to market to a specific target.  You can also create a group to develop a target group.  I do a lot of business in North Fulton County in Georgia.  About a year ago I started the North Fulton Business Group and the group has grown to close to 300 people.  With my group I have the ability to communicate with business professionals in a defined area.  That’s powerful.

Disclaimer: Starting a group is easy.  Getting member to join isn’t.  Use your connections and other groups to find your first 100 members.  After that it will start to grow on its own.  The larger your group grows the easier it will be to add new members.

You can be a member of up to 50 groups and you should focus on finding groups that are filled with your target customers or alliance partners.

Wrap Up
There has been an explosion in the number of people talking about social networking, but often the point is missed that what LinkedIn really provides is social marketing.  By actively participating in all of the features of LinkedIn you will help drive traffic to your billboard.  Visitors can choose to stop and read your billboard, and then can initiate contact, through connecting or engaging in your product or service.

In the movie Field of Dreams the unseen voice is heard to say “If you build it, they will come”.  On LinkedIn that’s not enough.  Listen close and you’ll hear “If you’re active, they will come.”

The LinkedIn Light Bulb is Flickering

 

It could be argued that much of your LinkedIn experience derives from your LinkedIn strategy.  Do seek to connect with pretty much anyone, like a Lion?  Do you only connect with those that you know very well, like a Turtle?  Or do you connect with those you know and those you would like to know, like a Hound Dog?

If you read this blog on a regular basis you’ve noticed that I keep coming back to these three strategies.  There’s a reason for that.  I find my self changing strategies after almost three years on LinkedIn.

Here is what I used to believe.  I believed that protecting the value of your network required that you know or have plans to get to know those that you were connected to.  I believed that it only made sense to add new connections as I met people within my chamber or other offline networking events.  Since my prospects are in Georgia I believed that there was limited value in connecting to others outside of the state.

Here is what I believe now.  I believe that opportunities are not constrained by boundaries.  I believe that those in my network can benefit from connections that I do not know or have never met with or spoken to.  I believe that there are opportunities out there among people that I do not know.  And finally, I believe that 99% of the time a larger network will provide more value than a smaller network.

It wasn’t one particular thing that changed my perspective.  It was a combination of things and the change occurred fairly quick.

1.  I actually started prospecting using the LinkedIn Companies search to prospect.  My target was simple; companies in Atlanta with 11 to 50 employees, in creative or technology industries.  In my search I identified about 150 companies that fit my profile and realized that I was connected to less than 50% of these opportunities.  Clearly with more of the right connections I would have a higher percentage with employees in my network.

2.  LinkedIn made significant changes to Groups.  Adding the ability to have discussions and post news articles immediately expanded my reach based on the number of members in the groups I belong to.  Each group represents a collection of individuals with a common interest.  In essence they are a specific target.

The next logical step was to identify the groups that my target market belong to and join these groups.  I can now participate in discussions and post news articles to introduce myself.  And I can contact these individual and extend connection invitations without having to use InMail (which is only available on paid accounts and the number available is minimal)

Today I connected with three individuals in my target market.  One was the President of one of my target companies and the other two are simply connected in the target industries.  The first will allow me to have a warm approach to attempt to secure a meeting.  The other two help me connect further into my targetted industries.

In my invitation to all three I simply let them know that I was looking to build my network within the creative community in Atlanta.  I included the names of some common connections.  And I mentioned that I wrote a LinkedIn related blog and that if I could ever help them with LinkedIn to let me know.

The worst thing that can happen is that my connection invitation is ignored.  While I know that I will not have success with every connection invitation, there are a couple of things that are working in my favor.

First people want to help where possible.  Second, people are looking to build their own networks.  Third, the use of common connections established a baseline of credibility.  Fourth, by writing a LinkedIn blog and offering to help them I’m providing value.

About a year ago I started a group based around the county that I do most of my networking.  Over time this group has grown to about 300 local business professionals.  This week I sent an invitation to connect to each member of the group that was not in my direct network.

In this invitation I introduced myself as a fellow member and manager of the group.  I simply stated that I started the group to help people connect and in that spirit I was extending an invitation to connect.  Then I added the value.  I let them know that I was organizing an offline networking meeting for the group and would appreciate any suggestions for a location.

In two days I’ve added over 100 new connections, had several ask me to help them with their health insurance, and received numerous thanks for reaching out to connect.  Each of these connections is in Atlanta.

Little by little I’m building a strong local network.

I had lunch with a new connection that I met in another group (I’ll post the story next week) who is an active open networker.  He doesn’t post his email in his profile, but he uses groups to actively connect to folks all over.  Last week he launched a blog and posted a link to it in each of his groups.  He had over 300 unique visitors in the first day and his blog has grown to over 800 visitors a day.

His content is good and that keeps people coming back.  But it was the membership and participation in groups that allowed him to gain exposure and the initial visits.

I used to believe that there was no right or wrong strategy on LinkedIn.  Now I believe that if you’re not actively growing your network you’re missing the point.  The point is that opportunities are out there and the more connections you have the more likely you are to find them.  Or have them find you.

Detail your profile, join groups, and expand your connections.  A simple strategy to make LinkedIn more effective.

The Average LinkedIn Network

Numbers are always interesting to consider.  Take for instance the 40+ million users on LinkedIn (not an official number but an educated guess).  That’s a pretty impressive number.  But, more important is the number of people that are active.  The value of one member in your network is not equal to the value of another.

But how do you place a value on each member?  A person in your network with 50 connections could be more valuable then one with 500 connections.  That being said, the likelyhood is that the person with 500 connections is more active and thus will provide more value.

This thought got me to thinking about my network so I decided to take a look to see how active it was in terms of connections.  My network has grown over time primarily through networking, so I think it’s breakdown is representative of the average member network.

Here’s a breakdown of my network based on the range of connections each person has:

  • 0 – 99:  54.4%
  • 100 -199:  23.2%
  • 200 – 299:  9.3%
  • 300 – 399:  4.2%
  • 400 – 499:  1.8%
  • 500+:  7.1%

77.6% of my network has less than 200 connections and more than half have less than 100 connections.  I would argue that with the number of people on LinkedIn and the ease of connecting, if you have less than 200 connections you’re not that active of a user.  If I take these percentages and apply them to the 40 million LinkedIn user base, I can assume that LI only has about 9 million active users (members with more than 200 connections).

Some people will argue that basing value on the number of connections is missing the point.  They would say that the value is based on how connected you are to your network.  I used to agree with this perspective.  Now I don’t.

Over time I’ve come to realize that opportunities are not determined strictly by those you know.  Opportunity also exists with those you don’t know.  You just might not have discovered the opportunity yet.

I started becoming active on LinkedIn when a member that I did not know contacted me based on my profile to help some client’s of hers.  And that’s the point.  You never know when opportunity will knock, but I can tell you that the more active you are, the more connections you have, and the larger your network, the more probability of success you will have.

If LinkedIn is a way to get your message and brand out to others, then it’s really a marketing vehicle.  I sell insurance and if I only worked with those I know, I wouldn’t be very successful.  Granted it’s an easier sell to those I know.  But it doesn’t benefit me to restrict my message.

Each new connection is a new set of eyeballs available to review my profile to determine if I can help them.  It’s a new set of eyballs when I answer a question, post a recommendation, add an application and when I update my “What are you doing now” micro-post.  They are also potential opportunities to my network.

Even better, as these folks hopefully become more active and add connections, my network and reach grows with them.

Too many people are waiting around for someone else to tell them how to use LinkedIn.  You can definitely learn from others, but in the end you have to take what you learn and apply it to your unique situation.

Have you started using LinkedIn productively?  Have you figured out how to take it from a nice social networking tool and convert it to a money making opportunity?