When I joined LinkedIn in 2006 the general rule was to only connect with people who you would personally recommend. As a result, people were quite discerning about which invitations they accepted and 200-250 connections was considered a significant network.
Today some people have 10, 20 or even 30 thousand first degree connections in their immediate network (30 thousand is the maximum by the way). Clearly there has been a shift in the way LinkedIn is being used. What has caused this? I think there are three factors:
1. LinkedIn, a public company since 2011, wants to dominate the recruitment and business networking/publishing market and has extremely ambitious growth targets. The company works very hard to encourage members to make new connections and have informally relaxed some of the earlier barriers to connecting.
2. Members have recognised a truth about networking: “The bigger your network, the more opportunities you will find and will find you”.
3. Fear of missing out. When you see others chasing numbers it’s hard not to join in.
Let’s take a step back and revisit your business objectives, why are you on LinkedIn? Which of these reasons would you tick?
Broaden your reach
Foster your professional identity
Build the company brand
Drive traffic to the website
Establish thought leadership
Gather market intelligence
If you are in a niche business, then it may be appropriate to connect extremely selectively to maintain the perceived value of your network which in turn will influence how many of your target audience choose to connect with you. For example, in my previous business my target audience was senior IT sales and marketing executives there was no value in me linking to businesses outside this niche.
Another strategy widely used by recruiters is to become a LION (LinkedIn Open Networker). LIONs welcome and accept connection requests from everyone. A LION will usually put this in their headline and display their email address prominently in their profile. The downside of this strategy is although it results in a bigger network the relationships in that network will be weak or in many cases non-existent.
Some people will only connect with people they have met. This will result in a small network with relatively strong relationships, however for most people this is unnecessarily restrictive.
The strategy I use myself and recommend for most businesses is to connect broadly but intelligently. There is value in a bigger network but a bigger network of people with no mutual value is pointless. For example, I had a connection request from a South African landscape gardener recently which needless to say I didn’t accept. I accept about 60% of the invitations I receive.
My target audience is business owners, sales and marketing managers and executives, coaches, and social media managers in the South West of the UK so that is who I send connection invites to. In addition, I link to people I have met online or offline where I consider there is value in being connected which includes many links to people in the US, Australia, and Europe.
Finally, be aware that there are fake profiles out there. If you receive a request from someone with very few connections and a sketchily filled out profile investigate a bit more thoroughly, if in doubt don’t connect.
What criteria do you use to connect? Please share below.
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