Earlier this week, I got an email notification from LinkedIn that someone was requesting to connect with me. For those of you non-LI members out there, LinkedIn is a professional networking site….sort of like Facebook for business owners and professional people who want to connect with other professionals. It’s free to use, at least on the basic plan, and once you set up a profile on the site you can start connecting with people that you know. As with Facebook and some other social networking sites, in order to connect with someone you have to send them a request, and after they approve it you can communicate with them through LinkedIn and see their full profile.
I frequently get requests to connect on LinkedIn, so at first I didn’t think much about the request I got earlier this week. I didn’t recognize the person, but I had attended some networking events recently so I thought maybe it was someone I met and just didn’t remember. Like many people, the person in question failed to change the default “request to connect message” on LinkedIn (which says “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn”) to a personal message reminding the individual they are trying to connect with how they know each other. Again, I didn’t think much of it, since many people just use the default message, so I went ahead and approved the request.
Almost immediately, I got a message from the person, who turned out to be an insurance agent from a nearby town. Here’s the message:
Thank you for connecting with me on LinkedIn! Let me know if you are ever interested in me checking to see if I can save you some money on your insurance. I also wanted to let you know that we have an awesome referral program! If you refer someone to me to have a quote done, you get a $10 VISA gift card AND your name is entered to win the monthly and annual doorprize. In November, we’re giving away a $100 VISA gift card in time for Christmas shopping!
I was flabbergasted at the wildly inappropriate and spammy nature of this message. Clearly, this person was desperately trying to drum up some leads for her insurance business, and was likely just connecting with everyone she could find on LinkedIn and sending the same message to anyone who, like myself, had naively approved her request. She clearly has no concept of how to network online (and probably offline as well), and did not ask herself two very important questions before she sent this message. Namely, she did not ask:
What this person is basically communicating in her message is that she thinks my professional reputation, and my relationships with people in my network, are worth all of $10. I risk both of those things every time I make a referral. If I refer someone to a business who does not treat them well or satisfy their needs, they will lose trust in me and that relationship will be damaged. Those relationships are priceless to me–in some cases they have taken years to build–and I wouldn’t risk them for any amount of money, much less $10.
Now that I’ve given you an example of how NOT to use LinkedIn for networking, I’ll share two examples of how to do it the right way. Both methods involve using LinkedIn to get a personal introduction to a potential customer or client for your business.
The first method is to create a list of specific people you would like to get introduced to. For example, if you sold widgets, you might like to get introduced to the purchaser at a major hardware store chain. If you’re a contractor, you might like to get introduced to a real estate agent who specializes in selling land. Once you have a list of names, go to LinkedIn and see how many of those people have a profile. If you find their profile, you will be able to see if you are connected to someone that person knows.
If–and only if–you are connected to someone who knows that person, and only if you have a good, close relationship with the person you are connected to, send that person a message and ask if they’d be willing to introduce you to the person you’d like to meet. If they say yes, congratulations–you just got a personal referral to a potential new customer. If they say no–maybe because they actually don’t know the person you’d like to meet very well, for example–then thank them anyway and ask if there’s anyone you can introduce them to. That will give you the chance to strengthen the relationship, so that if you ever need to approach them again they’ll be more likely to help you.
The second method for using LinkedIn for networking is to approach the situation from the opposite perspective. Go to your LinkedIn profile and make a list of all the people you are connected to who you know well enough to be comfortable asking them for a personal referral. Then, go through their list of connections and see if there is anyone on that list that you’d like to meet. Make a list of the top 3 or 4 people, and send your friend a message asking them if they’d be comfortable introducing you to any of those people. They might say no–again, maybe they just don’t know those people very well. Then again, maybe they just had lunch with one of them a few days ago and would be more than willing to introduce you. Heck, maybe the person in question even recently mentioned to your friend that they were in need of the service you provide. Some people might call this “luck”, but the fact of the matter is that if you make a habit of doing this on a regular basis, it’s not luck–it’s inevitable.
Now that you know the proper way to use LinkedIn for networking, go ahead and try it yourself–today. Find two people you are connected to, and complete the exercise I described above, and just see what happens. If you want more suggestions about how to grow your business using networking and other low-cost marketing methods, complete a signature brand audit on my website and I’ll schedule a free 1-hr consultation with you to review the results.