LinkedIn Connections Explained

linkedin-connections-explained

This is part two of a four part series on LinkedIn. Catch yesterday’s post on building the perfect LinkedIn profile and be sure to return tomorrow when we discus the importance of groups on LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is about connecting with people.

You will connect with colleagues, former colleagues, people that you meet at networking events, and people you share common interests with. You’ll also, almost inevitably, connect with some people that you’ve never met before. Sometimes these people will turn out to be great contacts in your network, and other times they’ll turn out to be spammers, salespeople, and very selfish sharers.

Avoiding these sorts of people is one way that you can improve your LinkedIn experience. Indeed, knowing who and when to connect with on LinkedIn is a key to optimizing your use of the social network. In this post we’ll explain what connections you definitely need to make, and which ones you should consider – or even definitely – avoid.

First, though, let’s start with the basics

LinkedIn Connections Explained

Before we get too deep into who to connect with and who to avoid, let’s go over the notion of connecting in the first place.

Every social network has their own term for referring to the people with whom you have made a link. On Facebook it is all about friends. On Twitter and Instagram the term is followers. And on LinkedIn the term is connection.

While similar in nature, all of these actually represent different levels of networking.

A Facebook friend is not necessarily someone that you’ve met more than once, and perhaps maybe just crossed paths with at a social occasion once. Having hundreds or even thousands of Facebook friends does not signify any efforts towards networking, and might only signal a person who refuses to say no to even the most random friend request.

A Twitter or Instagram follower is someone who has access to your public tweets or images. Assuming that your social media account is public, a follower doesn’t need your approval to follow your Twitter stream or Instagram feed. There’s no real connection here and, while direct messaging is possible if you both follow the other’s Twitter account, the networks are not made for networking.

LinkedIn, though, is different. A connection on LinkedIn has to approve your request to connect, much like Facebook. Additionally, though, before you even submit your connection request you must justify to LinkedIn how you know the person you wish to connect with. Is it via a common work experience? A common university or high school? Are you friends? Without a justification LinkedIn will likely explain that it will not let you connect. What’s more, even when you do know the person as a friend, you might be prompted for their email address – LinkedIn is not going to take your word for it.

For these reasons, a LinkedIn connection is a lot closer to a professional connection than either a Facebook friend or a Twitter follower. It remains a social network, but the connections are more serious, require more reflection from both parties, and are acceptable only when a relationship of some sort already exists between the pair.

Connections You Should Make

So who should you be connecting with?

There are three groups of people that should definitely be on your list: your company, your email contacts, and connections you make via groups. Here’s why and how to get those connections made.

Company Connections

The number one group of connections you should make are those within your own company. This is important for a few different reasons.

First, these are the people that you are working with everyday. They know you well, will be enthusiastic about endorsing and recommending you, and if you’ll find that their interests will often overlap with yours – you are in the same industry after all.

Second, company connections mean that you’ll have a chance to connect with people with significant influence that you might otherwise not be able to add to your virtual Rolodex. The company CEO, the CTO, anyone on the C-suite, really, is just a quick click of the mouse away.

Third, when it comes time to look for that new job you can bet recruiters are going to consider how well integrated you are in your current team. No one wants to hire someone who doesn’t work well with their colleagues, so get ahead of the curve and connect with your workmates today to open doors for tomorrow.

Contact List

Part of LinkedIn’s onboarding process includes a request to connect your email contacts with LinkedIn. When you do, LinkedIn will send an automatic contact request to anyone in your list that you choose to keep ‘checked’, speeding up significantly the time it takes to get to LinkedIn’s minimum recommendation of 50 connections. Honestly, if someone is important enough to be sending email to, they are probably close enough to add as a connection on LinkedIn. However, it is worth going through the list carefully before blasting hundreds of people with connection requests. For one thing there may be people or organizations that you don’t particularly want to connect with on LinkedIn like the utility company, a distant family member, or a student you tutored in math. For another, some of those emails in your not-so-organized Gmail account probably all go to the same person, and it is not very professional to shoot an invitation to connect to the same person at four different addresses. Do add your email contacts to build up your connections quickly, but do so with a little oversight.

Groups

As you begin to take advantage of LinkedIn you’ll start joining LinkedIn Groups. Groups will be the focus of tomorrow’s post but, in simple terms, Groups are a way for people with common interests to share, network, and learn from each other on LinkedIn. For example, people who are interested in online marketing might join the Online Marketing Group and exchange with others on all things digital, content, and social. Group members can request to add each other as connections even if there are no formal or existing ties between the two users – this is an enormous benefit when looking to add people who might benefit your career in your chosen field. By the same token, accepting the connection requests of Group members can help you expand your network in industry or interest specific ways, another benefit. In short, adding connections through groups is a perfect way to expand your network, improve your reach, and connect with others working on similar challenges to you.

Connections You Should Think Twice About

Nobody should automatically reject connection requests that come from certain groups; rejecting potential connections without reviewing their individual merits is likely to lead to missed sales, lost opportunities, and a professional life that is less rich than it could be. So instead of explaining which connection requests you should always avoid, here are three groups of people for whom you should think twice when that LinkedIn notification flashes on your smartphone.

High School Buddies

Some of the people you went to high school with have probably made some amazing careers for themselves. Successful, enterprising, and near the top of their field, a connection request from one of these former classmates is one to quickly jump on.

But then there are the other high school buddies of yours.

You know, the ones that never really got a real job, content to let life slide by. The ones whose Facebook photos you occasionally glance at to remind yourself of what could happen if you lost it all overnight. The ones whose predilection for seeing the world as in the early stages of a race war have you feeling uncomfortable just reading the latest status update.

Yeah, those ‘buddies’.

It’s important to always keep in mind that LinkedIn is your professional social profile and that, yes, you are judged by those you associate with. Believe us when we tell you that people have lost jobs because their LinkedIn connections explained “everything an employer had to know” about them.

So choose carefully which connection requests you accept from people you haven’t seen since that reunion 4 years ago. As the saying goes, LinkedIn is not Facebook – keep things professional when it comes to accepting or sending out connection requests.

Unknown People with Impressive Sales Credentials

LinkedIn is not Tumblr.

LinkedIn gathers more than 350 million people in one place, and almost all of them have jobs and, with it, some level of disposable income. It brings together most US executives, and managers and decision makers from around the world.

Is it any surprise, then, that LinkedIn is prime hunting ground for the sals people of the world?

It won’t be long before you are approached by someone you don’t know looking to connect with you. If you click through to their profile – you can see the extended profile of anyone who requests to join your network – you’ll likely be impressed by an A-grade profile. A great smiling face in the profile image, a direct and to-the-point summary, a bunch of recommendations and endorsements and…ah, there it is, right under the word experience.

It’s a salesperson.

While it is possible that this salesperson really wants you in their network so that you can share with each other, mentor each other, and help the other move up in their career, it is far more likely that your new LinkedIn connection request represents the first step in a sales strategy that will turn you from confused potential connection to confirmed customer. Accept these requests with caution, and the moment you get a message inviting you to spend $1000 on the latest in digital marketing, disconnect.

Spam Connections

OK, so maybe there is one group that you should always reject after all.

It used to be that spam connections on the internet arrived via email and from a Nigerian Prince with cash to burn (in exchange for your credit card details or a large Western Union transfer, of course). Today the spam has evolved and finding a spam account reaching out to you on LinkedIn is a regular part of using the network.

LinkedIn do what they can to counter the spam accounts an all users can report a spam account when it reaches out. It takes only a few clicks of the mouse to send the details of the account to the customer service department and – finest crossed – ensure that the spammer is quickly barred from the network.

Unfortunately, just as it is easy for you to create an account on LinkedIn with nothing more than an email, it’s just as easy for a spammer to do the same. Keep your eyes open, review each connection request as it arrives for the value it will bring you and your network, and if you get a connection request from President Barack Obama and you aren’t a US Senator, double check to make sure it isn’t spam.

Conclusion

LinkedIn connections explained in a single phrase? How about ‘add professional value’.

Before you send or accept a connection request, make sure that it will add value to your network, to the network of the person you seek to connect to, and that it does so in a professional way. If someone wants to connect, make sure they are bringing something – experience, connections, a network – to your table, and seek to add that same sort of value to others. LinkedIn is the professional network, and its important that like any business network you maintain the same sort of standards you have offline when you’re online.

Got your own connections advice? Let us know in comments below or on Twitter!

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