Not long ago, I published a post about social media, quality vs. quantity. In that post, I leaned heavily on quantity with a lot of quality mixed in. Basically, I said that you should have both.
Today, I want to talk about LinkedIn specifically, which I know might get me into a bit of trouble. It usually does because there are a lot of LI fanatics out there for whom LI is social media at its finest, and LI is often placed on its own pedestal. (So they get a little touchy when you try to burst that bubble….but my job is to “keep it real” for my technical job seekers, not to make them chase any more job market rabbits than they have to!)
Like It or Not, LinkedIn Is a Numbers Game…If You Want to Play…And Sooner or Later, You Most Likely Do
Now, it might pretend to be something else, and you may be using it for something else. BUT as soon as you want LinkedIn to do more for you than just be an extension of your resume compiling your past career connections into one place (where you basically do nothing with them), then it becomes what all social media essentially becomes: a numbers game nonetheless.
Here is a typical statement I hear from professionals on LinkedIn:
“I am VERY cautious about whom I connect with on LinkedIn. I only connect with people I know.”
On the surface, it sounds like a good strategy. And it isn’t all that bad if you aren’t really looking to make a career move right now or in the foreseeable future. BUT as soon you enter into the realm of either active or passive job seeker, you will realize just how much of a numbers game LinkedIn really is.
And the tune will begin to change…
LinkedIn isn’t really about 1st level connections, you know, those people you “know.” Sure, that is great that you know 200 people, etc.
LinkedIn is really about 2nd level connections.
And the more 1st level connections you have, the more 2nd level connections you generate (remember the 6-degrees of Kevin Bacon?). And the more 2nd level connections you generate, the more likelihood of having better access to key decision makers in your target job search area. Not to mention, the better ranking you receive in LinkedIn search (the same is true for how many silly endorsements in a particular area you receive…did you even know you had a LinkedIn ranking? Sure you do, and it is basically numbers based.)
And even more important, we quickly realize that our 1st level connections are not often solidly in our “target market,” those individuals within the field or industry we want to reach out to.
So we need to do what every professional needs to do (and what LinkedIn is really about): network….with new people…people we’ve never met before.
Now, LinkedIn likes to play coy with this because essentially the company is in business to make a profit (it is not a nonprofit service, after all). Although it says that it is protecting you from the dreaded spam, really, LinkedIn wants you to buy into its Premium services. So, it entices you to network, lets you connect with your friends for free, and gives you access to groups. BUT then it makes it difficult for you to expand your network to connect with others you don’t know unless you are given an introduction by one of your 1st level connections or pay for their InMail services (which LinkedIn claims everyone reads but very few do…trust me).
Thankfully, though, there are a couple workarounds that are quite effective (that is, at least until LinkedIn closes them off), and they have to do with LinkedIn groups.
Groups provide great networking opportunities.
If you are like me, you have joined some of the LinkedIn groups that were recommended to you (most likely by LinkedIn), but either you show up every once in a while or you never do. You’re just out there as a passive member because, well, who has time to read through every post of every group you belong to?
Makes sense, except for the fact that these groups are your one “free” way to meet and network with other professionals in the same industry or profession as you. So there is some value in paying attention to what is happening in these groups and to targeting individuals you would like to meet. After all, LinkedIn gives you 3000 invites you can send out, so after “meeting” in the group, you can send someone an invite providing a reason for why you would like to connect with him or her.
Even better is that LinkedIn group members can send a private message to one another (provided a person has not shut off this feature) IF they are 2nd level connections or better. So this means that you can send a message to people in your groups introducing yourself without being so presumptuous as to send an unsolicited invite. Now, I wouldn’t go around sending a message to everyone or sending anything that sounds like the dreaded “spam,” but it is a good idea if you see someone who meets your target area for networking that you take the initiative of introducing yourself through a message.
Don’t let your connections sit in your wasteland, though.
Once you make these valuable new connections, now you have to decide what to do with them. Otherwise, your profile is just going to sit there with no real engagement with your contacts and you aren’t really networking. Sure, they can see your “feed” as it comes through each day, but they aren’t that vigilant (again, trust me). If you want an active network, then you have to wake up the sleeping giant, so to speak.
How do you do that? Figure out ways to be a value-added resource to your network and provide that value to them. Again, without “spamming,” you want to reach out from time to time, touch base. Congratulate them on new jobs. Send them a link to a relevant article. Ask them how they are doing….
Networking is tiring. And the bigger your network gets, the more tiring it can become. BUT if you are building a network that focuses in on your target market (do you know what it is?), then the bigger the better. And LinkedIn is happy to help you play the game.