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LinkedIn connection strategies – what is best career-wise?

The psychology around "social media" is very redolent of middle school.  How would you advise people with regard to choosing people for or accepting people into their networks to avoid being judged inconveniently?  For example, should one limit one's network to individuals within one's industry or to individuals above a certain status level? 

This question was asked by an attendee during the Proformative webinar "Build Your Personal Brand and a Competitive Advantage with Social Media " held on July 2, 2012.  A video of the webinar can be viewed here: https://www.proformative.com/resources/build-your-personal-brand-competitive-advantage-social-media-webinar-video

Answers

Ernie Humphrey CTP
Title: CEO & COO
Company: Treasury Careers
LinkedIn Profile
(CEO & COO, Treasury Careers) |

Just as in middle school, the better brand that you have, the more "popular" you will become on LinkedIn. Being popular allows you to make and leverage the connections you want to have to help drive career success.

Once you have a quality profile and are active on LinkedIn you will receive LinkedIn invitations organically.

LinkedIn groups are the keys to the candy store in building connections. Once you are in the right groups by industry, function, and/or geography then you can reach out to make connections (at no cost). Often if you can offer a reason for your connection request it will be well received, i.e., I saw your post on "x,y, z..". Also something like, " I am also a CFO..." works as well.

As far as connections you need to manage quality as well as quantity. That being said, do not be a LinkedIn snob, as you never know what doors someone could open for you.

Also, do not let "world's collide" on LinkedIn, keep social relationships on Facebook.

I recently shared on Proformative a link to a presentation focused on leveraging social media in the realm of professional development that is somewhat LinkedIn centric. See slides 9 - 18. (http://bit.ly/11PoSJw).

Wray Rives
Title: CPA CGMA
Company: Rives CPA PLLC
(CPA CGMA, Rives CPA PLLC) |

I agree with Ernie. I used to be a "LinkedIn Snob" until I listened to a presentation on leveraging LI for business from a gentlemen who has had quite a bit of success using LI to grow his consulting practice. His philosophy is to pretty much accept anyone who sends him a request because you never know who may open a door to an opportunity or another connection that you really want to to have and may benefit from.

For the past year I have done just that and it has worked. I actually have made some very positive connections and found business opportunities from random folks who requested to connect with me. I have a pretty standard response I send to someone that requests to connect and I don't really know who they are. I give a brief blurb about what I do and who I am. On the rare occasion I get a new connection that starts flooding my inbox with spam, it is easy enough to delete them from my connection list.

Much like any other referral activity, if you have a good profile, are actively participating in groups and have a healthy number of existing connections, you do start to receive organic connection requests.

I work with quite a few clients from outside the US and find that often they prefer to connect with you on LI before actually considering doing business with you. Which is totally consistent with my experience of physically meeting prospective non-US clients. In the US we have this philosophy of "let's do business and maybe we will also get to know each other" in most of Europe and Asia people say "let's get to know each other and maybe we will do business".

I know there are still folks who don't buy into that concept and only want to connect with people they actually know, but taking all requests works for me.

Topic Expert
Mike Caruana
Title: Director of Financial Services
Company: Diamond Resorts International
(Director of Financial Services, Diamond Resorts International) |

I concur with much of what Ernie and Wray said, although I am still a little discerning when accepting requests. I do, however, accept all requests with proper introductions (like Ernie suggests). Knowing someone is new to our group is a great intro, as is most other relevant comments. I highly recommend that.

Ken Stumder
Title: Finance Director / Controller
Company: Ken Stumder, CPA
(Finance Director / Controller, Ken Stumder, CPA) |

I'm curious - is it viewed as poor manners not to respond to offers to explore employment opportunities? I get these with some degree of frequency (thankfully!) but I am usually too busy to respond in a timely manner. I understand how important it is to build connections. I am probably falling into the bad habit of not laying the groundwork now for what could be needed assistance down the road.

Sara Voight
Title: Controller
Company: Critical Signal Technologies, Inc
(Controller, Critical Signal Technologies, Inc) |

I think it is vital to respond quickly, even if it is a polite thanks but no-thanks. Much like Wray wrote - create a standard response that you can get out the door quickly to show that you acknowledge the inquiry. I have used a few of these inquiries to refer colleagues. That buys me points with the potential candidate as well as the potential employer. You never know what you might be looking at down the road.

Topic Expert
Dana Price
Title: Vice President, M&A
Company: McGraw Hill Education
(Vice President, M&A, McGraw Hill Education) |

I never accept blind LinkedIn requests. If you want to connect with me, tell me why. One of my friends would accept requests from people she didn't know and one of them decided to hit up all her connection in a very inappropriate way. I would rather be a snob than have my reputation destroyed. Like most things, you get what you put into it.

Topic Expert
Regis Quirin
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP
LinkedIn Profile
(Director of Finance, Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP) |

I pretty much will accept any invite. The only way to start a relationship is to accept the invitation. There is a setting within Linked-in that I recommend. It only allows your connections to be seen by you and you only. This should eliminate the fear of a rogue connection soliciting your network.

Why accept all - You can apply a standard Sales technique to your Linked-In Network, i.e. A Sources (close/personal relationships); B Sources (acquaintances where you have relevant dealings today); C Sources (on-line future relationships). But accepting the invites is the required start.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

I agree. I just sat with a friend and told him to accept all, you never know what will pay off....

He looked at those who already were connect or sent connection invites and said "I don't' know him or her". I said "look at their companies/titles". "Ahhh, sales people from possible vendors, that makes sense."

Suzanne Booth
Title: Consultant
Company: n/a
(Consultant, n/a) |

I will “out” myself as the individual who asked the above-paraphrased question about LinkedIn for the purpose of motivating a more nuanced discussion of the idea of “social networking” generally and LinkedIn in particular. I apologize if I am a little late to the party.

My questions center on the notion of risk: without an understanding of the risks inherent in any endeavor, the ability to manage one’s engagement in that endeavor to maximize the potential gains and minimize any attendant costs is limited. Hoping that the fates and pure dumb luck will be on your side is no way to pursue any venture, especially if the possibility of material loss is significant. With this in mind, my concerns about LinkedIn include the following:

Identity Theft:

Social networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook are gold mines for the thieves who regularly troll them to identify targets for robbery in both the analog and digital realms. Individuals who broadcast vacation plans run the risk of returning home to a ransacked house; individuals who share too many details of their educational and employment histories run the risk of identity theft and financial fraud. With respect to the latter, once the genie is out of the bottle, it is almost impossible to return and re-cork the little devil; attempts to merely ring-fence the problem can run up legal fees in the many thousands of dollars. Imagine looking for a job and not being able to get past the initial background check because of a co-opted social security number and a pile of debt taken out (and unpaid) in your name; job candidates with seemingly dodgy backgrounds are rarely given the opportunity to refute or clarify background check results. Consequently, the challenge becomes about revealing enough personal information to make one appear professionally interesting without disclosing enough detail to facilitate fraud. Given the evolution (devolution?) of LinkedIn to a job search tool, it is not clear how this risk can be productively managed especially given the level of detail employment recruiters seem to want in a LinkedIn profile.

Stalking Risk:

One of my first reactions to the idea of “social networking” was that it would be a boon to stalkers, which may be a greater security threat to women than to men. At least, it is a thought that does not seem to have occurred to many men (and none of my acquaintance), but women generally seem not insensitive to the potential. Nevertheless, for anyone who has ever had the interesting experience of an overly persistent follower, the idea of being stalked online is a bit unnerving.

Reputational Risk; Judgmental Errors:

It should be well understood by now that what happens on the internet stays on the internet, which is to say that, although points of data may fade into the background with the passage of time, they never really go away. However, given that LinkedIn participants are generally grown adults using the site for professional networking, perhaps the risk of embarrassing behavior is relatively low?

Reputational Risk; Social Slotting:

Although it may well be the case that most people are “one trick ponies” and easily slotted into the functional and status categories that employment recruiters and human resources departments love, not everyone is. For individuals with many and diverse interests and skills, “brand management” can be tricky. Job seekers are frequently advised to tailor resumes to address the particular requirements of specific opportunities in order to emphasize the qualities most on demand for a given position and to reduce the potential of extraneous skills to confuse the recruiter. On LinkedIn, the ability to tailor first impressions in this way does not exist. For those among us who easily wear many functional hats, a LinkedIn page can be a ticket to a quick elimination as a job candidate of interest.

Reputational Risk; Social Snobbery:

The question posted on the aforementioned webcast related to this: in what ways should one discriminate with respect to the sorts of people one includes in a publicly disclosed online network? To put it another way, to what extent should LinkedIn be expected to function like a digital middle school such that the worthiness of people is judged on the basis of the presumed status of the members of a list of contacts?

Many people argue that contact lists should be restricted to people who are well known, share work experience and have mutual vested interests. Following this train of thought, there is little to be gained and possibly much to be lost in sharing a network of contacts with someone who is potentially untrustworthy or otherwise unlikely to have the capability or the inclination to be professionally useful.

Others argue for a more liberal network admittance policy reflecting nothing more than common occupational and industry affiliations; some of you in this forum have effectively expressed this view. The logic here seems to be that the more people in a network the greater the odds of being able to find someone with a certain profile should the need ever arise. If the patterns of real “analog” life are any guide, it remains unclear -- to me at least -- how reasonable it is to expect an effective stranger to provide an introduction to another stranger and risk the reputational blowback to himself of a bad experience just because, hey, it’s the internet and “social networking” is all the rage.

My Two Cents:

For what it is worth, I take a conservative approach. For security reasons, I will not post a personal picture; if someone wants to know what I look like, he can ask around. I mention my titles, and describe my professional activities in relatively brief terms. I refer to past employers by type and not by name; for example, “boutique investment bank” is the description of one such organization. In order to facilitate being successfully located by former associates, I mention my academic affiliations by name; so far, people with whom I had lost contact but who have wanted to reconnect seem to have had no problem finding me among all the other LinkedIn members with the same name. Insofar as my network admittance policy, I do not admit people who are total strangers unless their invitations to connect make sense in some reasonable way.

So I ask the forum: what do you think about these issues?

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

I think you are not comfortable with the technology and change in your perceived privacy. That's okay.

But if anything that Edward Snowden has done that is positive; it's the opening of the eyes of Americans that nothing is private, and it hasn't been private for as long as the technology has been available for someone (not necessarily the government) to snoop.

All your medical history; not private. Your phone history, well that cat is out of the bag. Your educational; nope. Banking or Credit - look at your credit report.

Should you take precautions, absolutely. Just as you probably lock your doors, you should not just tell everyone your SSN. But there needs to be a balance, and that balance will be whatever you decide.

Anonymous User
Title: CFO
Company: Local Government Agency
(CFO, Local Government Agency) |

Ms. Booth:

I think you are "dead on" in your analysis. IMHO, LinkedIn is just a derivative of Fadebook with all of the inherent risks and foibles.

I only have an account because a past subordinate invited me to connect when he became unemployed and desperate, and so I did....more than five years ago.

I ignored it after that and then found myself "discovered" and getting all sorts of connection requests both professional and social. It really became overwhelming and, not very discriminatory. When your family and friends start requesting connections and, they will, it is more social than professional.

The most disturbing is the constant attempted "connections" between our CEO and myself by the LinkedIn program. I can't stand the woman and so I avoid any contact with her other than what I am required to have to maintain my position here while I seek employment elsewhere, to get away from her. But, I always wonder what she is seeing about me on that site. And, how on earth could I use it to look for a job when she is sitting right there able to view my profile?

Beware brother beware.

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