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Advice / Job Search / Networking

How to Be a Valuable LinkedIn Connection to People You Haven’t Met in Real Life

Your personalized message worked, and LinkedIn notifies you that the person you’ve admired—but never actually met—accepted your request. You’ve successfully crossed the line between “follower” and “connection,” but now what should you do?

Building a digital relationship with someone can be tricky, especially if you’ve never actually met in person. After all, no one wants to be thought of as a pest, but you don’t want to be forgotten either.

Here’s how to strike that balance over time:

1. Differentiate Yourself

After you’ve swapped the initial messages and intros with your new connection, you need to lay some groundwork so she knows you’re in her network for the long haul.

So, look for what you have in common. Do you know some of the same people? Did you graduate from the same college? Are you in the same national organization? These are great conversation points that can add some more depth to your inbox thread.

Instead of just saying “Thanks for accepting my request!” mention what links the two of you. (If it’s mainly that you’re a fan, say something specific about her work, like by suggesting the perfect app to solve a problem she recently wrote an article about.) Once you’ve identified a few common qualities, the opportunity to segue from one topic to the next multiplies, so the next time you reach out it won’t feel so out of the blue.

You may wonder: How is being memorable a value add for the other person? Well, when she scrolls through her connection list, if she has no idea who you are or how she knows you, she might feel uncomfortable reaching out. But, if you’ve exchanged friendly messages, then if she ever has on opportunity (or favor) to bring up, she’ll remember that she can ask you.

2. Boost His Visibility

As you know, the things you share or comment on appear on your newsfeed. If you like or share a new connection’s latest post or link to his website, you’re giving him the potential to reach hundreds more viewers.

For example, one of the metrics LinkedIn uses to decide whether to feature an article on Pulse is to look for interaction. So, if you help your new contact get many more likes and shares, you just could help him score a big visibility boost.

Another time when sharing is caring is when the other person is in search of a new job. Your comment or share may catch the eye of one of your contacts, yielding a pleasant surprise in the form of a job lead.

3. Help Her Through (A Little) Detective Work

Feeds also allow you to view someone else’s activity, which can inform your future exchanges. I’m not suggesting you put on your best PI outfit, rather, think of this step the same way you would staying up to date with an actual friend or colleague.

When your friend posts that she loves a certain food on Facebook or Instagram, you make a note. When your new contact posts that the she’s looking to connect with experienced UX designers, shoot over a quick message mentioning a group you’re also part of with the link to join the thread.

Of course, there are two things to keep in mind. First, keep these “thought of you” notes to a few times a year—max. If you start sending messages after every update the other person posts, you’re going to freak her out a bit. Second, make sure each note is really adding value. Mentioning a local conference that covers shared interests is valuable; cute cat articles—not so much.

4. Be More Than Just a Fan

People love being flattered and respected for their expertise—and so praising someone is a great “in.” However, if you establish a genius-adoring fan relationship, it’ll be hard to break that mold. Instead, if you build a more equal rapport, then when this person needs a quote, wants to pick someone’s brain, or hears of a killer opportunity, you’ll jump to mind.

In my experience, suggesting professional leads trumps almost all other means of adding value to a LinkedIn relationship. After all, pretty much everyone is there to network or job search. When you offer to make an intro, you’re demonstrating the strength of your network, and the idea that this new connection would be wise to contact you if he’s looking to meet great people.

So, don’t just fawn over the other person in your messages (no matter how impressive he is). Share you ideas too—you’ll be adding value and building your reputation.

I’ve been really fortunate to build meaningful connections over LinkedIn that have helped me find jobs and grow my skills—but it didn’t just happen. I had to put the work in so new people would want to stay in touch with me. Try my strategies so both you and your newest connection can benefit from each other’s talents and skills for years to come.

Photo of woman in coffee shop courtesy of Shutterstock.