1. It's Not Who You Know; It's Who Knows You!
LinkedIn advises connecting only with those you know and trust — which is great if you know a lot of people. It's not so great if you're looking to meet new folks to expand your network, which is how most people are "sold" on the system and why they are using it to begin with.
Why would you need another time-consuming networking tool to stay connected with people you already know? You have relationships with them and probably keep in touch regularly via other ways and means.
Don't be surprised if you find someone you know on LinkedIn, issue an "invitation to connect," and then don't hear back from him or her. If you look closely, you may find the person set up his or her profile a long time ago, never did much of anything with it, and isn't all that active in LinkedIn anyway (if at all). Not much of a problem, then.
What is a problem is when the same person responds to your invitation with a "doesn't know" tag. Get enough of these, and LinkedIn will ban you forever. Ouch!
2. It's Not Who You Know; It's Who Wants to Know You!
LinkedIn has a defined social hierarchy. Don't act surprised. Every society has a "pecking order"; this one just happens to be online.
At the top of the hierarchy are the "open networkers." They call themselves LIONs (for "LinkedIn open networkers"). They typically have hundreds, if not thousands, of connections and advertise their openness to connecting with anyone.
This does not mean you don't have to check their profiles; your "invitation to connect" can still be rejected. But it does mean chances are good they'll accept, making it possible for you to grow your network by connecting to them. The downside is you're not likely to have a lot in common with a LION (unless you've chosen wisely), which could make building an ongoing relationship harder.
At the bottom of the hierarchy are the "closed networkers." These folks accept invitations to connect based on highly defined, known-only-to-them criteria. Approaching them is very risky. Even when you know them, have worked with them, and possibly are even close personal friends with them, they still might reject your invitation to connect. If you're lucky, they'll just ignore you. Multiple times. Your feelings might get hurt, but at least you won't score any penalty points.
If you're thinking of adding them to your network, make no assumptions. Test the waters offline before issuing an invitation to connect to be on the safe side.
In the middle is everyone else. They may or may not know you, but if you can get up the courage to send an invitation to connect, there is a 50/50 chance they'll accept, if for no other reason than the fact that you look like someone they really should know (or at least give the appearance of knowing) or the fact that they actually do know you and have decided to give you that "virtual seal of social approval." Others may accept because they have agendas of their own to pursue and you look like someone they can safely approach with them sooner or later.
Then there are the people who send you invitations to connect with them. Now you get to decide who's in and who's out. What are your standard "acceptance" criteria going to be?
3. Make a Memorable First Move.
You can approach people you don't know on LinkedIn, but if you just send the boilerplate text provided for an invitation to connect, don't expect many acceptances. Send a personal message; give them a reason to want to connect. You'll be much more successful.
4. Tell a Better Story.
Just how "attractive" are you on screen? LinkedIn is not a "meet market" for professional socializing. In fact, they only recently started letting members post photos on the site. But don't expect to see much "action" in the networking game if you haven't put much effort into your web presence.
Your professional profile tells a story about your connection-worthiness. You still have to "sell" yourself if you want to make decent connections; your "rejection" percentage will be high if you don't do a good job of it.
5. Go for Group Gold.
Does your profile read "virtual wallflower"? Check to see if you meet the criteria of specific groups or associations. Then make group connections and display your badge of acceptance (group label) on your profile. Depending on the label, your "connection" attractiveness could increase many times over.
When using social networking tools like LinkedIn, don't take anything that happens in cyberspace personally. We all hunger for belonging, acceptance, validation, and love; it's just more productive to look for these things in places other than online.
About the Author
Career advancement expert and mentor Linda M. Lopeke is a leading authority on how to succeed in the 21st century workplace and the creator of SmartStart Mentoring Programs, "success-to-go for people working @ the speed of life!" Download more free career tips and great advice at www.smartstartcoach.com.