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5 Ways LinkedIn Gets In The Way Of Networking

So you have 500-plus "connections" with people you don't really know. Is that how you build your network?

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.

1. Busy versus Effective

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.

2. Passive versus Invested

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.

3. Quantity versus Quality

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.

4. Shallow versus Deep

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.

5. Active versus Important

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]

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  • AnneEgros

    I think you get the most of Linkedin by using their search tools to see who are the players in your industry, specific country or company. With group discussions and updates from experts as well as company insights you can stay up to date with new trends and get new ideas. Being a serial expat moving every three years, I frequently contact people I don't know who live in my future "home". Very often people kindly share their tips. Thanks to those preliminary online exchanges, I have a list of people to meet in person when I arrive in my new place and it is really the best way to find like-minded people and speed-up my network building process.

    Allison, I don't share your opinion about posting updates and your recommendation to limit the number of people you connect with. First Linkedin updates help you boost your presence online and build your expert reputation like any other content marketing tools. Second, when you connect with people you don't know but who share your interests, you increase the likelihood to meet interesting people you would never had the opportunity to meet in real life. So, in short, LinkedIn is enhancing my networking capability and brings me clients and business partners more than any other social media tool.

  • Scott Asai

    Actually it depends on what you use LinkedIn for. I think it's great to meet new people that you would never bump into in real life. If someone lives close, suggest to meet up for coffee. You can also get introduced through a connection to someone you don't know. If you expect LinkedIn fo land you a job, you've got it wrong. It's the most focused social network and I'm a big fan of it.

  • Dan Ryan

    I agree with some of these points, but in some cases bigger is better.
    The purpose of LinkedIn is not to replace conventional networking, only to catalyze it.

    There are some good points made in this article, but it is only looking at the extremes and not the more effective ways to use social tools.

  • Shawn Sommerkamp

    Actually, I have to say Fast Company has really missed the mark on this one.  I certainly don't want to pick a fight but I do want to politely and professional disagree.  LinkedIn is a very powerful and effective tool that not only helped me land an amazing career role but it did so without me having to stand in the interview lines and wait for months to find out the results.  I have realized over the past year or so the techniques I use are actually little known (at least not spoken about mainstream).  As such, I don't doubt Fast Company is unfamiliar with them.  Again, no hard feelings but you should have looked before you leaped. 

  • Allison Graham

    HI Shawn, As you will notice in the lead up to the five risks, is the comment that "LinkedIn has a lot of positives to it, but for every one there's a negative. Recognize the risks:" so it's not so much a miss the mark, no one is saying it is a bad tool, rather it's a different perspective for those who solely use it and miss the opportunity to make it valuable. Congrats on your new career!

  • Sean Koppelman

    There is no substitute for establishing personal relationships. I think the goal of any strong "professional" social platform is to provide a vehicle for exchanging relevant industry information with those you in your given space -- and ultimately to convert a select number of virtual connections into real-world relationships. LinkedIn is a fantastic tool for this.   

  • no name plz thx

    Plus, it's really awkward to use your LinkedIn profile to find a new job when your boss & all your co-workers are in your network. :/

  • Ravindra Joshi

    Thanks for this,.hope more & more take LI professionally as a Active Networking Hub...than a just a big list of passive contacts, with no rapport or interaction..