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Professional networking tip: don't be a LinkedIn lemming, grow quality contacts

The mere fact that someone has posted a link to their LinkedIn profile does not mean he or she is interested in linking in with you. Do they know you? If not, then don't be a LinkedIn lemming and fire off a LinkedIn request.
Inside Edge PR

"Feel like a number
Feel like a stranger
A stranger in this land
I feel like a number
I'm not a number
I'm not a number
Dammit I'm a man
I said I'm a man."

-Bob Seger

Those lyrics come at the end of "Feel Like A Number," from Stranger in Town, the 1978 album by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band. It chronicles the alienation that comes from being just another "spoke in the wheel" of some monolithic entity.

However, with disturbing frequency, it is the feeling that arises at least once a week when I receive a LinkedIn invitation from someone. The pattern isn't slowing down, either, even though a growing number of people have had more time to adjust to this social media space and come to their senses.

It's time, then, to issue another plea for common interpersonal sense. If you are prone to inviting people to link-in with you, based solely on words on a screen and not any real-life flesh-and-blood interaction, then this is especially intended for you: stop cheapening your social network by inviting every Tom, Dick and Harry who has some remote tie-in to you (such as the fact that you both reside on planet Earth.)

Each time you issue an impersonal, shot-in-the-dark LinkedIn invitation, you are revealing some damaging details about yourself. It's lazy, it's presumptuous and it positions you as a LinkedIn lemming--a follower (of all the others committing this sloppiness) and not a leader.

First impressions die hard, especially if it's an impression that you have no clue about the person contacting you.

After growing his business to the point that he no longer touched base with prospective Independent Business Owners, Ron Puryear, an Amway Founders Crown and founder of World Wide Group, had a shoe box filled with business cards. Each was from someone he had met in his day-to-day travels, but had not yet followed up with. He let the cards go, focusing on the people he was already working with--and putting quality into the relationships he had already developed.

Decades later, that's still the way to go about building your network, although now with the separation of physical space enabled by the Internet, it's absurdly easy to try it the lemming way and sidle up to those with whom you have had zero personal contact.

When you do meet someone (almost always in person but possibly also if you have had a substantial interaction that wasn't face to face), that's the time when you should consider connecting on LinkedIn. As you do so, give context and briefly state how you see such a connection serving both parties. Consider writing a recommendation shortly later, to cement the relationship and add value.

If you find yourself with hundreds of connections, but hardly anyone for whom you could write a recommendation, then that's a red flag.

Conversely, being able--and willing--to craft recommendations results in value that flows not only to the people you recommend, but yourself. After all, your connections' networks are more apt to read the relatively tiny number of recommendations your common connections have received than wading through the long list of connections they have amassed.

So, a parting public relations and marketing tip for you as you consider your own version of You, Inc.: when you remember to treat people like individuals, not another spoke in some expanding wheel of superficial contacts, you build up the quality of your relationships.

And in a world where it doesn't take much to have quantity on the surface, it's the depth of your quality relationships that will serve you much more in the long run.

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