Serendipity, Or Why LinkedIn Really Works

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795064_beach_dogsThis morning as I was reading the latest rant by yet another journalist who doesn’t get social networking, the question popped into my mind, "What makes LinkedIn work?"

Sure, it’s useful to be able to search for people (and be searched for) in a fairly robust database. Sure, it’s useful to be able to ask questions of other professionals. But those things alone aren’t enough to explain its appeal.

I think it really boils down to this: serendipity. Let me explain…

The tools LinkedIn provides are useful enough, but what I think makes it endlessly compelling is the fact that as you engage in that useful activity, you virtually "bump into" people you know (assuming, of course, that you primarily connect with people you know).

What I love about LinkedIn are serendipities like this:

  • Seeing my friend Steve Latham’s latest job listing, accompanied by a message from him saying, "We are looking for a search engine marketing specialist who rocks and is not too weird. If you know someone who fits the bill, please send him/her my way." This reminds me that he’s someone who’d be a lot of fun to work with, and who breaks the mold of Harvard MBA’s.
  • Seeing a question from friend Jerry Richard about increasing subscriptions to his newsletter, and I’m reminded what a talented guy he is, both musically and business-wise. Jerry had also recently sent me a very kind note via LinkedIn.
  • Finding a desired contact via LinkedIn and seeing that we had nearly 30 mutual connections, all of whom know me well (and presumably him, as well), and going through each of them in my head to consider which one I think would provide the best introduction.
  • Getting an introduction request forwarded by an old friend who I haven’t spoken to in a while, and it prompts an email follow-up.
  • Seeing the name of someone I know replying to question, noticing that they’re a 2nd-degree contact, and sending them a connection invitation.

This is why LinkedIn really works. This is why it helps actually build relationships, rather than just being something mechanical and impersonal. It’s that bumping into people virtually during the course of doing something useful for your business.

Take advantage of those moments. When you see those names of people you know, take a minute or two to view their profile and see what’s new with them and drop them a note to say "hi". It’s a great way to strengthen the relationships you already have without a lot of effort.

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  1. Serendipity happens at every stage of using LinkedIn – in fact, its serendipity that leads you from stage to stage.

    My phase #1 would be like everyone else’s – I;ll join, after all, it’s free; what is this going to lead to? Will LI start spamming my friends?
    Phase #2 was growing my network and realizing that it was a great way to stay in touch with my extended business network.
    Phase #3 is realizing LI is perhaps the best business development tool available. With a sizable network there aren’t many companies I can’t find a connection in – even if its 3rd degree, as long as the person has shown themselves to be a major user I can Inmail and get a response. It also a tool which enables us all to take advantage of the ‘wisdom of crowds” (Q&A feature). And when it comes to “networking for life” it is always true that you “give to get” and the private messaging capabilities is turning into a wonderful way to make virtual introductions. And what better way to establish my digital brand? As an individual and a consultant.

    That said, its clear I am a fan. I am experimenting with the other options. I now have accounts on Facebook, Ryze, Ecadamy, Spock and Xing.
    Regarding multiple accounts – “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” – different philosophies on different networks? Trusted relationships on LinkedIn and perhaps open networking on Ryze or one of the others. Business digital brand on LI and personal brand on Facebook.


  2. Scott,

    I could not agree more about the way “chance” discoveries help me strengthen my network. And I think this is one of the great reasons to maintain a quality network of trusted business colleagues, rather than casually connecting with open-networking link seekers.

    I feel I get a great deal of value for the time I spend “casually browsing” my own extended network. When I successfully connect to someone, I find it’s useful to peruse those people they have brought me as new second degree connections. And it’s often interesting to note who is adding new connections and occasionally who they are.

    Its not just that I can develop a better understanding of the industries and markets (my current ones, and others). I actually develop a better understanding of who I know out there, what they are up to and how we are intertwined. Its like being able to see the wiring under the covers, and realising how it all comes together.

    And of course spending time nurturing my network can only help it grow – in strength as well as numbers.


  3. Finding connections on the internet has always been somewhat of a hit/miss process. LinkedIn provides the tools necessary to professionally reconnect with colleagues and friends you’ve known over the years. More importantly, you can now gain access to their network and their networks network. As a career coach, I’ve always known that 80% of most positions are found through networking. Person-to-person and/or snail mail contacts can take weeks (or months!!). The internet has shortened the connection time and LinkedIn gets a 5 star rating from me.

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