LinkedIn…your best online networking friend
I have been thinking for the last 3-4 years, ‘Social networking is for the kids’. When it comes to business I have been constantly sceptical about web 2.0 in spite of being signed up to Facebook, Ecademy, Plaxo, You Tube and My Space. Being heavily involved in offline real live networking I felt I ought to join but with no real expectation or conviction.
If you accept networking is building relationships which has 3 fundamental stages of knowing, liking and trusting then I challenge every advocate of social networking by asking, ‘How can you create mutual liking and trusting through the medium of the internet and the keyboard?’
Liking and trusting
Once you’ve got to know someone it needs face-to-face contact to see if you like them. See the colour of the eyes, feel the firmness of the handshake, glow in the reflection of the smile and feel comfortable with the body language. It’s through these interactions that we can decide if we like someone to move the relationship forward. We build rapport through topics of common interest, listening carefully, showing genuine interest in your new-found contact and generally finding out how the other person ticks. Trust takes time to build, so I have been saying this relationship building simply can’t be done online. If it’s only online how can you possibly get to really know someone?
LinkedIn – your best online friend
So why have I become a raving fan of this particular online system? Simply because Reid Hoffman the founder, in 2003, has come up with a process as near as makes no difference to real live networking. It’s hard enough keeping track of your own network but without LinkedIn you have no chance whatsoever finding out who your network knows!For the last 3/ 4 years I have been shouting, “For it to really work you need to have built an offline relationship in the first instance”. Well I am now a convert! I now accept a relationship can be started online and then progress from there. The information LinkedIn makes available and the use of testimonials substantially reduces the risk of building a relationship with the ‘wrong sort of person’.
The first principle of networking
This relates to the Law of Reciprocity. When you have a generous spirit and a giving nature you will be rewarded. Go through life asking, ‘How can I help you?’ ‘Who would be a good referral for you?’ ‘Tell me what type of challenge you have and let’s see how I can support you?’ are just 3 questions you should be asking people around you. People like you more and then you should have no hesitation in asking others to help you.
Consider when you’re asked for help, how do you feel? Wanted, important, valued? And after we have been able to help we feel good about ourselves. This all results in the building of even stronger relationships.
This is where Linkedin works. It has many benefits and uses, but let’s focus firstly on its contact and referral system. In a world of 6.6 billion people, it does seem hard to believe but the theory of six degrees of separation contends that, because we are all linked by chains of acquaintance, we are just six introductions away from any other person on the planet.
How it all works
Forget 6 degrees; LinkedIn use 3 (they call them levels) and unless you’re going to live and work until you’re over 200 you won’t need more!
Let me explain how it all works.
You join the LinkedIn club and either ask people to join your network or they invite you into theirs. They become connections in the Linkedin world.
These become your level 1 connections. You can then see who their contacts are; they become your level 2 connections. After you have done some homework you can then search their contacts- they become your level 3 connections.
To emphasise the power of the numbers let me give you my network statistics at the end of 2008.I have 173 level 1 contacts. That leads me to 55000+ level 2 connections and wait for it 4,250,400+ level 3 connections. I told you 3 degrees were enough! In fact level 2 will see me out!
When you know, like and trust level 1 connections they will want to help you and vice-versa. This means you can check out their contacts to see if you’d like an introduction. If there is a genuine relationship with your degree 1 person they will open the door for you.
4 Personal Examples of the benefits of using LinkedIn
I ran a networking skills training workshop and one of the delegates (let’s call him Colin – level 1) wrote to say he saw I was on LinkedIn and would I join his network. I had signed up to LinkedIn nearly 5 years ago but like most people I have met, did nothing with my profile or use it. I must have had 10 minutes to spare so, on a impulse decided to look at his network (level 2). And there she was! Let’s call her Mary, who was a partner in a big law firm we’d been trying to get an introduction to.
Email from Will to Colin
Colin, delighted to join your network. I see you know Mary; please would you be kind enough to ask her if she’d take my call as we may be able to do business?
Email Colin to Mary
Mary, hope you’re well. I went on this networking course which you may find useful. Please would you take a call from Will Kintish to see if there could be the start of a business relationship?
Email from Mary to Colin
Good to hear from you. I know of Kintish as I went on one of his courses. I suggest he calls Celia our head of training and mention my name. (I was copied in)
Email from me to Celia
Can I introduce myself and ask if you would meet or take a call etc etc.
Celia and I are now moving the relationship forward so we can help with networking skills training next year.I see it as simple as this. Ask the people you know to introduce you to the people they know and who you’d like to meet. This presupposes you know who you want to meet! In other words for LinkedIn to work effectively, you need to know who you need to know! Without going into detail the answers are all in peoples’ profiles which is a critical part of the system.
James ( level 1) a good client and someone always recommending our services notices I have in my network David ( my level 1) who he’d like an introduction to. At this point I thought I don’t know David but hey let’s go for it!
Email from me to David
David, in the spirit of networking I’d like to introduce you to James and ask if you’ll take a call from him.
Email from David to James (in other words bypassing me)
James, give me a call and let’s have a coffee
Will business ensue? Who knows but I have been able to repay James a little and got him in front of a senior member of a major company. Why did David respond when I don’t think we really know each other? Could it be we’re simply ‘in the same club’?
Another benefit of the Linkedin system is being able to ask people questions where they may have a greater knowledge of a subject than you. I asked my 162 contacts about e-based learning software and got around 18 replies. And that was over the Christmas holidays.
LinkedIn has come up with the great idea of encouraging connections to give testimonials to each other which then become public. LinkedIn call them recommendations. I am proud to say I have quite a few which we can also add to our website and other marketing.
I gave a testimonial to a very famous entrepreneur who is one of the pioneers of online networking for no other reason than I felt he genuinely deserved it.
And what did I get shortly afterwards? The man who is a great networker and understands the Law of Reciprocity took action and returned the favour with the most amazing and very valuable testimonial. LinkedIn’s system even encourages you to reciprocate if you receive a recommendation.
Warnings and caution
There are people out there in cyberspace who seem to collect names and grow their network simply for the sake of it. LinkedIn even have a name for them; LIONS –LinkedIn Open Networkers.
In real life we are or should be careful who we connect with, who we do business with and most importantly who we introduce to whom and who we recommend. Using this software should be approached with the same caution. If someone invites me to join their network and I don’t know them I either graciously decline or ask why they want to connect.
There are some people in the system who do not show or share their contacts; they don’t follow the key principles of networking, I believe there are 2 key skills to being a really effective networker and these transfer perfectly when using LinkedIn;
1. Ask the right questions. This relates to searching the powerful database and when you need some help. Be as specific as possible, in other words make it easy for people to help you.
2. Get your timings right. Yes, be persistent but don’t pester people. Everyone is busy and your request for help may not be at the top of their ‘to do’ list. Depending on your relationship maybe a second nudge for an introduction could be relevant; after that let it go! On the other hand when people ask you for help treat it as a priority and watch the help come back. You’ll find it’s not always the people we help are those who help us but in the grand scheme of things ‘what goes around comes around’!
LinkedIn is a global networking club and when you master all it’s uses it can make it a big difference to your business. For me the benefits are:
1. When you use it actively and with a positive frame of mind you become part of a very large and valuable network. Being part of the same club means members tend to keep in touch with each other and the system will update your current situation and contact points
2. You build your own brand when you use the profile page carefully. This tells the LinkedIn world who you are, what your business is all about, what services you have available and how people rate you. It’s great marketing and profile raising to 30m+ people in the same club!
3. You have the best referral system possible, again when you approach it professionally
4. You have many people to whom you can give your advice or get advice from. This is available when you use the ‘answers’ section.
5. You can set up your own network club within LinkedIn where you find issues of common interest. LinkedIn call them groups.
6. You can find new advisors and suppliers. Using your network and the testimonial section you can check out these people first. This is no different when you’re in the pub and you ask someone to recommend a reliable builder.
7. When you’re in a bigger organisation it is a great tool to find out more about colleagues across other divisions or even countries. Visibility creates more success in big companies and when you put an effective profile up, who knows who will find you and what benefits it might bring?
8. IT’S FREE! Unless you want to use certain features many more times than the average user, yes it’s free. Even after that the costs are not high.
It has other valuable uses too, which, at the moment I won’t be using. Here they are.
1. Find a job. I believe this was the reason LinkedIn was created.
2. Find a new employee. Tons of useful information if you want to check out peoples’ employment history.
3. Find investors and business angels.
LinkedIn is simply one enormous community database, brilliantly constructed by someone who knows all about offline ‘real live’ networking and who has created something as close as possible to add to, enhance and augment your face-to face networking.
Careful though, it becomes very addictive! Once you start looking you see Jack knows Jill and then, oh look, Jill knows Mary. Ahaa, Mary has a little lamb and I need to get into the shepherding business and so on!
Unless you’re In, come and get LinkedIn; we all need all the help we can get in these challenging times.
The author of this article is Will Kintish, leading UK authority on effective and confident networking. If you’d like Will to speak at your conference or in-house training workshops, call him on 0161 773 3727.
Visit www.kintish.co.uk for further free and valuable information on all aspects of networking
© Copyright Will Kintish 2009