Cowboys & Cattle - John VachonOrganizing Your Connections with LinkedIn’s Contacts, Part 1

If you are like me, you’ve been adding LinkedIn connections for years and letting them collect a little bit of dust between sporadic attempts at organization. However, now that you can import lots of people to Contacts without connecting with them, that small list of connections can easily grow to a wild herd of data begging for organization. Like a cowboy protecting his herd, you have to cull and brand your connections.

Rather than using branding irons, LinkedIn’s method for branding is to add tags to your connections. LinkedIn includes a few basic tags, but most people will need to create their own tagging system.

In typical LinkedIn fashion, they give you some tools, but leave it to you to figure out how to use them. Below are some ideas. But first,

What are tags?

Tags are personalized keywords you can associate with any name in your Contacts list.

Who can I give tags to?

With LinkedIn’s new Contacts tools, you can not only tag your LinkedIn connections, but anybody else you add to your Contacts list.

How do I add people to my Contacts list?

You add people to your Contacts list by:

  • Connecting with them on LinkedIn (making them a 1st Level connection),
  • “Syncing” Gmail, Yahoo!, or Outlook (the Office program, not on your computer, to add those people,
  • Importing names and email addresses from other contact managers (even if you don’t “sync” your accounts) by exporting those contacts to a CSV file and uploading that file to LinkedIn, or
  • While looking at somebody’s LinkedIn profile, you can add them to your Contacts list by clicking on the star, just below their photo, on the Relationship tab. (A little known, but useful, feature.) They become a contact, but not a connection.

Thus your Contacts list can include lots of people besides your LinkedIn connections.

How do I add or delete a tag?

We’ll share some detailed instructions later, but LinkedIn’s instructions are pretty good.

Why should I add tags?

With Contacts, LinkedIn now offers a few of the features of a CRM (Customer Relationship Manager) database. By adding descriptive tags to your contacts and connections, you can divide your list into manageable categories for communicating, networking, following up, job hunting, recruiting, and much more, depending on your needs.

Another reason to use tags is to remind you who they are.

Tags allow people to target messages, for example:

  • A salesperson can easily share an important announcement about an improved service to his current customers.
  • A corporate recruiter can contact people who have expressed an interest in career opportunities with her business.
  • A job hunter can request info about a particular employer from people she knows worked there.
  • A researcher can send a marketing survey to relevant connections.

Can’t I just use LinkedIn search to sort through my contacts?

Sometimes you can. For example, you can do a search for alumni from your school already in your first level connections, using the alumni tool. But LinkedIn cannot tell you which alumni were your classmates in the School of Business (or whichever school you attended) of your University.

Tags allow you to mark your contacts to easily find them for whatever personal use meets your goals.

What are my goals?

Ah, that depends on you. A marketer, an HR Recruiter, a professional trainer, and a job hunter will have very different goals. It’s worthwhile thinking about your personal goals and, then, your needs for getting in touch with your contacts. Your goals also determine who you want to connect with on LinkedIn and how frequently you log on to LinkedIn to use it.

We could write a book just answering that question, but back to tags.

Cattle Trail

What are some tagging strategies for networking on LinkedIn?

Your tagging strategy can be simple or sophisticated. To illustrate, we offer three tagging systems for networkers. In later posts, we’ll offer other strategies for job hunters and others.

1. A sophisticated tasks oriented networking tagging system

Several years ago, Trevor Lohrbeer, of the Fast Fedora blog, in Managing LinkedIn Connections Using Tags suggested a sophisticated system for managing contacts with tags to improve his networking.

Trevor uses tags to answer six questions:

  1. Where did we meet?
    He creates this tag by using the verb “Met” followed by the city, event or type of event; such as Met 2013 LAO Conference; Met Mayor’s Oct Press Conf; Met Atlanta trip. All the tags in this category begins with the word “Met.”This category can suggest follow-up activities, such as sending LinkedIn invitations to people you met at a conference, or sending them info. Sue Gresham describes a similar system also using "Met".
  2. How did we meet?
    The tag begins with “By” followed by the person or medium; such as By Sally Overbeyer; By phone; By LinkedIn; By Twitter Chat.This reminds you about how you began the connection and shows how your network expands.
  3. How should I proceed with this relationship?
    Use the word “To” to indicate an action; followed by a verb: Meet, Build, Maintain, Expand, Reconnect. (Change as needed for your networking follow-up activities.) This category tells you what you plan to do next. You don’t have to plan out your entire networking future for this contact, just your next action. (I hear echoes of David Allen’s Getting Things Done here.)
  4. What type of relationship do we have?
    The word “As” followed by the type of relationship: Vendor; Customer; Prospect; Colleague; Biz Friend; Personal Friend; Relative. Add or subtract relationships as necessary.The types of relationships you have might vary, but not the need to keep track of who you share different types of relationships with.
  5. How strong is the relationship?
    In order to remind yourself whether the relationship was light or significant, use the verb “Is” followed by a scale of 1 to 5: 1 Casual Weak; 2 Casual Strong; 3 Established; 4 Long or Deep; 5 Long and Deep.If you want to concentrate on maintaining strong relationships; or developing casual relationships into strong ones, this might be a useful category.
  6. How did you meet?
    This is a binary choice; using the word “Via” followed by “Referral” or “Incoming.” Who made the first contact: was she referred to me or did she initiate the contact herself? This might be more relevant to sales or HR and might be unimportant to others.

With these six tag categories, divided into Met, By, To, As, Is and Via, you can organize your contacts, see your history, and plan your next actions at a glance.

This method might be particularly useful for those who network with a lot of people and need to develop those relationships for sales, HR, or to build clients. By all means, personalize it to fit your needs, or just pick which categories make sense for you.

A sophisticated tagging system like this has some potential challenges:

  1. You have to commit to entering and tagging all the people you meet both when you add them to Contacts, and again as the relationship (hopefully) matures or changes. This takes time and discipline
  2. LinkedIn restricts users to 200 tags. After a year or three of using this system, you could possibly run out of tags.
  3. Although, you don’t need to assign all 6 tags to each contact, eventually you may want to use a spreadsheet, database, or a contact manager, CRM software, or a dedicated job search database (such as, to maintain your data.
  4. A significant problem is that LinkedIn doesn’t allow you to export tags with your contacts (something I do hope they fix soon). Frugal Guidance 2 will offer some work-arounds in the future.

2. Using Relationship Circles of Trust

Another simpler way to organize your contacts would be a Circles of Trust theme: think of concentric circles representing how well you trust your connections. Your most trusted connections near the center, others further out.

Circle 1 (the innermost circle) might be your Most Trusted Contacts, such as close friends, relatives, and colleagues.
Outside of this, Circle 2 might be other friends, acquaintances.
Circle 3 might be people you’ve met at networking events, or received a business card from, but you know them only superficially.
Circle 4 might be people you don’t know but you want to meet them, read their blog, read their books, have as a mentor. In other words people you admire and are ideamongers in your field.

No, this system is NOT borrowed from Dante’s circles of Hell (or Paradise), but if that is a useful system for categorization for you, give it a try. (Let me know if it works for you, but I’m not sure I’d want to know which circle you put me in.)

If you don’t have the patience to use a more complicated system of tags, create these four categories (you could call them circles, if you like) and tag them that way. You may want to add some action tags to go past just defining your relationship, though.

3. Go With What You Know

A third way to tag your contacts is to go with what you know about them. Some possibilities are:

  • Profession (Musicians vs. bloggers vs. managers, etc.)
  • Employer
  • Classmates vs. other alumni
  • Which group you have in common (on or off LinkedIn)
  • Idea people / experts
  • I have a tag of Strange, Weird & Wonderful for people who don’t fit the usual categories. Hey, everybody deserves a tag!

My system has been more ad hoc, developing as it goes and my needs change. It’s flexible, but may need updating from time to time.

You could also design a similar tagging system based on the old Who, What, Where, When, Why prompts, too.

Remind me, why am I doing all this?

The goal here is not to develop a beautiful system of tags, but to organize your networking lists to make it easy to find and follow-up with your contacts in an organized fashion.

Doesn’t this all take a lot of time?

If you already have lots of LinkedIn connections and you are just starting to add tags, this will take some time to organize, especially if you have to check most people’s profiles to remind you why you connected. Start by adding tags to new connections and those you share discussions with in groups. Then, schedule an hour once or twice a week to add more tags as you can.

Some business people with thousands of contacts find that hiring a Virtual Assistant to help with tagging and other repetitive tasks is a great time and money saver.

If you can then use your tags for finding a job, getting new clients, sales, hiring, or improved networking, you should quickly save more time than you spend.

Where can I find more info on using Contacts and tags?

For a more generalized introduction to LinkedIn’s new Contacts features, one of my favorite overviews is Melonie Dodaro’s 9 Steps To Getting Started With The New LinkedIn Contacts on her Top Dog blog.

Linda Cole on also has a good overview on using Contacts.

Viveka von Rosen has also written a number of first impressions about using LinkedIn’s Contacts, including a 3-part series starting with LinkedIn’s New Contacts Feature.

Note that, with LinkedIn’s constant evolution, a few features and bugaboos mentioned on each of these posts have since changed.

More to Come

See Part 2 of this series, LinkedIn Tagging Strategies for Job Hunters.

What are your favorite ways to categorize your connections? Tell us in the comments.

To see more How To articles about using LinkedIn, see our index of LinkedIn posts.

Title photo is “Cowboys and Cattle, Dawson County, Nebraska,” October, 1938, John Vachon, photographer. Courtesy of the U.S. Farm Security Administration / Office of War Information, through the Library of Congress Prints and Photography Division, Washington, DC and Photo cropped and processed for web display.

Photo, “Cattle Trail” was taken in the North Dakota range. Original is from a stereoscopic image dating about 1905 from The Ingersoll View Co. No photographer listed.Image found with Google Image Search. Credits via

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