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

STOP PRESS – Scroll down for the latest…

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.