Last week I had the absolute pleasure to speak to the Indianapolis chapter of Human Resource Professional Development Association about LinkedIn and utilizing it to build a personal brand internally and externally. There was one question that I think can be asked in many different ways but boils down to four words:
How do I connect?
Not in a sense of click on the connect button or accept, but how do I really connect with someone after we become connections.
I think one challenge or misconception about LinkedIn is that there is no true communication or connection. It is simple to click a button, request or accept a connection; however it leaves us feeling flat. A simple button does not open the door to communication.
The problem is not with LinkedIn – it is with the user.
The tool is only as good as the way in which you use it.
I have a small tiller. It sat in my garage for a few years all bright and shiny but useless. I also had an area in my back and side yard that was perfect for a garden. I used to be frustrated that I didn’t have a garden and how much work it would be to create that space.
Last spring I used the bright shiny tiller and created my garden. It made quick work of it and by the summer I had a wonderful garden full of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, peppers, herbs, cantaloupe, watermelon and asparagus.
I could complain about not having a garden or I could use the tools I had to create what I wanted.
It is the same concept with LinkedIn.
Requesting or accepting is step one, but there is more to be done to start conversations and build relationships. It begins with a few simple steps:
Say Thank You
When someone accepts or sends you a request, thank them for the connection. It is a simple thing to do and opens the door for the other person to respond.
Be Selective if You Choose
Although some users will not allow you to send them an invitation unless you actually know them, some do not accept connections unless they see a business reason to do so.
Key word there: business reason.
You can address this either in the invitation or in the follow up. In either one, instead of using the template that LinkedIn provides for a connection request, simply put a statement such as, “I noticed that you are connected to Bob Inbox, who I worked with at DCB company…”
Follow Up Without Demanding
You have sent/accepted a connection and sent a thank you, now is time for a conversation, not a request for a coffee meeting.
Send them an inbox message and begin with – again – a business conversation or topic. It could be something about their company or position or that you appreciated a comment that they left on an article. From there you can let them know that you would like to know more about what they do, about their company or their insight on a certain matter.
Do not assume that just because someone connected with you on a business social platform that they are willing to take a couple hours out of their day to meet with you in person. Everyone’s time is valuable.
If someone immediately suggests a coffee time I ask for what purpose. I am trying to eliminate time wasting activities in order to devote my time to my clients. The hairs on the back of my neck immediately go up when I get an instant coffee message. I don’t know you, I don’t know what you want, you want me to give you at least two hours of my time and more than likely you are going to try to sell me on something.
Instant coffee meetings do not equal instant business relationships.
With a few extra minutes, consideration and thought you can start conversations that build relationships. LinkedIn provides a platform, you have to provide the effort. As LinkedIn says: “A healthy professional life starts with healthy relationships.”