Rethinking LinkedIn; It’s a Tool, Not a Toy

ToyIt has become apparent to me that at the same time many laud the value of LinkedIn, very few wield it as the exceptional tool it is to generate opportunities. While I see many profiles with hundreds of connections most will admit that few if any opportunities avail themselves merely by having large networks. Is it even possible to continuously stay in meaningful communication with such a large number of individuals and if not what is the point? Allow me to make some actionable suggestions to you that may change your networking strategies within LinkedIn.

While networking in person will always be crucial, the unique value of LinkedIn is the Network Statistics. Here you can see your 2nd and 3rd degree connections. This may be daunting as the numbers are staggering; currently I have more than 9,700 2nd degree connections and an astounding 920,500+ 3rd degree connections from only 82 1st degree connections. Here’s how those numbers matter.

If you’re not already aware, the discussion I began on LinkedIn, Networking vs. Self-Promotion (ForbesWoman), generated great interest and opportunities have developed from it. I could sit back and enjoy that and just talk about it until the heat dies down. However, using LinkedIn effectively I can build upon that initial interest and possibly breed more. This is how.

Let’s say I’d like to reach editors within 25 miles of my zip code who are already in my network or are members of groups I belong to. I’d select the Advanced link next to the Search People drop down menu at the top of the LinkedIn Home screen. From there I’d select my criteria and near the bottom I’d click the boxLimit search to my network only. From one of my searches 48 profiles were returned and besides shared groups, several of them shared 1st degree connections. Now it’s time for me to construct my introduction email and politely request that I be introduced. I may now have the occasion to meet someone who would have had no interest or knowledge of me before.

Many have wondered (as well as I) why LinkedIn suggests strongly that you know the people you accept as connections. This is why that’s so important. If I request an introduction, imagine the frustration I’d experience when the connection admits, “I’m sorry Patricia but I can’t introduce you. I don’t really know her; we just share a group and I liked her comments.” I’m not at all suggesting that you change how you accept your invitations to connect, or maybe I am. I suggest that if you don’t already know them well when you accept or offer the invitation, make it your business to get to know them and build a relationship, otherwise the value of your network and of you to those who are in it diminishes. Since I’ve realized this, I am more likely to offer my personal email address to connect outside of LinkedIn if our only association is shared beauty tips and horror stories of bad bosses. It’s not a less valuable connection; just one that isn’t practical within LinkedIn. I should be able to vouch for anyone within my network and be able to expect the same from them. With this being considered, I am now taking the time to rake through the connections I’ve made and am breaking ties with those I don’t know well enough to do so but am offering them as much or as little personal contact information as necessary for the relationship to continue.

Let us not get LinkedIn confused with any other social media. If it is used wisely and considerately it is a far better vehicle to the relationships and developments we desire than almost any other today! If you’re only looking for a good time and conversation, go tweet someone.

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Jenna Caputo