I check LinkedIn almost every day. It’s an incredible tool for keeping track of my professional network, and it’s partly responsible for changing the way I think about my career.
Thanks to connections cultivated through LinkedIn, conference speaking opportunities, job offers and important business connections have fallen in my lap. Maintaining my LinkedIn profile and keeping tabs on my professional network has been overwhelmingly beneficial to my career over the last decade.
The flipside? Almost daily, I get a random invitation to connect from a person I’ve never met. There’s no end to the list of people who want to break into the sports business, and every year, a new crop of graduates wake up in May and realize they don’t have a job lined up yet. Misguidedly, they’re firing off LinkedIn invites to random professionals without explanation and then wondering why no one’s offered them a job.
LinkedIn has also replaced the cold call for many technology vendors, especially in the crowded and burgeoning social media space. While I sympathize with their plight to some degree, an empty LinkedIn invite isn’t the way to introduce yourself.
Because I work for a professional basketball team, and spend a lot of time tweeting and speaking about social media, my name is out there, and people are interested in what I do professionally. My LinkedIn profile is the first thing that comes up when you Google “Peter Stringer Celtics,” so I’m an easy guy to track down. Amazingly, though, 95 percent of the invites I get from students, vendors and strangers are completely empty. There’s no explanation of why they want to connect, what’s in it for me, or how they even found me.
I ignore 90 percent of them.
If you’re not willing to take 60 seconds to explain who you are, or why you want to connect, why should I be willing to accept the invitation? Two minutes ago, you were a complete stranger. Now, in the parlance of LinkedIn, you’re a “trusted business contact” because you clicked button on my profile? That’s akin to walking up to someone at a networking event, making brief eye contact, not saying a word, handing them your business card, and expecting one in return.
With the rise of social media, personal brands and bad advice, young professionals and students have little sense of networking etiquette. They seem to think that networking means firing off as many LinkedIn requests as possible to anyone you come across, whether or not you have met them in person, or can bring anything to the table in a potential networking relationship.
Taking just two seconds to send the empty, default LinkedIn invitation won’t help your cause. It certainly won’t create a meaningful connection, either.
I’ve written about doing real-world networking before, but it bears repeating. Attend networking events for the industry in which you’re interested, and use Twitter to track industry trends and get involved in conversations with both thought leaders and entry level workers in your industry. While it may be beneficial to be LinkedIn with CMOs at some of the big brands you want to follow, you’ll likely bear more fruit from developing relationships with your contemporaries across the industry. They’re more likely to have more time for and interest in connecting with you, and you’ll likely have a lot more in common.
When those in your industry are familiar with you from having conversations on Twitter, it’s a heck of a lot easier to approach them at events, meet them in person for coffee, or score an informational interview. Connecting on a digital level is one thing, but until you’ve made an in-person connection, your unlikely to benefit from a networking contact. After all, why should they vouch for your Twitter handle?
Do the work to make an in-person connection before expecting to connect with someone on LinkedIn.