LinkedIn: Wider or Deeper?

This is a question I have posed to our LinkedIn group.

As previously recorded in this blog, I have always connected only with people I’ve actually met. If I received a connection request from somebody I hadn’t met, I would invite them to meet up. This tactic always worked extremely well and resulted in a number of new instructions. However, perhaps it’s time to revaluate because more recently, I’ve noticed a significant drop-off in its effectiveness.

A cup of tea.

Fancy a cuppa?

Some of those sending a connection request don’t bother to respond at all. Of those that do, about half say that they were only looking to expand their networks (and so, the implication is, they can’t be bothered to meet face to face – what’s that about? And of the last 5 that have arranged to meet, 3 have not shown up. One I never heard from again, one said there was some diary confusion at their end and this morning I wasted 75 minutes on somebody who told me that I hadn’t confirmed the meeting. This despite a chain of emails in which we’d narrowed the options to one date, time and location.

What is this, a transatlantic flight? Do I have to re-confirm meetings?

So I’m wondering how you use LinkedIn. Do you use it to strengthen ties with people you know? Do you use it to connect with people you don’t? And if the latter, does it bother you whether you have actually met and had a meaningful conversation with that person or not?

Am I the last person to treat LinkedIn as online support for real networking as opposed to a business Facebook? Because it’s really starting to feel that way.

Well, I’m not going to change the way I use LinkedIn. Save for the fact that when I receive connection requests in future, instead of inviting the person out to coffee, I’m simply going to ask them to confirm whether we’ve met and if not, why we should. Maybe it’s a consequence of approaching middle age but really, I just don’t have the time or the patience for this charade anymore.

Wider vs. Deeper

I had another chance to examine the wider v deeper debate over LinkedIn usage in the last week, this time with a connection – Jeff Fitzpatrick. Jeff is a well-known entrepreneur and investor with particular expertise in ‘turnaround’.  He and I connected a few years ago in connection with his Eco-Panel business.

It’s fair to say that Jeff is an advocate of ‘wider’ whereas dear reader, you will know by now that I favour ‘deeper’.  I suspect it is related to the introvert/extrovert personality traits.  But it got me to thinking, ought I to be making better use of LinkedIn to connect with the contacts of the dim and distant past?

Last night, I was fiddling around with my iPad whilst watching telly I noticed the ‘import contacts’ tool.  I had seen it before, but thinking about it, I wondered whether I might use it to find connections from my personal gmail account.  Boy, did I. I have added about 30 connections in the 12 hours that have passed, some of which are clients that I had long forgotten about but whom I’m delighted to see are still going strong.  There are probably quite a few people who had connection requests from me and are thinking to themselves ‘who the hell is this guy’, but I hope they don’t regard my requests as spam.  After all, we must have corresponded at some point.

I guess this is an exception to the rule.  An example of where wider and deeper can be the same thing.

Networking Vs. Sales (or Trouble With Brian) – UPDATED

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A year or so ago, I wrote a blogpost describing the rule I have for accepting (or sending) connection requests on LinkedIn.  You probably missed it, but you can still read it here – it’s not a long one so it won’t take you long.

Over the weekend, I received a number of bog-standard LinkedIn connection invitations, as I usually do.  One of these invitations was from somebody that I’ll call Brian (though his name is actually Gary T. O’Neill of Nationwide Van Centre).

I replied to Brian in the usual form, explaining that I only connect with folks I have actually met or with whom I have developed a relationship even though we may never have met in person, blah blah.  If you are one of the people that I now count as a connection even though we first made contact via LinkedIn, you’ll be familiar with the words.  I always indicate that I would be delighted to meet, though in some circumstances, when I check the profile of the person sending the invitation, I can’t see just what I could do to help them with their business or they with mine.  Such was the case with Brian, so I concluded my reply with the following:

“Having looked at your profile, I’m not sure there’s a great deal I can do to help you with your business, but if you’d like to meet properly, I’d be very happy to have a chat over a cuppa and will gladly accept your invitation thereafter. “

After all, I don’t think a pointless meeting does anybody any good – and that’s coming from someone who subscribes to the chaos theory of networking.

Mostly, people then recognise the value in a meeting and often good things come from those meetings.  Occasionally, somebody ‘fesses up to a spam invitation, apologises and we move on.  But on a couple of occasions, somebody tries to justify what they are doing as “networking”.  About 6 months ago, for example, I had this from a woman at an office supplies place:

“No we haven’t met but I thought that was the point of linkedin to get your company known to other members. You never know if you wanted more space or need a room separated we could do that for you of if you were to relocate or wanted glass partitions with your logo on. So as I said never say never.”

No, that’s not the point of LinkedIn.  That’s the point of advertising.

AND this was after I had mentioned to her that my firm is office-less, secretary-less and paperless.  So it wasn’t really very likely that we would need logo-printed glass partitions.

But last night I received this from Brian:

“Hi Matthew, 

I asked my sales administrator to look at some law firms on here for some advise. 

We are launching a new asset finance side to the business.He probably just added them instead of doing his homework. 

I know some people dont use this for networking or recriprocal business. 

Sorry to have bothered you. 

Regards Brian” 

“Some people don’t use this for networking or reciprocal business.”  Well, that’s EXACTLY what I use it for.  But what Brian was doing was using the banner of networking to camouflage a spam campaign.  He hadn’t even looked at my profile.  He couldn’t possibly know whether I would have anything in common with him or not.  If he had, he would see that my business would have absolutely no need of asset finance and that in all likelihood, his business would not fit our typical client profile.

I came as close as I have ever come to clicking the “report for spam” link after “ignore“.  What I did instead was take him up on his networking and reciprocal business point and then I clicked “I don’t know Gary“. Er, Brian.

Building networks is not about making sales to the person next to you.  It’s about learning about what that person does, what s/he needs and then trying to help them remedy those needs either from yourself or from someone else within your network.  And if you’re lucky, they may be able to do the same for you.  The process can take years to come to fruition.

Networking is not spamming lots of people you don’t know in the hope that someone will see what it is you do just when they’ve realised they have a need for that particular thing.

That is called “sales”.

***

Well, it seems Brian didn’t take kindly to my suggestion that he rethinks his strategy for the use of LinkedIn.  This was his reply:

“As I said I asked my sales admin to find me a firm for legal advise. They added you by mistake. 

Also the networking definition is 
The exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business !!! 

To be frank your clearly being a little bit touchy over this issue. 
Keep yourself secret and good luck 
If your really that bothered report me for Spam. I could not care less 
To be honest I have found a law firm that’s interested in my business.

l am taking my ball away to play with someone else,your giving me a headache.”

Now, it could be argued that a man struggling with grammer to this extent would be well-advised to leave the management of his social media to another.  But that, I think, would be to miss the point, which is that networking is the connecting of entities and in the case of LinkedIn, those entities are individual people, not organisations.

Here was my reply:

“Well OK… except, of course, that I did offer to meet with you, as I do with everybody that sends me an invitation. So the pretext of looking for a law firm seems a bit thin. 

And I don’t believe that the dictionary definition you proffer justifies the strategy you have adopted. Having a sales assistant blindly send invitations to every law firm s/he can find on LinkedIn hardly counts as “the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.” 

#justsaying”

As to Brian’s new law firm, I say good luck to them.  We love our clients and our clients love us.  I don’t think I could love Brian…

My LinkedIn Rule

Here’s my rule for connecting on LinkedIn.  It works really well for me, so perhaps it might work for you.  

I only connect with people that I have met physically or with whom I have some kind of substantial if physically remote connection.  That means everyone in my LinkedIn network is somebody I actually know, not just another name on a list.  And if I know them, that means they probably remember who I am… hopefully.  

My rule also means that when I receive connection requests from folks I haven’t met, there’s a good excuse to suggest a face to face, which means I get to do two things I love. (1) Meet somebody new with whom to talk business.  (2) Drink cappuccino in a cafe and call it work.

As far as I’m concerned, the purpose of a network is to connect people I know with other people I know to the benefit of both.  Sometimes, one of those people might be me, but the power of a network lies in the ability of the person at its core to act as a useful intermediary.  Where possible, I’d prefer to do this face to face, but where that’s not possible, in my experience there’s no better tool to use than LinkedIn.

The strap line for our legal practice, Particular C&L is “finding ways to get stuff done”.  Competing for sheer numbers of “friends” is for teenagers.

Bad News, Good News

Since the arrival of the coalition 9 or so months ago, I have been getting increasingly fed up with the tone of much of the media towards the changes that are being forced through.  When I write “media”, I mean, by and large, the Newcastle Journal and it’s online publication, www.nebusiness.co.uk.

Now, I must confess, as a some time columnist and blogger for the Journal, generally I am a supporter of it as a publication.  Indeed, at my insistence, BHP’s Darlington office is still a subscriber to the paper, Monday to Friday.  It’s fantastic to have a strong regional paper that has a focus that is utterly divorced from London.  But the anti-coalition propaganda in the news pages, which is rarely coupled with an equivalent balancing view, has really been getting on my wick recently.  I know that the north east is very reliant on public spending, and that wasn’t helped by the policies of the last government and some of the activities of ONE Northeast.  But you kinda have to get to a point eventually where you say, ‘let’s just get on with it’, don’t you?

I’ll give you one example.  A couple of weeks ago, there was a 2 page spread in the Journal about Vince Cable ordering the sell off of half a dozen or so patches of real estate, mostly in and around Tyneside.  It’s funny how these policies seemed to be ordered by Vince Cable.  Sometimes I wonder how he has the time.  Perhaps because he’s spent most of his life working in the private sector.  Anyway, the article listed sites like what was Westgate House, the Tyne Tower, a business park or two, and so on.  They were described as “the jewels in the crown”, which I thought was a funny way to describe relatively plain patches of land in a region that includes Durham Cathedral, the Sage, Hadrian’s Wall and all sorts of other wonderful places.

At the foot of the article, there was a box that listed these jewels and the buyers that were being lined up, most of whom were other public sector organisations (for example, Gateshead Council, which was apparently going to be acquiring the Tyne Tower).  So actually, these sites weren’t about to be sold off to the highest bidder, but were to remain in public ownership.

But even if they were to be sold off to the highest bidder: what would be wrong with that?  A very dear friend of mine who is a big noise at one of the region’s most prominent ‘grey sector’ organisations (the grey sector being organisations that are notionally private sector but rely for most if not all of their income on public funding) said to me a couple of months ago that we really must try to prevent the government from selling off ONE Northeast’s property portfolio because we can’t let the region lose these valuable assets.  Why?  What’s going to happen if we do?

Had we not knocked Westgate House down, perhaps it would have sailed off down the Tyne and eventually rocked up on the Norwegian shore.  Some American investor might perhaps have uprooted the Tyne Tower and carted it off to Texas, leaving a gaping hole in the ground and perhaps exposing the earth’s mantle beneath (just imagine the health and safety implications).  Coming from East Anglia, this is a subject that is close to my heart.  On the Today Programme this very morning, there was a piece about the evaporation of peat from the fens (well, not evaporation as such, it just dries and blows into the Wash).  Then there are the beaches of Norfolk and Suffolk that drift inevitably towards the Thames estuary.  In the North East though, money is tight and land is in short supply, hence the furore.

But friends, have I just started to notice a change in the editorial tone at The Journal?  On Monday, the lead in the business pages was the appointment of Paul Walker as chairman of the North East LEP.  Today, there’s another piece about Ray Mallon and Steve Gibson proposing an enterprise zone or two for Teesside.  Now THAT is what I call a public/private partnership.  Perhaps, just perhaps, as things start to develop, we can start to comment on what’s going to happen, not perpetually hark back to an era that’s been lost.  That would be so much more constructive.

What I do blame the current administration for is the limbo that we’ve all been left in since September.  Ever since party conference season, the Cuts have been the default lead news item, occasionally being displaced by the liberation of Egypt or the cocaine habit of a soap opera star.  This ill-planned approach left us with a 6 week hole in the autumn until George Osborne unveiled his plans at the end of October, during which time the economy ground to a halt.  Genius.  And then we found that actually he didn’t really have concrete plans yet.  We are going to have to wait for the detail.  Fabulous.  So in the 6 months since, we’ve been bombarded with neverending whinging about how this programme is too valuable to lose to the Cuts, or that institution will have to close because of the Cuts.

Despite the valiant words of Ed Miliband, this is not a party politics matter.  I may be a free market supporter, but I am not a Tory.  In fact, I only voted Tory for the first time in my life last time because I was so desperate to see anyone but Labour win Darlington.  Although I have to say in the last few months, our Jenny has started to grow on me (don’t tell Mr Wharton that).  And not so much like a fungus, either.  If it wasn’t Vince that was ordering the sell off, someone else would have had to.  And before we forget, just what was ONE Northeast doing acquiring all that land in the first place?  And having acquired Westgate House and knocked it down, much to the delight of Kevin McLeod, did they actually have any plans for the site?  Because it still looks like piles of rubble to me, and we’re now, what, four years or so on from its demolition?  As ever, I don’t mean to criticse.  I only enquire and comment…

Information Commissioner to Break Cookie Addiction (official)

Interesting interview with Information Commissioner Christopher Graham on @R4Today about the new ePrivacy laws coming in later this year that will require explicit consent for gathering data to be used for contextual online advertising or similar purposes.  Chiefly, this relates to cookies and although cookies used to gather data for shopping baskets will be fine, other cookie-ism will require permission, the theory being that websites will collect potentially “sensitive personal data” (as defined by the Data Protection Act) automatically and without the explicit permission required for this kind of activity.

Unfortunately for the Information Commissioner, his role has been somewhat undermined by comments by government minister Ed Vaizey who said that the ICO would not be prosecuting businesses in the short term while they try to work out just what the heck they’re supposed to be doing with their online activities in order to comply with the new law.

Stand by for a barrage of alarmist articles from lawyers hoping to win instructions to advise on compliance issues.  Despite all the jumping up and down, the fact is that businesses very rarely get prosecuted for failing to comply with data protection laws and those that do are usually guilty of the most egregious failings known to humanity.  Similarly, I can’t remember ever hearing of anyone being prosecuted for failing to comply with the requirements of the e-Commerce Directive (which includes having to list  your business’s street address on your website, together with the identities of any trade or professional associations you might be a member of).  So honestly, don’t panic.  Keep an eye on http://www.ico.gov.uk and look out for examples of good practice.