In this post, I will discuss creating and strengthening your LinkedIn network. Along the way, I will share examples and tips.
Your LinkedIn Network
There are two schools of thought on LinkedIn networks:
- Open to All – connect to as many people as possible, even if you don’t know them
- A Close One – connect only to people you know and whose emails you would answer.
Personally, I prefer the latter option and dabble with the former.
Ninety-five percent of my network consists of people that I actually know. If I saw their name in my inbox or in my LinkedIn mail, I would open their message and vice versa. My reason is that if another connection asked me to introduce them to one of my other connections, then I want to be able to say “yes, I could introduce you to that person” rather than “sorry friend, I don’t really know that person.”
The counter argument is that you never know. A random connection might lead to a job opportunity. Plus having a large network (500+) on LinkedIn marks you as a LinkedIn Pro. Lastly, you can always develop that initial connection at a later time into a deeper one. Recruiters, for example, tend to follow the ‘open to all’ option, but that comes with their job description.
The type of network you have is a personal choice and you will need to see which one fits your style. Regardless, I will share my strategies of turning a cold contact into a true connection.
Cold LinkedIn Invites
Cold networking is very difficult. Vickie, the CNSPY blogger, wrote a post on this subject. The take-home message is the same for LinkedIn.
Personalize your LinkedIn invite!
You have a 300-character limit. I restrict my message to reminding them where/when we met and suggesting a specific collaboration for the future, such as hosting them at Yale for a CNSPY event. Alternatively I might ask them a question about something they said. You want an honest exchange of information and/or resources, a give and take. The only way to get good at cold emails and cold LinkedIn invites is to practice.
Receiving a Cold LinkedIn Invite
Every now and then, I receive a LinkedIn invite from someone I do not recognize. After a while of feeling awkward and not knowing what to do, I developed a strategy and have had some fulfilling experiences as a result.
Is this person someone you want to connect with? First, I look at their LinkedIn profile to assess if s/he is a troll or a real person. I familiarize myself with their basic information and jot down particular experiences that I would like to learn more about. Then I respond to their cold invite with:
This approach opens up an opportunity for a cold contact to become a true connection. For me, this strategy works one out of five times. Cold networking is difficult, but it can be incredibly rewarding.
My Success Story on Cold Networking via LinkedIn
In Fall 2015, I received a cold LinkedIn invite. I followed my strategy by first looking at her profile. She was a founder of a company that connects academic scientists with programmers. The academic scientists receive assistance on program development to answer unique academic questions, while the programmers are challenged to develop new algorithms and gain experience on different problems. Her idea was not only innovative but also useful for the Yale community.
Being proactive, I responded using my above strategy. We exchanged a few emails and had a phone call to discuss her Ph.D. experience, her career after graduate school, and her company. From our conversations, I knew that other Yale science trainees would benefit from her insights and experiences.
So I invited her to CNSPY’s Annual Networking Event (ANE). She said yes and then offered to lead a seminar on networking strategies, Networking 101, before the ANE, to help our members.
Cold LinkedIn networking can lead to great opportunities for not only a deeper connection for you, but for others too. You should be open to cold networking and to strengthening cold contacts into deeper connections.
This tip comes from Vickie Schulman, the CNSPY blogger.
LinkedIn recently changed its mailing feature. A few years ago, you could send a message to anyone. But now, you must buy into their Premium service to send a message to anyone who is not a first-degree connection.
With a free account, you can only send messages to your first-degree connections and 300-character invites to everyone else.
To counter this limitation, people have been providing their email and contact information directly on their website.
Here is Vickie, explaining this issue more:
“If you aren’t already friends with someone (or linked with someone), you can’t send them a message or use the InMail service. Recruiters (or anyone for that matter) have to pay for a premium LinkedIn account in order to send InMail to someone they don’t already know. So sometimes, recruiters will go for the low-hanging fruit – someone who willingly gives away their contact info on their profile, even if that person may not be the best candidate in order to save their company some money.”
In essence, LinkedIn is moving toward more buy-in options to market their Premium service. One way to circumvent the inability to send messages through LinkedIn and their character limits is to provide your email address directly on your profile such as the end of your summary section.
Strengthening and Staying Current with Your Network
LinkedIn is a great platform for strengthening and staying current with your network. It offers a few services to help you do this:
- Notifications on profile changes in your news feed
- Daily suggestions on how to stay connected with your network such as “Jon Doe has a new job. Do you want to say congrats?” These suggestions appear in the right column of your home page.
- Returning endorsements. When someone endorses you, LinkedIn automatically prompts you to do the same and to others of your network.
- Emails about what’s going on in your network.
- Suggestions of people you may know
These features and more are incredibly helpful ways to stay up-to-date with your network and to strengthen it.
In closing, LinkedIn is a dynamic resource for networking and maintaining a healthy, strong network. I wish you the best with your LinkedIn experience and hope that my tips and insights have helped you in some way! Please send me an email or LinkedIn to let me know specifically. I welcome all feedback.
First published on CNSPY’s blog in Aug 2016