What is your reaction when someone you barely know, or don't know at all, seeks to connect with you on LinkedIn?
You may agree to the connection, but it will be a loose link at best, unlikely to generate much benefit to either of you.
Keep that in mind as you reflect on whether, or how, to reach out to people that you barely know, but would like to stay in touch with via the increasingly popular professional social media platform.
Here are three steps to consider:
1. Never seek to Link-In with someone you have not met personally or been in contact with previously.
Flouting this counsel will relegate you to the realm of the presumptuous or weird. At minimum, you will come across as unprofessional, and that's the polar opposite of the first impression you are striving for. On those occasions where you want to Link-In with someone, take an intermediate step of introducing yourself, either in a phone call or an email, so that your LinkedIn outreach isn't the cyber-equivalent of a cold call.
2. When making the LinkedIn invitation, personalize your greeting.
Especially if you have not met the individual one-on-one, this is paramount.
For example, last week I was at a business panel discussion. Later in the day, I looked up one of the speakers online and his LinkedIn profile indicated that we share several mutual connections. In my invitation, I noted those mutual connections as well as the fact that I was writing a summary of his panel discussion. Armed with that context, he accepted my invitation.
3. Try to provide value to the new connection as soon as possible.
How often have you had the experience of Linking-in with someone, only to have them fade from memory days, or maybe even only hours, later? For all intents and purposes, you and the other individual are just taking up space on your respective rosters of names and titles.
To rise above that tendency, see what you can to serve the new connection. Maybe it's a story that relates to their field, or a mutual connection that you can edify in a brief note, in such a way that it might spark a dialogue that leads to something mutually productive.
Best-selling author and acclaimed marketing leader Seth Godin puts it this way: “We remember what you did when you didn’t need us so urgently…It means investing, perhaps overinvesting, in relationships long before it’s in your interest to do so.”