Who would have believed in 2002 when Reid Hoffman was mooting the idea of a professional social network – a kind of Facebook for suits – that it would prove to be an amazing success and grow to in excess of 400 million users? It seemed unlikely, yet for many business professionals, LinkedIn has proven to be a invaluable tool.
With hindsight, networking online now looks like a natural extension of real world networking, albeit without the croissants and coffee. LinkedIn though is so much more than a typical breakfast networking event, where you can get chastised for not turning up (despite still paying for the breakfast you didn’t have). At least when I’ve failed to login to LinkedIn for a week, no-one is calling me up threatening to cancel my membership!
But one thing I’ve always found strange about LinkedIn was their advice to only connect with people you know. After all, you wouldn’t attend a networking event and only talk to people you were already acquainted with. “I’m sorry Mr Jeffers, I cannot give you my business card until we get to know each other a little better”.
You wouldn’t attend a networking event and only talk to people you were already acquainted with
With this in mind, I decided to enter a brave new world. I cast aside the advice of LinkedIn and decided to accept every incoming connection request. With one or two requests per day I’d quickly ascertain whether this was a smart move or an excursion to stupid town.
And low and behold, it came to pass that a pattern did indeed begin to develop, one that was not particularly desirable or expected. I began to be inundated with a combination of direct messages and emails from my newly found ‘strategic partners’, who unfortunately, didn’t appear particularly interested in understanding my business requirements.
There was a definite theme to these uninvited approaches. They were direct and to the point – “These are my services, this is what we do, when can I arrange a call so that we can do business?” Now, if we compare and contrast with the real world, you wouldn’t introduce yourself to the ‘mark’ by telling them what you do and asking them how much they will buy, without at first exchanging a few pleasantries and taking some time to understand what they do and where their pain points are. If you were only intent on selling, the very least you’d do – in as subtle a manner as possible – would be to try and validate whether they may have a need for what you are selling.
It’s the digital equivalent of the door-to-door salesperson – little or no research as to whether you look like the right sort of customer, just an understanding that if they approach enough people, they might manage some results.
Now I’m a polite sort of guy, so in each instance I felt an obligation to decline their generous offer, and believe me, this was not always easy. In some cases, after the dozenth or so email I felt myself become very blunt and direct, and ended up feeling bad about it. I needed a solution, but didn’t feel that refusing every unsolicited connection request by default was the right approach.
Some further analysis was revealing. Some of the DDSs (digital door steppers) hadn’t taken the time to complete many details on their profile. Poorly completed profile results in an automatic rejection. Some were clearly not who they claimed to be – CEO of a large bank with 7 connections? I don’t think so. Next we have a collection of profiles from people who, how can I put this? Look like professional models. By right-clicking the profile photo in Chrome you can carry out a Google search on the photo, and you’d be amazed at how often these DDSs are using stock photography for their profile picture.
You’d be amazed how often these DDSs are using stock photography for their profile picture
Definite progress! Next, I was able to identify that a subset of these approaches were from people living in the sub-continent with very western-sounding names – highly unlikely. Finally, when all of these methods failed, there was a clear pattern of people from countries renowned for their low-wage economies, combined with a job title relating to a sales role, for a company that does software development – they almost certainly intended to use the hard sell technique.
By following these few simple rules I’ve managed to grow my network, stick to networking principles, and avoid time spent on dealing with irritable direct sales approaches. A more diligent methodology has lead to me making some very interesting contacts that have proved to be mutually beneficial – exactly how networking should be.
‘LinkedIn’ image supplied and modified under a creative commons license by Sascha Pohflepp. ‘Buy’ image supplied under a creative commons license by D.C.Atty.
A lifetime Brummie & Startup Mentor with several ventures under his belt. Phil has a infectious enthusiasm for fledgling businesses that easily hides an ability to cut to the chase in identifying what works, what doesn't, and translating ideas into viable businesses.