LinkedIn is the most useful social network for business professionals. There are more than 120 million members in over 200 countries, and more than 1.1 million members in South Africa. A study by HubSpot found that LinkedIn was 277% more effective at generating leads than other social networks.
When I look at the profiles of business people I’ve met, I’m often surprised at how little exposure they’re getting on LinkedIn. I see profiles with 1 connection, 10 connections… I’m also constantly surprised that so many people haven’t joined any groups. Groups are one of the most useful features of LinkedIn, because they allow you to connect directly with other group members who are presumably interested in the same things as you, or who are in your geographical area.
LinkedIn works on the basis of a mathematical hypothesis called the Small World Phenomenon. You may be familiar with the movie, Six Degrees of Separation, and the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon trivia game. The idea is that any two people on earth are no further than six introductions apart.
LinkedIn shows a number next to each of your connections, which indicates their degree of separation from you. Your direct connections are shown as “1st”, people who you can be introduced to – friends of friends – as “2nd” and connections of your 2nd degree connections as “3rd.” Anyone outside of this network is shown as “Not in your network.”
Unlike traditional business networking, LinkedIn lets you see all the people your 1st degree connections are connected to. In the right column of your 1st degree connection’s profile, you’ll see a box called, for instance, “John’s Connections.” At the bottom of the box is a link marked “See all connections.”
The more people there are in your network, the easier it becomes to connect with someone outside your network. That’s the main reason for building a broad network with a large number of connections.
If you want to send a message to someone who is not a 1st degree connection, you have a couple of options.
4 Ways To Grow Your Network
1. If you know the person’s email address, you can invite them to connect with you – just click on the “Connect” button next to their name, choose “Other” and enter their email address.
2. If you are a paid subscriber, you can send an “InMail” message to anyone on LinkedIn. You get between 3 and 25 of these per month, depending on what plan you buy.
3. Another way is to ask your connections for an introduction. The drop-down menu next to the “Connect” button includes a “Get Introduced” option. Clicking this will take you to a page where you can select a mutual connection to ask for an introduction. If the person you want to connect with is a 3rd degree connection, you’ll have to ask someone in your 1st degree network and someone in your 2nd degree network to introduce you.
4. Finally, if you and the person you want to connect with are both members of the same group, you can invite them to connect with you. You’ll see the word “Group” next to their name. Click on “Connect”, choose “Groups”, select one of the listed groups (if there are more than one) and send your invitation.
If you are serious about building a large network, you can concentrate on connecting with people who have large numbers of connections. You might consider joining one of the groups set up for LIONs – LinkedIn Open Networkers, such as TopLinked.
One important point to remember. LinkedIn is quite keen on the idea that you should only connect with people who know you.
If you try to connect with people who don’t know you, they may deny your invitation by clicking on the “I Don’t Know” button or, even worse, the “Spam” button. If you accumulate too many of these in a short time, LinkedIn may prevent you from inviting anyone else.
I try to avoid this by always changing the standard LinkedIn invitation message to something more personal.
The general rule for LIONs is to accept invitations from most people who ask, and never to click the “I Don’t Know” or “Spam” buttons.