When LinkedIn sends you a note that your InMail was accepted and a new contact wrote you back, it’s hard not to get a little excited. You knocked your initial outreach out of the park (need tips for that? We’ve got ’em), and now you’ve started a dialogue with someone new.
However, don’t get too cocky: One response doesn’t mean the hard part is over. Writing a killer (in either sense of the word) follow-up will dictate the rest of your interaction.
So, what should you do? Follow these four rules of continued correspondence over LinkedIn.
1. Be Timely
First things first: Unless you’re on an international flight, you should reply back within 24 hours. It’s not just email etiquette, it will keep you fresh in your new contact’s mind.
Remember, this person is making time for you. If you send an email a couple weeks later—apologizing for being slammed, reminding him or her who you are—there’s about a 50-50 chance someone will write you back the second time. And a 100% chance he or she will be annoyed.
2. Have a (Fair) Question
Writing back promptly is important, but it is equally important that every communication is focused and worthwhile. Skip an immediate two-line, “Thanks for writing me back. I’ll be in touch with questions,” response in favor of one with a specific ask.
Target in on your goal—building a connection, learning about the company this person works for—and come up with a few questions he or she could answer for you. Asking someone, “What’s it like working at [company name]?” or “What advice would you give someone transitioning from the nonprofit to for-profit sector?” will provide more natural fodder for a response than, “Any career advice for me?” (too open-ended) or “Can you introduce me to [a high-powered connection]?” (too large an ask).
Much like in an interview, your questions will allow you to demonstrate both your thoughtfulness and how much homework you did (i.e., that you aren’t there to waste your new connection’s time).
3. Don’t Get Too Personal
LinkedIn messages can sneakily trick you into being less professional than you would be otherwise. For one, it’s still a social media platform (one that’s even taken to emailing about contact’s birthdays). Second, people can seem chattier over messages than they might if you were sitting across from them in business attire.
I recently made this mistake. I had someone contact me on behalf of a company, and she then treated me so discourteously that I wondered whether it was even a real position, or if it was merely a ploy to get some free ideas via a so-called job application. I reached out to a LinkedIn contact to see if suggesting someone would soon start on a project then blatantly ignoring her was “company culture or hiring procedures” but it was really just me airing my disappointment, which in the end made me look unprofessional. Lesson learned.
4. Stay Focused on Your Ultimate Goal
Hearing back from a new contact is a great feeling, but one message isn’t your end game. Whether it’s establishing new contacts in your industry or occasionally asking advice from someone who has been there before, your goal will require (semi-) regular communication. Therefore, along with writing a great follow-up message, you’ll want to continue to stay in touch. Here are a few guidelines for reaching out periodically and keeping your relationship from growing cold.
LinkedIn is a great way to connect with new personal contacts. As long as you keep in mind that all of your communication—not just your first message—should demonstrate your professionalism, you’ll be able to build out your network in no time.