At the risk of sounding like a geriatric, I actually love LinkedIn.
I love that you’re able to find people based on mutual points of rapport like where you went (or didn’t go) to college, which city you work in, which companies you worked for, and who you may know.
It’s a great web of people and clusters and a fantastic way of getting in touch with people you otherwise wouldn’t be able to contact.
But there are good ways and bad ways of using LinkedIn. It seems like most people follow the bad ways.
An example is the dreaded connection request.
LinkedIn Is Not Twitter
Know this: a connection request on LinkedIn is not like following somebody on Twitter.
Being connected on LinkedIn means more than that the person can message you and can see your profile. It means they can download your email address (if you’re wondering why you’re getting a ton of spam for newsletters you never signed up for, chances are they came from randos you connected with on LinkedIn). It also means they can request introductions through you (although this feature isn’t used as much).
But perhaps even worse, it means that the social proof that comes from being connected to you gets even more diluted.
I have connections on LinkedIn who accept every request that comes their way. When I get new requests or am doing research on people and see that the mutual connection is somebody who accepts every new request, I essentially read that person as having no mutual connections with me. Mutual connections only matter if they are meaningful.
The golden rule of LinkedIn, then, is:
Don’t connect with random people with whom you have no reason to connect.
If you are going to connect with people you’ve never met before (and sometimes there are good reasons for doing so), don’t make these common mistakes.
1. Send a Generic Message
Whatever you do, don’t just send a generic message.
This is like sending a generic cold email. It looks like spam and it is insulting to the reader that you didn’t even take the time to poke around their profile and see areas of mutual rapport.
To be fair, those sending generic messages tend to think that their messages aren’t generic. They usually write something like this:
Maybe I did like some similar content — I’m not sure, because the sender didn’t tell me which content in particular — but that doesn’t mean I want to bring that person into my professional network. Sometimes I like interesting videos of nuclear reactors, or flying cars, or videos of french bulldogs. Sometimes I like articles about the future of work, or about communication, or about networking.
If you’re sending a message because of shared interests, tell the reader what the interests are. That will give them something to go on and will help them make a decision about whether or not you’re somebody to talk to. “The marketing world” is so generic — anything could be marketing in the era of content marketing.
Here’s a better way to craft a message like this:
I saw that you liked a few articles by Josh Fechter about sharing quality content on LinkedIn. I’d like to send you an article on this topic that you might find interesting — I didn’t write it, but I thought it was a different angle on this question. If you enjoy it, it might be worthwhile to connect.
Still not super-strong (because I don’t think connecting over mutual interests is a good reason to connect on LinkedIn), but a lot better. It lets me know that this person isn’t just blasting out the same message to everybody and diluting their personal social proof.
Here’s another example that rolled in the same day:
There’s some weird grammar in this message (“we really appreciate”?), so I assume it’s written by somebody for whom English is not their first language. That’s fine but you should know that if English is not your first language and you are sending messages to Americans or Western Europeans, that they get a lot of messages from spammier-looking people who don’t speak English as a first language. The bar is a little higher for you.
Wanting to connect for business purposes on LinkedIn is an entirely legitimate reason to send a connection request.
But just like above, be specific about why you want to connect.
“We feel that our company may have overlap in meeting a similar objective to you.”
What objective? What do you think my objective is and what is your objective? How do they overlap?
“Would you be open to a conversation around business opportunities?”
What opportunities? Why? When? How long?
Here’s a better way to send a message like this:
I came across your profile after reading your article about learning to write for the real world. After looking through your profile and website, I realized that both my company and you are in the same space: professional education and training.
We’re hosting a number of seminars at our offices in the fall and would like to include some of your content.
Would you be open for a 20 minute call next Wednesday or Thursday to walk us through which content is best?
This gives a specific point of rapport, a specific reason to connect, and a specific reason to get a reply.
With this in mind, how would you redraft Ivan’s message in the first screenshot in this post?
2. Send No Message
Again, connecting on LinkedIn is not like following somebody on Twitter. It’s more like becoming friends on Facebook, but even more formal than that. Remember, when you are connected to somebody, you share their reputation.
Send a message with your connection request when you connect with somebody. The exception here applies to people you’ve actually met in person who will remember you when they see your name pop up in their Invitations.
This is especially true in cases where you have no shared connections.
Give the person a reason to accept your request.
If you don’t know the person, look for a point of mutual rapport. Do you share similar interests, work in the same industry and have a reason to connect, or did you go to the same school?
If no, be honest with the person about why you’re connecting with them. Let them know that you don’t know them but that you’d like to connect.
If you can’t think of an honest reason to connect then don’t. If you just want to see updates from them, follow them. Your professional success is not a function of the number of LinkedIn connections you have.