This 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.