You’ve gotten past the fear of rejection and embarrassment of putting yourself out there, and now you’re ready to learn how to network on LinkedIn. You’re ready to level-up your professional network, secure job opportunities, and move your career forward.
There’s just one problem. You’re not sure about the appropriate approach to take once you’ve found a person (or people) you want to connect with. Should you get personal or straight to the point? Should you leverage shared connections in your initial outreach? Is it best to ask for permission before sending links you want connections to click through?
There’s a lot to think about. However, a good place to start is with the goal of networking, which is to cultivate productive relationships for employment or business.
With that in mind, there is no right or wrong way to network on LinkedIn and make valuable connections, but there are best practices. And, many of them are the same tested strategies professional speakers, like me, use to connect with their audiences.
As you’re learning how to network on LinkedIn, here are some things you should always aim to do, and several things you should always avoid.
DO: Read the Room (or Profile)
Before you begin the process of reaching out to someone on LinkedIn, it’s a good idea to do a little research on them. You don’t need to go much farther than their LinkedIn profile to get valuable intel.
Take a look at the tone of their page. Is it informal or scholarly? Does it include personal information or is it strictly professional? Is the profile picture serious or lighthearted? Understanding the tone may help you decide what tone you should use in your message to them.
Social science research reveals that when people encounter others who behave similarly to themselves, they will be considered more likable, and, likability aids connection. Professional speakers will often read the room before they present to assess the audience’s mood and energy level. They do this so they can meet the audience where they are before taking the audience on a journey.
To be clear, this doesn’t mean you should change yourself to make a connection. However, matching the vibe of a person’s profile, at least initially, may help you jumpstart the relationship building process. But, as you’re learning how to network on LinkedIn, your research (and use of similarity-attraction) shouldn’t stop at assessing tone.
DO: Find a Shared Connection
As you read a person’s profile, you should be on the look out for shared connections or common affiliations. Did you attend the same conference? Did you both graduate from the same university? Do you follow similar thought leaders or volunteer for the same group?
Sometimes a shared connection is a mutual friend or colleague. These mutual affiliations are important because they help build trust, and what’s a relationship without trust? As a professional speaker, I will often do research before I hit the stage to understand as much as possible about my audience so that I can effectively highlight shared connections along the way to building rapport.
Highlighting shared connections in your communication will help create a sense of familiarity. Familiarity is important in networking on LinkedIn because it breeds trust.
DO: Make the Outreach About Them
Think about the last time you received an email or had a conversation with someone, and the person on the other end couldn’t stop talking about themselves. While the interaction may have left them feeling good, you were likely annoyed or uninterested. That’s because we’re innately wired to connect, not control.
Harvard neuroscientists have even discovered that talking about ourselves gives us the the same pleasure signals in the brain as food or money.
We evaluate whether a connection is valuable, in part, by determining if it offer two-way engagement and invites reciprocity. It’s why professional speakers, whose job is to connect with their audiences, deliberately spend less time talking about themselves than listening to their audience. It’s also why you should avoid filling up an entire LinkedIn message with talk about who you are and what you do.
Instead, put the person you hope to network with at the center of your outreach. After all, the point of networking is to build a relationship, not monopolize one.
As you’re learning how to network on LinkedIn, you can get to know more about your connections by asking them great questions. Questions not only help you gain information and insight, but they help you move conversations forward and transition from online to offline networking.
DO: Ask for Permission
If your networking goal on LinkedIn is to find customers for your product or service, then you’ll want to take the important action of asking for permission before sending links or literature. Asking for permission not only invites engagement, but it also creates an opportunity for buy-in.
Would it be ok if I send you an article about the three ways x product can help your team increase productivity?
Getting agreement from the person you are networking with informs you that the person is open, attentive and, likely, in anticipation of the value you have to share. Professional speakers often ask their audiences for permission to share advice or more ahead in a presentation. Doing so creates agreement, shares control, and improves the audience experience.
If you, however, initiate a networking exchange by sending sales material to someone who didn’t ask for them, you may come across as impersonal and intrusive and complicate your chances of fostering a valuable relationship.
DON’T: Look for Something With Nothing to Give
A cornerstone of any good relationship, whether personal or professional, is mutual benefit. The priority as you’re learning how to network on LinkedIn should not be solely focused on what you can gain from a particular connection. You must also consider what you can give.
How can you help them? How can you add value to their current situation? If you are an emerging leader or young professional, you may feel like you are not far along enough in your career to be of much help to seasoned professionals you hope to connect with. That isn’t true.
You have perspective to offer, introductions to suggest, and helpful feedback to pass along. You can also give encouragement through actively engaging on posts and articles your connections write. Be sure that you prioritize being of value as much as you focus on receiving benefits through your networking efforts.
In fact, the more you focus on serving up value to others, the easier you may find networking altogether.
DON’T: Be Afraid to Follow up
If your networking efforts don’t immediately result in dialogue or other exchanges, don’t be afraid to follow up. Sending a single message at a single moment in time may not translate to a lack of interest in connection. It could just be bad timing.
Before you check in again, though, review your initial outreach to see if you if you followed the suggestions described here. If not, be sure to retool your approach before hitting send. Also, be sure to follow up with your connections if they give you actionable advice.
Checking back in to let them know that you’ve applied their feedback helps to establish the relationship as beneficial for both parties.
The Bottom Line
Learning how to network on LinkedIn takes trial and error, and you’ll eventually find your flow, but, you don’t have to start from scratch. Take into consideration strategies professional speakers use to connect with their audiences as you figure out how to connect with professionals on LinkedIn. Before reaching out to someone you’d like to link with, be sure to read their profile as it contains valuable pieces of information that can help you tailor your approach.
If your networking goals include finding customers for your product or service, be sure not to bombard potential connections with communication that feels too self-centered. At the end of the day, remember this: relationships of all kinds, even those developed on LinkedIn, should provide value for everyone involved.
More on How to Network
- How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life
- 5 Keys to Building Networks Over Time
- How Blogging Can Help You Grow Your Professional Network
Featured photo credit: inlytics via unsplash.com
|||^||Forbes: 10 Reasons Why Networking Is Essential For Your Career|
|||^||AeroLeads: 14 LinkedIn Hacks for Pro-level Business Networking|
|||^||Psychology Today: Why Do We Like People Who Are Similar to Us?|
|||^||Fast Company: Why You Should Help Everybody Brag About Themselves|
|||^||LinkedIn: 6 Best Tips on How to Follow Up After Connecting on LinkedIn|