Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Extreme Entrepreneurship Tour. My task: inspire students to consider becoming entrepreneurs. One of my pieces of advice was to expand professional social networks by joining LinkedIn. However, the following week, I received a few LinkedIn requests from people I did not know; I later realized that these people had heard my talk and seemingly followed my advice. Yikes.
Then I realized that maybe the “obvious rules” I adhere to aren’t so obvious. So here are some inherent ground rules to follow when using LinkedIn. By no means are these written in stone; just best practices I’ve picked up. Please add your own in the comments.
1) When is the correct time to add someone on LinkedIn?
I find that people have different rules when it comes to this one, but the most important aspect is a level of comfort with a person that they know you well enough to introduce you to someone else in their network. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to have formed a face-to-face relationship as so many people now work with each other exclusively online. However, some people do think multiple face-to-face interactions are prerequisite. Since the goal of LinkedIn is to grow a professional social network, the question I always ask myself before I allow someone into my network, or consider linking to someone is: Would I feel comfortable introducing this person to my colleagues? Would it reflect positively on me? Or conversely: Do I think this person would feel comfortable introducing me to his/her colleagues? What would it say about them?
2) How can I ask someone to make an introduction?
Assuming you’ve followed the first rule and only have people on your LinkedIn that you genuinely value, do some research before immediately pinging someone for an intro. Especially if you have multiple people connected to the person you’re trying to meet, make sure to ask the person who will give the warmest introduction. This may mean someone the target person has worked with for the past eight years instead of a mutual college friend from decades past. Although this seems obvious, in the rush of trying to make connections, many people overlook the extra work that goes into making the warmest introductions…but the extra few minutes will ensure a much better reception.
When you’ve done the research and chosen the best connector, just ping that person (I find that email is much better than sending a LinkedIn message which people don’t usually check right away) and ask for the intro directly. Explain why the introduction would be mutually beneficial, and be thankful before the intro is made. Think about what kind of email you’d like to receive when reaching out to make an intro. It has to be carefully written since you’re walking a thin line between asking for a small favor and terribly inconveniencing one of your contacts.
3) How much time should I spend on my profile?
Your LinkedIn profile is your online resume: it’s one of the first things that comes up when you run a Google search. As a result, you have to ask yourself a somewhat existential question: How do I wish to be perceived? This question can have different answers depending on where you are in your career: job seekers may have different profile needs than entrepreneurs looking for funding. One thing I will highly suggest is to include a professional photo in your profile. This makes you look more human and personable. Have the photo really represent who you are professionally: if you’re in the financial services industry, a headshot of you in a suit is appropriate, for those folks in social media or the arts, something more creative would be better.
Overall, the profile should reflect your career priorities and accomplishments, and should give the viewer a sense of who you are as a person. Definitely include volunteer activities, hobbies, and personal achievements on your profile.
Make sure to keep your profile current by putting a note in your calendar to update it a few times a year at least.
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