Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Networking Styles

Finding your LinkedIn "Style" of Networking

On LinkedIn, as elsewhere online, there are all kinds of networkers. Each has their own style, related to their networking goals and desires. One way to think of networking style is to think of a continuum of networking approaches ranging from a private, select group of contacts to a gregarious, recruit-everybody-into-my-personal -network style.

Since the beginning of LinkedIn, there have been emotional debates arguing Quantity vs. Quality. Although LinkedIn officially recommends caution when adding people to your network, they also reward those who collect many contacts by allowing them to see more connections when they search for people and make it easier for people to find you.

LinkedIn's official stance is to only invite people into your network that you know and trust. These people would include school and corporate alumni, co-workers, other academic connections, friends, and people from your live networks. We could call this the "LinkedIn is a dangerous place" approach.

"Power networkers" thumb their noses at LinkedIn's warnings, arguing that you wouldn't attend a live networking meeting and only talk to people you already know. The whole purpose of networking is to find new connections and learn new things. If you find somebody on LinkedIn you would like to talk to in real life, invite them into your network. (And some people would like to talk to everybody.) This could be called the "LinkedIn is a rich place of incredible diversity and knowledge" approach.

In reality, they are both right. The first approach is probably the one that LinkedIn's lawyers are comfortable with spreading. The second approach could make you vulnerable to corporate intelligence collecting, scams, people "stealing" your connections, and whatever it is that those people who create fake LinkedIn profiles do. However, it can also help you find lots of people willing to help you in your online endeavors.

The Quantity vs. Quality debate ignores the vast area inbetween the two extremes. It also ignores every person's networking goals. Your goals could vary greatly, and could include such things as:

  • Creating a network of trusted friends.
  • Helping mentor others in your field (or about LinkedIn).
  • Become a professional Go-To person in your field.
  • Support your blog.
  • Learn about your field of endeavor from the pros.
  • Find a new job.
  • Find a new career, find a job coach, find a mentor, or change careers.
  • Read current news in your field.

You could argue that no two people are online for exactly the same thing.

I think of networking style more as a continuum, ranging from a private, timid connection to a power networker. Somewhere in-between is a "Normal Networker" which could include you and me. Here are my four categories of networkers.

The lurker is not a real networker. It could be somebody who just joined LinkedIn (or another service) and wants to look around and get a feel for things before proceeding. In many online discussion groups (or in many LinkedIn groups) this is not necessarily a bad approach.

The lurker could also be a person who created a LinkedIn profile because somebody else (perhaps their boss) told them to. They only have 1 to 3 connections in their network, which means they're not even trying. They do not join groups. They have no recommendations. Some have not even finished filling out their profile basics. (One profile I saw only had the person's initials and no viewable information. Ironically, he listed his career as "Communications.")

They might also be referred to as Timid Connectors. Novice Networkers may network because they have to or because they are curious about all this talk of online networking, but they are not yet enthusiastic about it.

They have a few people in their network, but those may be people they already network with in person.

They might belong to a few discussion groups, but only participate occasionally.

They may connect only once a week or a couple of times a month. They're not growing their network and they're still trying to figure out what all the fuss is about.

This category includes NPLYOM's (Normal People Like You or Me).

These are gradually more active networkers, probably like you. You may have anywhere from 25 to 600 first level connections. Here are some strategies you can use to develop your network:

Don't invite everybody into your network, but DO try to get a variety of people (alumni, co-workers, other people in your field, some creative types, and a few Power Networkers) into your network.

Also join Groups so people can find you and contact you without having to use expensive InMails. Join several professional groups so you can find who the leaders are in your field, and so others in your field can find you also. There are several large groups (including some job search groups) which span many professions and are good just for connecting you to a diverse portion of LinkedIn.

Your LinkedIn profile should be at least 80% complete. Make sure it includes your basic contact info (whatever you feel comfortable sharing online), your full name some place other than the name field, connections to other services (I share my Twitter and Google+ IDs, but not my Facebook one, which I use mainly for older friends). Get a few recommendations if you can.

Answer questions in the appropriate user groups and collect some "Best Answer" credits and some Recommendations.

Grow your network gradually and steadily. Set LinkedIn to forward InMails, Invitations and Introductions via email and respond to them promptly.

Communicate with the people in your personal network from time to time, but don't pester them and NEVER send them sleazy marketing invitations.

Often called LIONs on LinkedIn, for "LinkedIn Open Networkers," this group includes many HR recruiters, sales people, politicians, and other people who feel they want to have a huge network. They may also be bloggers, writers, speakers or other freelancers and get leads for future gigs online.

These people will normally allow almost anybody into their personal network. Some have thousands or tens of thousands of 1st degree contacts. They like being able to see everybody's profile on LinkedIn and to be able to find a connection with every company.

Some are very generous with their time on discussion groups and may spend hours per day on LinkedIn as well as other services.

Invite a couple of LIONs into your network and see your 3rd Level contacts grow while you sleep.

So it is important for you to decide what style of networker you want to be. That style can change as you mature as a networker. However, as you expand your style, it is difficult to dial it back from an open networker to a more moderate style. So proceed appropriately.

In the next post, we'll discuss how being in job search might be a good reason to change the way you network.