As the co-authors of LinkedIn in One Hour and LinkedIn in One Hour for Lawyers, we’re always looking for new ways to use LinkedIn. In this article, we bring you six great ways to jump start your LinkedIn network. These six tips will be helpful whether you’re a brand-new LinkedIn user, are dusting off a neglected LinkedIn presence, or you’ve been using LinkedIn for some time.
We want to emphasize that the gold standard for enlarging your LinkedIn network is essentially the same as it is the real world – respectfully reaching out to people on a one-on-one basis with a personal approach.
However, there can be times when you want to build out your connections quickly. The classic example would be when you are looking for a job. Other good examples are when you are planning to relocate geographically, when you are launching a new product or service to a new market, prior to an important announcement or posting, when you create a new LinkedIn group, when you haven’t gotten around to adding contacts for a year or more, or when you are working on a reunion or similar event. You will be able to think of other examples.
In these cases, a thoughtful “bulk” approach might fit your purposes and needs better than the one on one approach. Be sure to think about your general approach to quality vs. quantity in adding connections and how growing your network quickly might have both positive and negative impacts for you. It is also essential to know and keep clearly in mind your main purpose(s) for using LinkedIn and your purpose(s) for adding connections.
The six ways we cover are: uploading your contacts, personalized invitations, using Groups to develop connections, Alumni, Advanced Search emphasizing second degree connections, and People You May Know.
Let’s get started.
UPLOADING YOUR CONTACTS – THE AUTOMATED APPROACH
Uploading your contacts to LinkedIn from your address book in a program like Outlook or a web-based email account like Gmail may be one of the easiest and most risk-free ways to build your LinkedIn network. The process is simple, and once uploaded, you can decide which contacts you would like to invite to connect with you on LinkedIn. By starting with a good number of contacts you already know, you can quickly see how LinkedIn works and might benefit you.
Start by clicking on Add Contacts under the My Network menu. You may need to enter your email address and password so that LinkedIn can verify your account. LinkedIn will not store your password or send out any email from your account; it will only use that information to gain access to your account to import your contacts so you can see them in LinkedIn and so that LinkedIn can suggest connections to you.
Alternatively, you can import your contacts by clicking on the Import File link in the right sidebar. This will allow you to choose and upload a file with your contacts. You will want to prepare to import your contacts in advance by exporting your contacts to a .csv (“comma-separated values”) file. It can take a few minutes to upload and process your contacts file, especially if you have a lot of contacts. Once the process is completed, you’ll see all of your contacts inside LinkedIn arranged alphabetically, but beginning with those who are already LinkedIn users (indicated by the LinkedIn logo next to their contact entry).
To invite your contacts to connect with you on LinkedIn, check the box in front the name. (**Use care on this step – LinkedIn automatically selects all contacts on the displayed list to be invited. If you don’t want to send invitations to everyone on the list – and there are sure to be contacts in your address book that you do not want to connect with on LinkedIn – be sure to uncheck the Select All box and individually check the boxes next to contacts you want to invite).
To send the default LinkedIn invitation to the selected contacts, next click Add Connections. But if you want to send personalized invitations (see Tip 2 below), you’ll need to invite each person separately, rather than sending invitations in bulk. In that case, you’ll want to simply import your contacts and then click Skip so that you can invite each contact separately with a personalized invitation. Your best contacts might not like a generic approach and other people might not remember who you are, which could risk them clicking “I don’t know this person” when they receive your invitation.
This importing technique is a simple and powerful way to add new Connections or to update your current list of Connections.
If you use Gmail and Google contacts, you may wish to allow LinkedIn permission to sync your contacts, which will automatically upload new contacts and contact changes to your LinkedIn account. You can do so by clicking on the Settings icon (that looks like a gear) in the upper right corner on your Connections page under the My Network menu.
If you have imported your address book in the past put have not given LinkedIn permission to sync your contacts, you’ll need to repeat the importation process periodically to ensure that the most updated information and newest contacts are transferred from your address book to your LinkedIn account.
In most, if not all, situations, I recommend personalizing your invitations to connect on LinkedIn rather than using the default invitation. There may be some situations in which you need to develop a large number of LinkedIn connections in a short period of time, as mentioned above. In that case, you may wish to forego personalized invitations. But overall, if your main goal is to establish meaningful connections that could lead to other opportunities – in other words, to establish relationships – sending a personalized invitation is preferred.
This is particularly true if you have already established some connection with the individual you are inviting to connect with you on LinkedIn – for example, if you’ve already met in person, if you have something in common, such as belonging to the same groups, having a mutual connection, etc.
To send a personalized invitation go to that person’s Profile, click the Connect button, and create your personalized invitation. If you’ve done a search on the person’s name and they’ve come up in the search results, you can click Connect next to their information right in the search results to create your personalized invitation. If you’ve uploaded your contacts as mentioned in Tip 1, you can send a personalized invitation from there as well.
Once you click Connect, you will see a menu giving you options to select the way you might know the person. These include colleague, classmate, done business together, friend or other. Some of the categories require that you input the person’s email in order to send an invitation.
Be aware that this feature can cause a lot of confusion, depending on the category you select. A generic invitation that says only that the person “did business together” with you is not likely to get a response unless the person actually remembers you – or your personalized invitation clarifies how you met.
Personalizing your invitations doesn’t need to be time consuming or complicated, and the extra effort goes a long way in establishing or strengthening relationships and demonstrates that you are someone worth connecting with. Saying something as simple as “It was great to meet you at the breast cancer fundraiser last night” will help people remember you and make them more likely to add you as a Connection and even reply personally to you, moving the relationship forward.
The option to personalize invitations to connect is now finally even available in the LinkedIn mobile app. In the mobile app, you’ll have to navigate to the person’s LinkedIn Profile first, and then hit the Menu icon, followed by Personalize Invite, and then type and send your message. Make sure you’ve updated to the latest version of the mobile app to take advantage of this option.
Keep in mind that if you use the People You May Know feature to locate potential connections as discussed in Dennis’ post, the option to personalize your invitation is not available; clicking on the Connect button it will send out the default invitation. You can still use the tool to identify potential connections and then hover over the person you want to connect with and click on View Profile to navigate to their Profile, and then click Connect from there to personalize your invitation as outlined above.
In LinkedIn in One Hour and LinkedIn in One Hour for Lawyers, we recommend joining Groups as an effective way to network through LinkedIn. Groups you belong to in real life or that are organized around your interests or your clients’ interests are a good way to start. Or you can look at the Groups some of your best connections belong to; if your ideal client belongs to a particular Group, perhaps other potential clients belong as well.
LinkedIn Groups can be a good source of Connections, particularly as you learn more about people and engage with them in discussions through the Group. Once you belong to a Group, you exponentially expand your ability to connect with others. While LinkedIn has eliminated the option to choose a Group as one of the ways that you know someone when you send an invitation to connect, LinkedIn does still permit you to send free messages to those who are in your Groups.
To send invitations to Group members, navigate to the Group, find the person you want to connect with and hover over their name. Click the envelope icon that appears to send a message to them. While this won’t generate an invitation to connect, it will start the conversation, and you can choose to send an invitation later. Or perhaps that person will invite you to connect once they receive your message.
Alternatively, you can click on the person’s name from the Group list, which will bring you to their Profile. Then click the Connect button to send an invitation. If you share a Group with a potential connection, you have a somewhat expanded ability to invite them to connect – in general, LinkedIn will always permit you to send an invitation to a second level connection, but may not always allow you to invite a third level connection. However, if you and a third level connection are both members of the same Group, LinkedIn will usually allow you to invite them to connect without asking you for any additional information. If that person is further removed than a third level connection, you may need an email address in order to invite them to connect.
LINKEDIN ALUMNI FEATURES
The last three tips take a less personalized approach than the first three and can help target substantial numbers of new contacts quickly, beginning with LinkedIn’s Alumni features and moving on to Advanced Search, and People You May Know. These techniques leverage the power of LinkedIn “second degree” connections or the connections of your existing connections. In simplest terms, you will be trying to convert second degree connections into first degree connections.
Carefully consider your approach on the “quality vs. quantity” question and keep your purpose for using LinkedIn clearly in mind as you try these approaches.
For many people, the most productive form of affiliation connections are alumni relationships. This is true even if you did not know fellow alumni personally or did not graduate in the same class. Think for a moment about how likely you are to help out someone who went to the same college as you did. Our guess is that if you get a LinkedIn invitation from someone who is a fellow alumna/alumnus of your school, your instinct will be to accept that invitation.
LinkedIn has long recognized what a rich source of quality connections school affiliations are and has made it very easy to find and reach out to those people. In fact, it’s important enough to have earned its own spot on the dropdown menu on the My Network tab. Drop the menu down and you’ll see a selection titled Find Alumni. Click on it and a whole world of school connections will open up for you.
The way these features work are self-explanatory, but we want to highlight a few great features. First, you can search for people who graduated in the same year you did. You can also search for people in a range of years. This feature is great for find people who were at school in the years you were there, but not in the same class. The year range feature can be helpful if you are looking to reach out to a targeted area of alumna, such as those who graduated in the last five years or alumni at retirement age or older. It’s also easy to shift from school to school. You can even get some demographic information. Try to resist the urge to check up on old boyfriends, girlfriends or archrivals and focus on your purpose.
The “Find Alumni” feature does have some limitations in the number of results it shows in the free version, but if you find that to be an obstacle, you can move to a premium membership.
Once you find people to connect to, you can go to their Profiles and invite them to connect. A simple personal invitation will be highly effective here.
ADVANCED SEARCH EMPHASIZING SECOND DEGREE CONNECTIONS
LinkedIn has an impressive set of advanced search features or “filters.” You can generate very granular search results by checking boxes and typing search terms. If you are targeting certain types of connections, for example, at a company or in a certain city or country, these features can be very valuable.
In small letters to the right of the LinkedIn search box at the top of the page, you will see the word “Advanced.” You know the drill – just click on it and the world opens up.
One of the most important filters is for degrees of connection. In some cases, you will want to know if you have first degree connections at a company or in a particular geographic location. You can find those and look at their connections for ideas.
However, the best approach is to leverage the power of the “second degree” connections search feature. Click the box labeled 2nd Connections near the top of the middle column to limit the search to second degree connections. Type in a keyword or two, company, location or whatever you want and see the results.
You’ll get a summary view of your second degree connections with their short description and other information. You can also see the number of connections you share and the actual names of those connections. And you will also see a link to Connect. Apply your criteria for deciding whether to invite someone (remember your purpose) and click on the Connect button. In most cases, a standard (not personalized) invitation will be sent. In some cases, and we haven’t deciphered the pattern, you will get the standard invitation request page and have the ability to send a personalized invitation. You can always visit the person’s Profile and send a personalized invitation.
Even if you spend only a short time checking out this feature, you’ll quickly see its value in adding targeted new connections quickly.
PEOPLE YOU MAY KNOW
Since its beginnings, LinkedIn has been analyzing connections between people. One of the ways LinkedIn has put what it has learned to use is the People You May Know feature, available under the My Network tab.
You can use this feature as a way to find and add connections. You simply look through the suggestions. LinkedIn shows the numbered of connections you share. With a mouseover, you can see three of those shard connections. You can click on the photo of the suggested person to see their Profile or you can simply click on the Connect button and an invitation will be sent. At present, you cannot personalize the invitation.
We’ve been experimenting with this feature in ways that have challenged some of our most fundamental assumptions about LinkedIn – namely that personalized invitations are always best and that it makes the most sense to connect with people you actually know. As a result, we want to suggest that a well-thought-out approach to using People You May Know might be a great way to add large numbers of connections in a strategic (or tactical) way.
Here’s the experiment. It’s based on the assumption that LinkedIn’s network analytics know more than we do.
At any given time, People You May Know will give you hundreds of suggestions. For the most part, those suggestions stay fairly static during the day, but there appears to be a big daily refresh at the end of each day. The experiment requires using People You May Know aggressively on a regular basis, even daily, for a while. This consistent effort will help you see patterns and explore potential directions you can go.
You then decide on a few criteria and filters for making your decision to try connecting to people, based on your purpose. You might focus on geography, job title, employer, et al. You might or might not make actually knowing or having met a person as a requirement for inviting them to connect. Whether someone has a photo or not might be another. We also recommend using the number of shared connections as a filter.
In addition to a number of purpose-related criteria, Dennis experimented with requiring a minimum of ten shared connections before sending an invitation because he thought he would be likely to accept an invitation from someone with overlapping interests if there were at least ten shared connections. In the experiment, he used the default, nonpersonalized message for the invitations.
We were very surprised by the results. The biggest surprise was how positive the results were. The acceptance of invitations was very high. There was a good response from people who followed-up with a personal reply. As Dennis’ People You May Know page updated each day, the suggestions improved and patterns started to reveal themselves. It also became apparent how to build out connections into areas of interest.
Other unexpected benefits included seeing who in your own network were often shared connections with many people, Groups that people commonly shared, job titles used for certain jobs, and much more. Perhaps the best learning was how important the short description in your Profile really is. You can see many benefits for a job search, but, keeping your purpose in mind, you may see other benefits as well.
Note that People You May Know can be used in two ways. The first is the focused and personal approach where you find someone, go to their Profile and connect with a personalized invitation. This will be a slow process, especially if you want to add a lot of connections in a short period of time.
You can also scroll through the suggestions on a regular basis and connect with people who interest you. This approach shows the potential of helping you add a good number of quality contacts in a short time. However, we definitely recommend this as an experimental approach and one which you are willing to adapt and make changes to.
A fascinating aspect of this approach is how you grow to trust LinkedIn’s analytics and trust the results without trying to understand what you, as a human might think the pattern should be. A second aspect is the potential value of “weak links.” Using People You May Know to connect with people that you, well, don’t know will certainly result in a weak link rather than a strong link. People who look at networks have stressed the value of weak links. In this case, the weakness of the link might work well as a warm introduction (“We’re already connected on LinkedIn”) and present the possibility of being granted a small favor. Remember how you tend to help a fellow alum even though you do not know them at all.
Please note that your mileage may vary. Dennis has been on LinkedIn for many years and has a fairly large number of good connections. This starting point might have allowed LinkedIn’s algorithms to give better People You May Know results. In addition, his number of connections made it likely to see a significant number of shared connections. If you try this approach, you will definitely need to treat it as a science experiment.
Two more quick ideas. If you have a stack of business cards, send those people LinkedIn invitations. Look at the connections of a few people you know well and see what connections they have that you also know and probably should be connected to.
- Remember Your Purpose. We cannot emphasize enough how important it is to understand what you are “hiring” LinkedIn to do for you and add connections accordingly. There are situations when it makes sense to add large numbers of connections, but it does not make sense to do that without keeping to your purpose.
- What’s the Next Step? In our book, we call Profiles, Connections and Participation the three essential building blocks of LinkedIn. The greatest failure of most LinkedIn users comes in the area of Participation. What are you going to do to interact and, most important, bring value, to the larger network you have created? Will you become more active with useful updates, join and contribute to Groups, reach out to new connections or meet new connections out in the real world. Numbers without action create little value.
- Use What You Learn. In the process of researching this article, we saw demonstrated time after time the value of your short description on your Profile. Spend a little time going through the People You May Know section just reading descriptions and looking at photos (or the lack of a photo). We guarantee that you will want to make some changes to your Profile. In the course of adding new connections, you can identify Groups to join, reconnect with people you’ve lost touch with and connect with people you admire.
We would be happy to get your comments and have you share your tips and suggestions.