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Thursday, October 30, 2008

LinkedIn Connection Approach Rethought

If you read my blog much, you know that I use LinkedIn quite a bit to help me find experts and expertise. You can see how I do this in my posts/screencasts LinkedIn Searching for Experts and Expertise and LinkedIn Answers to Get Help.

One of the techniques that I show in the first is that you can expand the reach of your search by choosing to search groups. Thus, by searching the eLearningGuild or ASTD groups, I'm able to find people who can help answer questions.

The screencast then shows how I would go about formulating a request for help through an intermediate contact.

I've known for some time that my success rate in contacting someone who is 2nd degree (there's one person in the middle who will pass my request on) is roughly 80%. If the person is 3rd degree, it's low enough that I don't even bother. The problem is that no one connects or knows both parties and can somewhat validate the request. So, I really only contact people I either already am connected with or are 2nd degree.

I'm a BIG TIME believer in the value of this. And, I sometimes wonder what I did before I had LinkedIn as a resource.

But, here's what has recently dawned on me. When I do a group search, the same effect is there about only being able to tap into 2nd degree. With the group search, I can find out that someone exists, but I can't really effectively connect with them unless I'm fairly close by.

This started me down the path of rethinking how I connect to people. I used to heed the advice that you should only connect with people who you know pretty well. And that's the way I've operated. However, that never seemed to work all that well, and I think I've figure it out.

I listened to a podcast that featured Christian Mayaud in which he described PAN CAN FAN.

An individual's social network (online or offline) is divided into three groups:

  • PANs = Potentially Active Network
  • CANs = Currently Active Network
  • FANs = Formerly Active Network
I used to think of LinkedIn as containing exactly my CAN and FAN. People I currently know well or have in the past. That's what LinkedIn tells you.

But what happens is that I'm constantly trying to reach into my PAN and it turns out that it's really only 2nd degree. Thus, my PAN is often feeling too limited. But, after listening to Christian, I've changed the way I look at LinkedIn connections and how I treat invitations. I now think of my LinkedIn direct connections as also containing PANs who I only know in a superficial way. I've changed where I'm willing to link to anyone who I feel may be a good person to know in the future based on their profile and possibly a limited messaging exchange. This is more in line with what people call a LinkedIn LION (LinkedIn Open Networker). I'm not sure I'm quite going as far as most LIONs who seem to link with everyone. But, I've certainly changed to be very open to linking even if I don't really "know" you.

The result has been interesting. It's a bit more like wandering around at a mixer. By putting it out that I'm likely to accept your link request, I get a chance to interact with a lot more new people. Most of the time it's a few simple emails based on what I see on their profile.

Oh, and I do subscribe to the one rule for LIONs, I no longer ever hit the "I don't know" button on an invitation.

Now, I don't know that everyone should change to look at LinkedIn connections quite the same way. My suggestion is not that this is the right course for everyone. In fact, my guess is that most people will continue to use it for only CANs and FANs as I did before.

However, if you are (a) reading this and (b) roughly in the world of eLearning, I would highly recommend that you make it your policy to connect with people like me who are likely highly connected in that world as well and who have said - I'm pretty open to linking.

So, what do you do?

You go to my profile:

You click on: Add Tony to Your Network.

You can click on: Other.

And then put in my email:

I don't promise to accept your invitation, but I do promise to treat it a bit like I would if you walked up to me at a networking mixer. If you are trying to sell me life insurance, I may move on. But I generally chat for a while and maybe exchange cards and we've now connected. Hopefully that means we can help each other better use LinkedIn in the future.


Anonyrock said...

Nice summary of something I accepted about Linked In but was never very conscious of.

I have started accepting more invites from "strangers" lately too.

Anonymous said...

Interesting, Tony, especially to see this perspective form someone I consider to be a power user of LinkedIn.

I've always been pretty open in accepting PAN invitations from people I don't necessarily know very well. I do check to see if we would seem to be good connections for each other, but I've found that it works better for me to be fairly liberal about connections, even though I've seen a lot of advice to the contrary.

Raymond said...

Tony - Linkedin was included into the Top 10 employment site list...linkedin is still the only social network on the list though.....the newest 3 on the list are- (professional networking) (aggregated listings) (matches you to the perfect job)

Complete top 10 job site list here:

Unknown said...

Very thought provoking.

I've often wondered what, exactly, to do with invitations from people I don't know.

The first one I got, I went ahead and marked "IDK" -- which I later learned could hurt the fellow who tried to befriend me. Just as well, he was a smarm peddler.

But later, I changed my approach. Other folks IDK who seem interesting often ask to link in. So I write back, "Forgive me, but how do we know each other?"

And thus, start a conversation. If they don't respond with something conversational or articulate, I ignore.

Seems to me, that if you're asking somebody to link in, you really should include a personal note, 100% of the time. Why leave the onus on me to pick up the conversational slack?

Can, Pan, Fan. Love it.

Tony Karrer said...

Laura - that's a fantastic comment / helpful advice. I also was asking - "How do we know each other?" and sometimes still do on FB.

Your suggestion of a personal note along with the link request is a great idea. However, LinkedIn sometimes makes that harder when you invite a few people at once. But in those cases, it should be obvious what your relationship is.

Thanks for the comment.

Michael Pearson said...

Cool idea. LinkedIn is a good place to be a power user. Tony, you might be seeing a request from me later. :)


Unknown said...

I enjoy the status updates on my LinkedIn connections, and I worry that if I have too many people I'll get inundated with trivia and microblogging (via status).

But this post has confirmed my new, more open, strategy. And I hope that my connections see my own status updates once in awhile.
-Jonathan Atleson

Flat Vision said...

I have also been on a bit of a steep learning curve with LinkedIn, learning what is and what is not considered acceptable with regards to connecting with people.
It is a tricky one, but LinkedIn also needs to remember it is supposed to be a networking site, not a closed members club which it sometimes feels like,

Craig Moore said...

I listened to Christian Mayaud podcast and liked it too. I
instruct real estate agents about technology and social media and encourage them
to get connected on LinkedIn first as it is the easiest and best way for many to
get their feet wet. I just posted an article titled Your Personal Brand, Social Media
and Seven Baby Steps
look forward to reading more of your thoughts in the future.

Drey Valdez said...

I couldn't imagine reading your post after a year and it still seems like it was just posted yesterday. I've been exploring this area and have discovered a few tips and tricks as well. My approach, connect with recruiters! They almost always accept it. You do not only benefit from their wide connection based they can also be a good source of talent if you need to fill a vacancy.

Unknown said...

Hi Tony,

It has been a pleasure being connected to you. As you might suspect, I have followed much the same path as you. I fully endorse looking at LinkedIn this way if you are looking to learn new things.

A couple fyi's for the readers. One of the reasons we suggest using the "other" option when inviting us, is that it doesn't count toward the account limit of how many invitations you can send (ever.) (Yes, LinkedIn has an account limit, after which time you can not send more. At least they used to.)

For a time, I was a LION (Linked In Open Networker), but have moved to what I call a FOLION (fairly open LinkedIn Open Networker.) And I too do not hit the "I Don't Know" option on invitations, but just archive them.

And so, if any of the readers are interested, after checking out my profile on Linked In, feel free to drop me a line/invitation. My email is Digin4ed@gmail dot com (dot vs . is intentional to reduce spam bots.)

Terry Eberhart

Phyllis A. West said...

Hi Tony, I don’t read your blogs much and to be honest I am a first time reader. I find your information related to the social networking interesting and social networking being part of our day to day life LinkedIn related knowledge is must for us.