When Facebook first launched, my buddies and I spent many library “study” hours searching for and sending requests to people we knew in a race to see who could get the most connections.
I think of this every time I hear someone talking about getting to 500+ connections on LinkedIn. Having an impressive number up there is great, right?
Not exactly. And, if that’s your only goal for LinkedIn, you’re doing something wrong.
I’ll use a cautionary tale to show you what to avoid and how to make connections that matter. Last year, I received a LinkedIn request from a person with whom I shared over 40 mutual connections. I had never met him before, but because of our overlapping networks and his intriguing professional background, I accepted the request.
After accepting, I sent him a message to introduce myself, ask a few questions about his company, and set up a call to get to know each other. He never responded. Last month, when I was reviewing my connections, I saw his profile again and promptly deleted him. I kid you not, the very next day, he sent me another request and a message thanking me for looking at his profile. Access denied.
Don’t be this guy. In addition to making me suspicious that I was being Catfished by someone pretending to be a successful businessperson, I felt that I was being used to get access to my own network. He wasn’t looking to connect with me—he was looking to add contacts to his Rolodex.
In networking, you can think of people as “contacts” or as “connections.” Contacts are one-way: You only reach out when you need something. It’s a numbers game in which you believe your chances are better by having as many as possible. (If you cold call 1,000 people, someone is bound to bite, right?!) On the other hand, “connections” are two-way: You care about the people who are in your network. You give them as much as you want to receive, and you stay in touch whether or not either of you needs something. And the results are better for everyone.
So rather than racing to 500, focus on building connections that matter. Here are a few ways to attract and engage with them.
Spruce Up Your LinkedIn Profile
Before you click “connect,” make sure your photo, headline, and summary all tell a compelling story of who you are and what you have to offer (not just where you work or attend school). (More on that, here.) Show that you’re worth connecting with! Better yet, take a moment and request a recommendation from someone you’ve worked with so new connections have an impression of how you have helped others.
Curate Your Online Presence
While it might be taboo to sleuth someone’s search results before your first date, when you’re networking, face it: You will be Googled. Make sure that you’re comfortable with what appears on any public social media accounts you have, or consider making them private.
Curating isn’t just about sanitizing, however. It’s also an opportunity to strategically support your credentials and reputation. For example, if you’re connecting with someone to offer your photography skills, make sure your portfolio site appears in search results when your name is Googled. (Remember: you can’t use hyperlinks in personal notes, and adding spaces in the URL looks scammy.)
Always Write a Personal Note
Although the note is optional, the personal touch makes a huge difference, so make it a requirement for yourself. You only have 300 characters, so write your ending first (“Thank You” or “Sincerely” plus your name), then write your message. Start with some compliment or context like “I’ve enjoyed reading your blog” or “I see we worked at Yahoo at the same time.” Then briefly introduce yourself and invite the person to connect in real time. Think of what will make it worth his time to speak with you.
Your request was accepted! Now what? Make the connection meaningful by moving it from online to offline. Offline can mean a phone call, video chat, or coffee meeting. Review the person’s profile to see if there are specific instructions about how he or she prefers to connect, and follow our tips for advancing the conversation.
The folks at LinkedIn are smart to cap the display of your connections at “500+.” They recognize that once you get to 500 connections, it shouldn’t matter how many more you can get. It only matters how many you can keep. Good luck!