I’ve built a LinkedIn network of more than 2,000 like-minded people and would like to share some LinkedIn tips I wish I’d understood from the start. (This is part of the “Social Media and Farmers” series.)
First to explain – it took many hours of work to build a good quality network of this size, and despite the large number of people included, I do have something specific in common with each person. Whenever I’ve invited someone to join my network or accepted an invitation from someone else, there’s been a specific reason as to why. It has never been done without thought. Most people in my network fall into these categories:
- Involved in or interested in agriculture, conservation/natural environment, livestock (including horses) etc; and/or rural life. People included under this umbrella range from those working for agribusiness companies to others who were born in the bush who now work in non-ag occupations.
- Working in the media and writing-related careers of all kinds (journalists, book authors, editors, publishers etc)
- Locals (North Queenslanders).
I recommend putting a lot of thought into exactly who you want to include in your network, right from the start. But more on that below.
I’ve learned a lot since starting out on LinkedIn and there’s still plenty for me to learn. But here’s a few suggestions, which include points not commonly discussed elsewhere:
- Do fill in your profile as completely as you are comfortable doing, because that way you’ll appear towards the top of other people’s ‘people you may know’ suggestion lists, so they’re more likely to find you and send you an invitation to join their network. The less information included in your profile, the lower down the list you’ll appear-which means you’ll have to keep doing most of the running. So if you just have a blank egghead instead of a photo, a first name and blocked last name and no profile information, you’ll appear right on the bottom of ‘people you may know’ lists, if at all, and only the most dedicated of linkers will ever find you, rather than all the people who know you. Plus, you’ll be very hard to identify accurately (mutual connections might be the only clue people can refer to). A complete profile also helps you rise to the top of Google search rankings.
- There are a lot of people in the world and even in Australia, with exactly the same first and last names. Make it easier for people who know you to confidently identify you by mentioning where you grew up and the schools, universities or colleges you attended, companies you worked for etc. You’ll also be more likely to be found by people from your past who’d like to get back in touch with you, because these words will appear in searches for particular words (eg university names, towns, business names etc). It never ceases to surprise me how many people grew up in the bush but don’t mention their rural background on their LinkedIn profile. Country people tend to have the same values and interests and get along well (in business and socially), and even if they haven’t met in person they’ve usually got mutual acquaintances. So it is a smart move to mention a rural background if you have one and want to find like-minded people. Many people in the upper management of Australia’s largest companies, and working in the media, have a rural background – but mostly you’d never know unless you come across this information by accident. It’s good to find people who are proud of a country upbringing and rural and regional Australians have the most to gain from LinkedIn networking.
- Worried about putting personal information online? If you’re running a business then there should be a lot of information about you online already – unless you’ve very deliberately kept it off the internet. Smart prospective customers will Google your name for background information, and the wider the variety of sources they find, the more likely they are to trust you and your business. Everyone in business should regularly search online for their own name and check at least the first few pages. It’s a good idea to thank people who have linked to your website, quoted you or recommended your business. And if there’s any misinformation appearing on the first few SERPs (search engine results pages), then you’ll find it and can work to rectify it. Having a comprehensive LinkedIn profile means prospective customers are more likely to find the best source of background information, written by yourself, rather than random bits and pieces about you that may include misquotes, outdated or incomplete information. Don’t think you’re mentioned on the internet anywhere? Have a good look, you might be amazed by what turns up on you and/or your family members. It’s best to be in charge of this rather than leave it to strangers or automated systems; and always have it clear in your mind exactly what you don’t want to include on the internet (which of course includes what doesn’t go on Facebook).
- Have a think about exactly why you want to be on LinkedIn – what you want to get out of it. There are 4 kinds of members.
- Some people open an account because they’re trying to do what they’ve been told is the right thing to do but their heart isn’t in it. The unenthusiastic either have other priorities or they’re just not really interested, so they don’t create a profile or link to anyone. Sometimes they even block their last name because they’re so keen on hiding (although information on them is usually all over the internet already). This group will often delete invitations received from everyone, even people they know really well. How to offend your friends and colleagues! It’s obviously best to leave LinkedIn alone completely, if you’re not going to at least consider the connection invitations you receive (although thinking about whether to accept invitations received isn’t actually time consuming, unlike sending invitations, which is where the real work lies). If your LinkedIn account is semi-dormant, at least put a note on it to explain that to others who will otherwise wonder why their invitation receives no response.
- Next are people who do consider invitations received but who only link to several dozen people they know very well already (usually around 45 people in their online network). These people usually delete invitations from anyone they don’t know well, without a second thought or perhaps with just some suspicion as to the inviter’s motives. A few do have legitimate security concerns due to the line of work they’re in – but if that’s the case, LinkedIn (Facebook and other online social media platforms) is best avoided completely. The few who fall into this category should stick to networking by email only (or stay offline altogether).
- Then there are people who are building a network slowly or quickly, who have around 125-250+ people in their network. These keen networkers will usually consider all invitations received. Some will ask for more information before accepting, and those who put lots of time in may end up with many hundreds or a few thousand connections.
- There is a fourth group, ‘LION’s, more on them below.
In summary, you need to ask yourself exactly what you want out of LinkedIn, and be prepared to change your approach and goals as you get more confident with it, if you want to. Many people start carefully, only linking to people they know very well, then expand acceptance rules as confidence in the system and benefits increases.
- Start by inviting the kind of people who are most important for you. For example, if you’re most interested in forming a network focusing on one particular industry, then try to stick with inviting people in this industry first. Or if your business supplies goods or services only within a certain radius of your location, then start by concentrating on local connections. Because the people who appear on the ‘people you may know’ list will be connections of these people – so likely to be more of the same, so to speak. When you’ve built a solid network in your preferred industry and/or exhausted the majority of the likely people to connect to, then branch out into other fields if you want to. It sounds like a simple point to make but it’s actually very significant and appears to be rarely mentioned. Only a certain number of people appear in the ‘people you may know’ list, and these are the people it is easiest to send a link invitation to.
- Always personalise the link invitations you send. Don’t do what I did (in a rush) for the first 6 months, and send generic wording. The standard wording says you are ‘friends’ and some people you aren’t well acquainted with will run away screaming at the suggestion out of the blue that you’re ‘friends’. Given my line of work, I thought it was so blindingly obvious why a connection to someone in the Australian beef industry was good for both of us, that an explanation was superfluous. Alas, some people are creative thinkers and see the possibilities immediately however not everyone is that imaginative and some people are suspicious irrespective of evidence that would allay most fears. Now I always spell out exactly why I would like to connect with each person in particular. It can be a real challenge to explain properly, in just the few words allowed, however I’ve come to view this restriction as excellent writing & editing practice!
- Remember that if you’re sending the invitation then the polite thing to do is do your research first. The inviter does the running! If you don’t make an upfront effort, you’ll come across as lazy and/or arrogant, however inaccurate this may be in reality. I’ve received a number of invitations from people who don’t appear to have any common interests whatsoever. This is fine because common interests aren’t always immediately apparent – eg someone may have grown up in the bush and moved to the city, and their early years are not on their profile. Rather than dismiss these invitations out of hand I ask for an explanation so proper consideration can be given, however the senders really should have explained common interests if it’s not obvious in their profile.
- Re. your contact list – unless your situation is unusual (explained below), don’t block your contacts from seeing it. This is an important issue worthy of careful consideration. After all, the principle purpose of LinkedIn is to build a great network, and you don’t want to offend anyone along the way. Although anyone on LinkedIn can see links in common, your complete contact list is never viewable by anyone other than people you’ve linked to. And if you’ve blocked your contact list then the only person who can see it is you. The problem with that is, in my experience, only around 1% of people on LinkedIn have blocked their contact list from being viewed by others. This means that these people can view 99% of other people’s complete contact lists but these connections can’t reciprocate. This is akin to regularly attending parties at other people’s houses and never ever bringing anything to the party or hosting one yourself. It’s like stamping ‘user’ and ‘totally self-interested’ on your forehead. It also spells out in flashing neon lights that the person with a blocked contacts list does not trust the people they’ve chosen to include in their network. Not a good impression to be fostering, since in many instances people who don’t trust others do so because they can’t be trusted themselves! The fundamental thing to remember is – if you don’t trust someone or you know they are a direct competitor, then my advice is to absolutely not include them in your network. If a direct competitor (some have more front than Myers, it’s amazing) asks to be part of your network, simply delete the request. And you can of course remove contacts from your network, and very easily (see below). I’ve found many people I know really well via people I don’t know well at all, and I know hundreds of other people have done likewise via my contact list. It’s pleasing to be able to help others build a great network and I especially like helping regional Australians and anyone involved in agribusiness. Of course it’s important in life generally, not just in business, to convey the fact that you’re prepared to help others just as you’ve been helped by other people, yourself. So allow your contacts to see your contact list, just as you’re able to see theirs.
- Unless, however, there’s a very specific reason why it might be financially unwise. Building a good network does consume a very substantial quantity of time and effort and the commercial value of a good quality list should not be underestimated. There are a few people who would be well advised to block their contact list from view, or at least for a short time. For example, do you have a new project under wraps, that would be publicised too early and be potentially financially disadvantageous if your contact list was viewable (and planned strategy revealed)? It all depends on what particular industry you’re in and your specific circumstances. Recruiters typically have closed contact lists to prevent poaching (although I suspect they’re suspicious of this because it’s what they do themselves). Also, in some sectors of the corporate world, allies can change jobs overnight and turn into direct competitors (finance, travel, and other goods & service sale jobs such as agricultural chemicals etc). If you have a network which runs to hundreds or thousands of people, keeping your network up-to-date with situation changes would be a time-consuming headache. Ideally LinkedIn would give us the choice of selecting who within our networks could see our contact list and who could not. But in the absence of choice, and in particular circumstances, it would be far more practical to simply block everyone for viewing your contact list. Just bear in mind that your direct competitors may well know all if not the vast majority of your contacts anyway, and the downside might outweigh the upside. If you feel it’s important to block your contact list from being viewed by others you have chosen to include in your network, it’s a good idea to review whether some of this networking would be better done via email rather than LinkedIn. Because it may only be a tiny number of contacts that you don’t want to be publicly viewable. In summary – the best advice is to not include direct competitors in your network and to keep your contact list viewable unless you’ve got very specific reasons for blocking it. If you do decide to block your contact list from view, you may like to include a short & carefully worded explanation of why, if possible, for anyone who joins your network; to avoid fostering the wrong impression.
- How do you change your settings back, to allow your connections to view your network?
- Click on your name in blue, in the top right hand corner, and choose ‘settings’ from the drop down menu.
- Under the heading ‘privacy controls’ (the column in the centre, at the bottom), click on ‘select who can see your connections’.
- Choose ‘your connections’ (the other option is ‘only you’).
- Click on ‘save changes’.
- Only hide your identity when viewing other people’s profiles for a short time when doing very specific searches (eg employment-related), if at all. Well I guess you can constantly block your details from appearing if you want to make a habit of creeping around checking people out without them knowing you’ve been examining their profile. Personally I think this is a bit dodgy, similar to permanently blocking your phone number when calling people or always sending anonymous complaints to the newspaper. Yes there’s sometimes very sound reasons for doing these things, but mostly, there is not, and as a habit, it’s not good. I dislike people looking at my profile without being prepared to identify who they are, and operate on a ‘do unto others’ basic principle. There might a few times when blocking your identification might be eminently sensible (eg if you’re verifying employee details) – in which case I’d recommend changing your settings just for the short time that you’re sussing out a potential employee, competitor etc; then changing your settings back again so that your complete details are visible when you look at someone’s profile. Apart from identifying yourself being the polite thing to do, you may receive invitations as a result. Because LinkedIn provides a very handy ‘Who’s viewed your profile’ list of people who have visited your profile page and some of the keen networkers amongst them, when they see you’ve looked at their profile, may send you an invitation to join their network. It’s a good idea to check your own list of visitors regularly and send connection invitations to anyone who you think you have things in common with, after reading their profile. The fact that they’ve visited your profile suggests that they had some reason for being curious about you. Checking your list of visitors can also help identify anyone who has actively declined an invitation you’ve sent, because if they’ve visited your profile after receiving an invitation, but not accepted, obviously they’ve put thought into it and are still cogitating or have decided ‘no’. As distinct from someone who hasn’t accepted because they simply haven’t got around to thinking about it.
- I’m an open networker, which means anyone can send me a LinkedIn invitation. Because I like to make it easy for people to send me an invitation. Why make it hard, and potentially miss meeting someone really interesting? People can also send open networkers invitations with a more detailed explanation of why they want to connect, because these invitations allow a higher word count. It’s sometimes very difficult to explain properly to someone why you would like them to join your network in only a few words. However - I certainly don’t accept invitations without first checking carefully to see what we’ve got in common. If I have any doubts at all, I reply to the invitation via my email inbox, asking for an explanation regarding what they think we specifically have in common – why they want to include me in particular, in their network.
- Another group of LinkedIn networkers are self-described ‘LION’s. These are open networkers who send out invitations to everyone they can and who accept all invitations regardless of who they’re from (apart from spammers & people with fake identities, of course). The aim of ‘LION’s is simply to build a network of many thousands of people. This random networking is not encouraged or endorsed by LinkedIn and personally I can’t see the point of building a huge network which contains a large number of people you’ve got nothing in common with, unless it’s your aim just to build the largest network in the world. And?. You’d end up with an unmanageable, unserviceable, monster-sized network of people with widely disparate interests. Each to his own, but I can’t see the point in restricting your LinkedIn network to just several dozen people you’ve met in person and already know really well, either. To me this would be like going to a party regularly and only ever seeing exactly the same people, or having a ‘private’ twitter account – too much homogeneity! For me, ideally a mix of old & new is healthiest. If your network is such an easily managed size as just a few dozen people, why not just manage it via your email address book and dispense with LinkedIn? To me the point of an online business network is to meet like-minded people that I’d otherwise probably not cross paths with in person. I’ve met so many interesting and like-minded people via LinkedIn, all around Australia and in other countries, that would not have been encountered otherwise. I’ve met people in person because we exchanged emails via LinkedIn and found we’ve got enough in common for great conversations. For me this has particularly been the case with other people involved in agriculture or an interest in horses, self-publishing writers and small business owners. I’ve also had some great corporate sales via contacts. I’m looking forward to meeting more Linkedin travellers in future, and helping others with travel information in this part of the world.
- Invitations received from others – a LinkedIn invitation is just like a party invitation – don’t ignore them or delete them without consideration. You’re also under no obligation to accept, either. But do send an explanation regarding why you’re refusing an invitation, if you can word it diplomatically enough. And if you receive an invitation from someone you don’t know and aren’t sure about after reading their invitation or profile, I do recommend replying and asking for an explanation regarding why they want to link with you. You’ll either get a good reason for why a connection is great for both of you, or you’ll receive a reason that you don’t think is good enough, or there will be no reply at all. Remember all your invitations are stored in your account, so invites deleted without acceptance can be accepted at a later date (unless the sender withdrew the invitation, which is uncommon). I’ve had some people accept invitations a year after they received them, which is presumably because they’ve gained confidence in the networking system and/or they’ve just decided to invest some time in online networking.
- After careful consideration, it is wise to ‘disconnect’ anyone you no longer feel comfortable including in your network. For example if it becomes obvious they’re actually not your cup of tea, for whatever reason (eg you disagree strongly with their political views or ethics); they post too many overt sales pitches; or you feel the relationship is a one-way street (eg they’re raiding your contact lists but have blocked their own from view). I have removed a couple of people from my network who drove me mad with a vast quantity of self-obsessed sales-pitch messages and several people who had blocked their contact lists for no apparent reason. To remove contacts from your LinkedIn network you simply go to the ‘contacts’ page, click on ‘remove contacts’ on the right hand side (towards the top of the page), then locate the person to be removed from the list which appears on the left. They don’t receive a message alerting them to the disconnection – however – observant, active LinkedIn users will notice a reduction in the number of connections. If they don’t have many contacts or they have a reason for thinking it might be you, they will identify the fact that you’ve severed the connection.
- You get 3,000 ordinary invitations to send out however apparently when you run out, you can apply to LinkedIn to allow you to have more. How long does the invitation-increase request take to be processed & how likely it is to be successful? I’ll let you know when I’ve had to do it, which I will, sometime! If you have a paid account, you can send out a certain number of ‘Inmails’, which are direct messages. These are handy if you find someone you know and would like to send an invitation or message to, but who you don’t have any contacts in common with. Sending an Inmail may be the only way you can send an invitation to people who are just starting out on LinkedIn or who have not been very active, with a very small LinkedIn network.
- Twitter and LinkedIn - It used to be possible to have all your messages sent out on Twitter, automatically appear on your LinkedIn account. However the latter was discontinued in June 2012, due to changes by Twitter management. Many people use free services such as ‘Hootsuite’ or ‘Tweetdeck’ to compose, send and receive messages for various social media platforms, including LinkedIn.
- Sending messages to your LinkedIn contacts – if you are putting a message out via LinkedIn, do consider carefully whether your message is of interest to your whole LinkedIn network or just a segment. It may be of particular interest to people in a particular location or a particular industry, and not at all interesting to others. Your contacts are automatically sorted into various categories called ‘tags’ (location, company, industry etc) and you can add more categories easily. To send a message to a particular group of contacts, you simply click on the tag name, click on ‘select all’ then ‘send message’, type the message and away it goes. It will however only send to 50 people at a time (presumably to discourage bulk spamming) so direct messaging has to be done in batches if being sent to larger numbers. Just remember – everyone receives too much information these days, so ensure what you’re sending is likely to be of interest to the recipient.
- Don’t post sales pitches on LinkedIn. Also ensure you’re not sending messages too often. How frequent is too frequent? My rule of thumb is to only post a message online when there’s really something worth saying – i.e. of sure genuine interest to other people, and something that adds some new information or angle which is different to what already exists online. Many marketing specialists recommend posting messages far more frequently than I believe is wise on a regular basis and putting a number on it simply encourages people to post more messages than they otherwise might. The exception is journalists working in specialist fields or in general news areas, who can churn out many interesting and worthwhile messages daily. The rest of us usually don’t have that much uniquely interesting content. With LinkedIn, I think posting a news item on average only once or twice a week is fine. And much less often if you don’t have anything in particular worth talking about – and more often when there’s more good stuff worth saying. Aim for quality rather than quantity. There’s already too many people yapping on the internet just for the sake of it, don’t join this club. Many people trying too hard to be ‘top of mind’ and ‘memorable’ are succeeding, but for all the wrong reasons.
- Remember that like most things, you do get out of it what you put into it, and quality takes time to produce. I’ve met many people who expected to get ‘results’ very quickly on LinkedIn and were subsequently disappointed; and other people who haven’t put a lot of thought into what’s in it for other people. It’s best to think long term, and not expect a return on every piece of effort invested. Work at building a good quality network, helping others to do likewise, and eventually benefits will appear – often when you least expect them to.
- Always add a photo of yourself to your social media account if it is business-related (LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest etc). If you’re not prepared to add an image then you probably should reconsider opening a social media account. Any little digital camera or phone can be trotted out to take a few pics, which are quick to download onto your computer and add to your account profile easily. Lots of people know how to do it so ask for help if you need it, it won’t take long. And it’s not a photography competition – the photos aren’t being scored for technical excellence. Most people recommend a profile image is a close-up ‘in your face’ style portrait so people who know you recognise you immediately. However I personally prefer a more distant portrait and believe there’s room for creativity, eg a shopfront, business signage or property landscape image is fine. Do think carefully about what image you want to project. If you are involved in hands-on agriculture then ideally your photograph will show you standing outside and in a rural setting relating specifically to what you do for a living. Instantly people in the same business will be more likely to want to connect with you as they’ll immediately recognise interests in common, and whatever you’ve written seems more credible. The best group at clearly identifying a common interest is horse lovers. Facebook, particularly, is full of people involved in the horse industry and 99% of those I’ve seen use a photograph of themselves with a horse. Conversely, it’s disappointing to see how many women have chosen style over substance, so to speak, when choosing an image for their LinkedIn profile. Despite being a business network, a surprisingly large number of women have chosen a photograph of themselves dressed up to the nines in a social situation (quite often late at night, glass in hand) rather than an image of themselves dressed for work and on the job. Which gives an image of a hard-working, reliable professional? And why is it mostly women with this style of photo on their LinkedIn profile? I’m certainly not suggesting people trot out deathly passport-style or boardroom-type formal portraits for their LinkedIn profile – you are supposed to look human and approachable, not like an android. But leave the party and holiday pics for Facebook & non-business Twitter accounts. The same goes for family photos – don’t include your kids, partners or pet dog on LinkedIn, unless you’re in the circus or dog training business.
- There are other things you can do – such as personalising your LinkedIn account name (helps your listing get good search engine rankings and looks a lot better) and personalising the link names to your website and blog. But many LinkedIn specialists have written about such technicalities elsewhere, so I’ve concentrated on explaining etiquette aspects and strategy, particularly as it applies to regional Australians – who I believe have by far the most to gain from being active LinkedIn members.
- LinkedIn, like other social media platforms, does make significant changes every so often. Unfortunately I don’t have time to write about all these changes however the fundamental principles mentioned above, remain. I’ll add more info to these guidelines as I come across it, and suggestions are welcome.
- Lastly – if you have a specific interest in agriculture, the environment or livestock (including horses), don’t hesitate to send me a LinkedIn invitation to join your network. And please encourage other rural & regional residents to join, as LinkedIn is especially useful for us.