Expanding Your LinkedIn Network

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213886_traditional_fish_catching_5 One of my friends, an author, speaker and global business consultant, wrote to me:

Dear Scott :

You are the expert: I would like to ask you how I can expand my connections up into the 500 category. I have just about tapped out the people I know (so many of them are either not on LinkedIn, don’t want to be or are too old to care!). So how do I get into the new generation?

I am putting questions up on the site and answering questions all of which I enjoy doing and have invited some of these folks to connect.

What’s the secret to getting to the big numbers because I do believe it’s all about have a broad base to get the connectability.

For one thing, I wouldn’t concern myself too much with the number of direct connections. To some LinkedIn users, “500+” isn’t necessarily a badge of honor, because some people perceive it as meaning you’re a “link collector”, i.e., no substantive relationship behind the links (lest you doubt, see this question). Of course, I have 500+ connections, and so does LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman, but then I’ve been a member since about 2 weeks after it launched. So I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing, either, but for every person that it impresses, there’s probably another person that it makes skeptical about you.

There’s something to be said for visibility, but really, does it matter whether you can see 4.5 million of LinkedIn’s users or 7.5 million? I say no. You know why? Because that extra 3 million you can’t see probably aren’t active users. They’re the people that joined, added a few connections and then hardly ever used it again. I’m not saying that there’s no value in it — just a minimal amount of value relative to the time spent. Once you get beyond about 150-200, in my experience interviewing people over the years, I have seen absolutely no correlation between the number of LinkedIn connections you have and business success — or, for that matter, even the number of LinkedIn-related success stories.

With that said, I do think LinkedIn is a great platform for meeting new people. If you get to know each other, find that you have some common interests and want to be connected — great. With that in mind, here are a few key strategies for meeting new people on LinkedIn:

  1. Focused search and introductions. This is what LinkedIn was really designed for and it’s still probably the most effective way not necessarily to meet a lot of people, but to meet the right people. First of all, you have to clearly define exactly who it is you want to meet. This could be your target market – even if you’re not going to directly pitch to them, they will tend to know, and therefore introduce you to, more people like themselves. It could also be potential strategic or joint venture partners. Use the Advanced Search function to target people based on keywords, industry, location and willingness to share their expertise (choose “Industry experts” for the “Interested in” field).Review their profiles to get a very clear grasp of their positioning and priorities – what’s important to them? Send those people an InMail or an introduction request explaining why you’d like to meet them and the potential common ground on which to base a conversation. I haven’t actually measured my response and success rate using this approach, but it’s very high.
  2. Ask questions and contact everyone who responds. Use LinkedIn Answers to ask questions about the topics you’re interested in connecting with people about and then contact everyone who responds (well, personally I’d probably limit it to these who provide a halfway decent response, but your call, depending on how much time you have). There’s a limit to how many questions you can ask, but even if you do, say, five a month, each prompting response from 10 to 20 people, that’s a lot of networking if you contact them all!
  3. Meet the mega-connectors. I don’t think that being a mega-connector is the best strategy for everyone, but for some people — recruiters, real estate agents/brokers, venture capitalists, people who run networking organizations, et al. — it may make sense. On the other hand, knowing a few mega-connectors is a pretty good way to increase your visibility in (and into) the LinkedIn network. I’m fortunate that about 10 of the top 50 connectors are people I actually know pretty well (and in every case, didn’t meet directly through LinkedIn). Just having two or three of these guys (not to be sexist, but I think 48 of the top 50 are men) in your network will extend your 3rd-degree reach to over 4 million.You can find them at TopLinked.com or LinkedIn Lions. Now, they do not all automatically accept all invitations, nor are they all willing and able to spend some time getting to know you. However, what you might do is do a search on LinkedIn for an area of interest of yours plus either “toplinked” or “lion”. For example, here are 8 people returned from a search on “globalization” + “toplinked”. Those would probably be a good start. Send them an email, introduce yourself, have an email dialog, and see if they’re interested in connecting.

Between those three approaches, you should be able to add some highly relevant people into your LinkedIn network, or at least your personal network, in fairly short order.

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