Networking ain’t what it used to be. Hand shakes, hand-written notes, and a Rolodex sound like ancient history. But with all the obvious advantages of email, LinkedIn, and social media connections come one major downside: the risk of coming off like a creeper looms high at every turn.
It’s important to send the right message, especially on LinkedIn. The social network crossed the 500 million user mark in 2017, and according to the company’s Ultimate List of Hiring Stats, more than 75 percent of people who recently changed jobs used LinkedIn to inform their switch.
That all begs the question: What’s the proper networking etiquette online? Here are a few ways to maximize impact and minimize creep:
Start On the Right Foot
Connections without context are no good. Connecting with someone who doesn’t know who you are may expand your network, but it’ll do little to brighten your career prospects. So, rule number one: If you’re connecting on LinkedIn and you haven’t met before (whether that’s in person or over the phone), or you’ve met but there’s even a slight chance the other person won’t remember you, send a quick personal note with your invitation.
Briefly introduce yourself and explain why you want to connect. It may be that you’re fascinated by their job title and industry, and want to see their experience and insights. Or you may be interested in getting hired at their company or in their industry and you want to set up an informational interview. Either way, don’t slide into their connections without introducing yourself first.
Strike the Right Tone
When you reach out, be transparent but not desperate. It’s OK to state your intention upfront, just do so politely and unassumingly. For example:
I just graduated UofX and I'm interested in starting a career in marketing. I came upon [company] while researching jobs on LinkedIn and would love to learn more about the company and your role. Would you be willing to talk sometime in the next week to share a little bit about your experience?
Looking forward to hearing from you,
Also, don’t make it weird. If you’re going to connect, don’t apologize for it. Starting a note off with “Not to be that person who messages you on LinkedIn...” or “Sorry to bother you, but...” will make the person on the other end cringe. Approach confidently, but be mindful of the other person’s perspective. For example, take into account whether they are more or less senior than you. If it’s more, show deference and be super respectful of their time and experience.
Finally, be you—professional-ish you. LinkedIn is professional but not that professional. Intros are less formal than they’d be on email, so it’s OK to write short messages that get to the point. Quasi-cover letters and unsolicited job applications, on the other hand, are not welcome.
Share Good Content
If you have connections, you have an audience. Take that opportunity to post interesting and insightful content you find online. Think of what you post as part of your online “brand.” And to that end, before you post, ask yourself, is this on-brand? Would I roll my eyes at this or click on it if someone else posted it?
Sharing content gets you on connections’ feeds, which is a nice way to remind them that you exist, and to entice them to refresh themselves on what it is that you do by clicking through to your profile.
Not sharing content means people may—sorry, but—forget about you and will only find you from search or when they have a reason to look at your profile. Worse, spamming your connections with an overflow of poorly thought-out posts may render you persona non grata in their network.
When other people post good content, like it or leave a comment. People pay attention to who likes their posts. This is another subtle way to remind them that you exist, so that if and when you do reach out, it’s not weird.
Fill Out Your Profile
The only thing worse than an internet ghost (no online presence) is an internet outline (internet presence but scant details). If your profile has no picture, lacks information or connections, or has no summary, you’ll raise eyebrows among connections. Be sure to:
Write a solid summary. Aim to convey your current role and your general career aspirations in a line or two.
Upload a headshot.
Fill out the basics. Where you’re based, your education, and previous jobs are a must.
Reviews and endorsements are gifts. Reciprocate them! It’s not weird to ask someone to leave you a review, but if you do, leave one back as a courtesy. If someone leaves you an unsolicited review, return the favor. The same applies to skills endorsements. This builds goodwill among close connections (the ones who know you well enough to leave a review or endorse you) and improves the impression your profile imparts on less-familiar connections.
Networking norms change so fast it can be hard to stay on top of what’s kosher and what’s not. But, these tips can help you build and manage a social media presence with meaningful connections you can leverage when you need to (without being creepy!).