Part 1 – Into the Fray – Quantity vs. Quality
LinkedIn is a bit odd in its connections policy, especially compared to other social media. On Twitter, Facebook and Google+, there’s nobody instructing you to be careful in your following or connecting – and nobody ever tells you NOT to connect with people.
LinkedIn, however, forces you to think strategically about your networking, especially if it’s your career that you’re promoting. LinkedIn has rules about whose profile you can see, it promotes both second and third-party introductions, and it actively restricts who you can find to connect with.
Officially, LinkedIn encourages its users to only connect with those you already know, but it secretly rewards those who branch out and build lots of connections. As a result, there’s a Yin / Yang struggle for dominance between Quality and Quantity on LinkedIn. But, in reality, it’s not an either / or choice. Nor is one choice right for everybody. Let’s take a look.
The Arguments for Quantity
It’s the Social Media Way
The entire purpose of social media is to expand one’s connections and increase communication, for business or for life. LinkedIn is definitely bucking the trend by arguing otherwise.
In Real Life (i.e., offline), networking is all about meeting new people and finding ways to help each other. The idea of going to a networking meeting and NOT meeting new people is counterproductive and bizarre. Why should online networking be different?
The Numbers Game on LinkedIn
LinkedIn encourages the numbers game, constantly reminding you how many connections you have. I don’t remember how many connections I have on Twitter, and I can’t even remember how many circles I have on Google+, let alone how many people are in them, but I know exactly how many connections I have on LinkedIn because it tells me every time I log on and then makes suggestions (good and bad) for new connections every day.
Then LinkedIn makes the numbers game more weird by putting a lifetime cap on the number of invitations (which they then break if you ask), and by capping the number of connections you can have. (But they make exceptions for celebrities who don’t seem to follow those rules.)
More Ways to Connect on LinkedIn
There are now at least three ways to connect with other people on LinkedIn. You now have a choice of:
1) Connecting with somebody (via the usual invite-accept-connect minuet),
2) Making them a Contact (either somebody you imported from a list who is not on LinkedIn, or somebody on LinkedIn who you add to your Contact lists). To add a Contact: view somebody’s full profile, click on the tiny arrow next to Send [FirstName] InMail, then select Save to Contacts. No invitation required.
3) In some cases, following those select people who LinkedIn anoints as followable, so you can see their pronouncements on your LinkedIn feed.
There’s also a 4th way to connect through Groups. When you are in a LinkedIn Group, click on the Members tab (just below the group name). Find the person you want to follow. Click on the Follow [FirstName] tab. This ability (there since 2009) is probably unnecessary now that you can make that person a Contact.
You can also follow companies, universities, employers, and possibly some entities I don’t even know about.
The Cold Hard Truth on Search
The cold hard truth on LinkedIn is that if you want to search for people, or you want people to find you, LinkedIn requires you to have a larger network to be effective. The only way to be effective in search (or sales, or services, or talent acquisition or job hunting), with or without upgrading, is to build a larger network.
And LinkedIn tells you the plain math when you view your Home tab. As LinkedIn continues to grow, the percentage of LinkedIn members that you can reach with any number of Connections keeps shrinking. Now that LinkedIn boasts around 275 million members (and ‘bots?), your reach looks puny.
The Worldwide Open Network
Open networkers (those who connect with almost anybody), are not evil people (at least, not the ones I know). Even though their social interactions may be limited, they perform a valuable service by making it easier for us to search and reach out to others. Think of them as a networking central nervous system that helps connect all the disparate parts of the world-wide business network. LinkedIn may not especially like them, but they do help make LinkedIn work better for many.
On Facebook or Twitter, and just about anywhere else, you can connect with friends and colleagues more easily. But because LinkedIn restricts who you can see and the career stakes are higher, quality is a more important factor.
The Numbers Game Downside
Too many people get caught in the numbers game, send out invitations to more people, but then, when the invitation is accepted, they forget to follow up and engage their new connections.
To follow the earlier analogy with IRL networking groups, it’s like the guy who collects business cards from everybody but never follows up to talk. The real object is not to collect more cards than the next guy, the object is to help each other. Same on LinkedIn.
What Quality People Do
Quality people write invitations and introductions for you. They give advice. They rejoice in your successes (albeit with some prompting from LinkedIn). They offer tips to job hunters, and might even pass on a copy of your résumé to HR. They also comment and debate in Groups.
Could you ask each of your LinkedIn connections to do the same?
(Endorsements don’t count. Everybody gives Endorsements, but nobody knows exactly why they exist.)
Thus Quality begets Quality
You will find that when you add a former co-worker as a Connection, you can more easily find more co-workers. If you connect with alumni you know, you can find more alumni (although the alumni search tool helps, too). As you introduce quality connections to each other, you become a more valuable connection. As you write Recommendations (forget about Endorsements for the moment), you can help others reach their goals and they will help you.
‘Bots Are Bad Networkers
In a time where people create semi-autonomous robotic programs, called ‘bots, (or hire low-wage workers) to create fake new profiles on LinkedIn, accepting every invitation you receive on LinkedIn becomes an even bigger risk. Do you mind if somebody scrapes all your data from your profile to put into somebody’s database? Careful connections avoid this.
LinkedIn’s Invitation Obstacles Don’t Help
So, to fight against the ‘bots, you decide to only accept personalized invitations. But LinkedIn makes it impossible to send a personal invitation from a mobile app or when you import your contact list. (Plus, the ‘bots may now make some minimally personalized invitations possible.)
These are really LinkedIn’s problems, but by not dealing with them, LinkedIn makes them yours.
The IDK Trap
If you do send lot of invitations to people you don’t know, LinkedIn has the “I Don’t Know” and Spam traps. If five of the people you send invitations to decline and click the I don’t know or Spam links (I don’t know the difference between them, do you?), LinkedIn automatically limits your invitations to those you can supply a current email address.
This and other versions of LinkedIn Jail are pretty much like iron-fisted Medieval justice. You appeal to Customer Service and the usual answer is a bureaucratic “Nothing I can do about it, sorry” response. (That’s a blog post for another day.) Connecting with people you already know avoids the problem.
So it’s Settled: There is No Winner
There are Pros and Cons to Quality and Quantity. If even veteran LinkedIn members can’t decide which connection path is best, it’s no wonder that one of the most frequent discussions for beginners on LinkedIn is how to connect.
The answer is to develop your own networking style that makes sense with what YOU want to accomplish on LinkedIn.
Next Post: LinkedIn Connections – What’s Your Style? Part 2, on creating your own style.
Handshake artwork by “Worker” on OpenClipart.org.
Q vs. Q graphic by the author, Andrew Brandt.
Copyright © 2012 by Andrew Brandt