Do you remember those email invitations to join LinkedIn? It was just a few years ago when professionals would admit they joined the site just to stop the inundation of requests. A new form of peer pressure was created.
Resisting the online networking movement meant you were out of the loop and risked being pushed out of the cool-kids club. The new networking follow-up became, "Let's connect online." If professionals weren't on LinkedIn to facilitate this new natural next step in relationship development, they were looked at as if they had two heads—and neither sported a particularly bright brain.
With over 225 million registered users on LinkedIn, the fact that you need a profile is a given. The site has grown beyond being a job recruitment tool, becoming a staple in our professional lives. LinkedIn has a lot of positives to it, but for every one there's a negative. Recognize the risks: Protect yourself from letting LinkedIn get in the way of your networking results.
If you're networking online or in person, being busy is not the same as being profitable. An active profile can give you a false sense of connectivity. The average user spends a mere 17 minutes a month on LinkedIn, so while you may be busy sharing updates, there is a slim chance the majority of your network will read them. When we read a profile or an update from someone else, it naturally triggers a moment of reflection on him or her; however, an update does not have the same power as a two-way interaction.
In the good old days, if someone wanted to champion your success, they would pick up the phone, call a contact, and sing your praises. Now, you ask for an introduction online and they forward the email. Either that or they endorse you when LinkedIn's algorithm pushes a suggested talent and your smiling face to their screen. It provides a lovely boost for the ego at that moment and sends a message to others that you are at least "click-worthy", but that's as far as it goes.
LinkedIn recommendations represent more of an investment as someone takes the time to offer their positive opinion. But they still aren't as influential as candid conversations about how great you are.
As passivity goes, saying yes to an invitation to connect is about as easy as it gets to add someone to your network. It's not the same effort as deciding this person should be included in your address book and then actively nurturing the relationship.
Once you've passed the 500-plus connections threshold, the number of contacts in your profile is little more than a stroke to your ego. The catch is: How can you manage more than 500 active relationships? After all, they need regular interactions if they're real relationships. Imagine connecting with 500 people in one-on-one situations each fiscal quarter. This conundrum is the reason I have often preached that online networks are good to track all the people you know, but your network needs to be managed privately offline.
Categorizing contacts to ensure the right activity at the right frequency to maximize the mutual benefit in the relationship is essential. To determine the best approach you need to understand who is in your network. But unless you spend time exporting and reviewing your LinkedIn connection, leaving them as a blob of contacts is easy—rather than appreciating each individual.
The depth of a relationship is determined by the quality of information that is shared, not by the quantity. The content we share publicly through social media updates is different than the conversation we have on BBM or texts with the closest people in our lives. In between the two extremes of guarded public consumption and intimate conversation is the sweet spot for professional connection comes in real one-on-one interactions.
Reading updates online means you get the same information that everyone else gets—where's the value in that? It can lead to a false sense of familiarity. You only see the aspects that people choose for you—and everyone else—to see. Loyalty in relationships comes through shared experiences and deeper conversations that electronics can't quite facilitate.
It's easy to be reactive online. The people who get the most attention are the ones who are most active. They post updates with valuable or entertaining content and thus they capture your attention. Unfortunately, the most active people are not always the most relevant people in your professional circle when you consider your objectives. If your goal is to grow your client base and your buyer is the senior VP of operations or the head of purchasing, there's a good chance that is not the person who is posting how-to videos every morning or reviewing updates daily. It would be nice if everyone would be equally enthusiastic about engaging online, but alas, many of them just joined to stop the overflow of LinkedIn invitations.
The lesson? Unplugging a bit from your LinkedIn obsession might provoke a two-headed stare or three, but you and I will know who has the the brightest brain.
Allison Graham speaks to audiences about how to turn networking into profitable networking and is the author of From Business Cards to Business Relationships: Personal Branding & Profitable Networking Made Easy!
[Image: Flickr user Nomadic Lass]