LinkedIn has said time and time again that its desire is for its members to only connect with other members with whom they have had previous interaction, either through a shared work experience, school, or as a vendor. Members who don’t yet know each other are encouraged to connect only after having been introduced or referred by a shared connection. That’s why every profile that you see on LinkedIn is displayed as being either a 1st degree connection, 2nd degree connection or 3rd degree connection. 1st degree connections are people you are directly connected to, while 2nd degree connections are people with whom you share a connection, but you are not yet connected to directly. 3rd degree connections are members with whom you have no shared connections at all.
Some people, like myself, prefer to treat LinkedIn as an Open Networker, which means that we will connect with virtually anyone. It’s not about numbers – particularly since LinkedIn stops displaying your number of connections to other viewers after 500 – it’s about networking. When I attend a local networking event, one of my goals is to take the time to meet and engage with as many new people as possible. We meet each other and get to know each other a bit, communicating what we do and the kinds of clients and business we’re looking for. If I meet someone that either has need of my services, or may know other people who have need of my services (or vice versa), we might schedule a follow-up meeting for just the two of us to sit down over coffee and talk in length about shared needs and synergies. That’s networking and LinkedIn is a great platform for facilitating that on a global scale.
Consider though if I were to simply pick up your business card from the pile at one of these networking meetings and then call you a day later and ask you for your business. Would you be impressed? Would you give me the time of day? Or would you dismiss me as a cold calling prospector. Unless I had one hell of a sales pitch, you might politely bring the phone call to an end (or perhaps not politely at all).
Unfortunately, I am seeing many, many people using LinkedIn in exactly that wrong way. Just because I accept your connection on LinkedIn doesn’t mean I’m ready to give you my business, yet I now daily receive LinkedIn messages, emails and phone calls exactly to that affect.
Just today, I received an unsolicited phone call. The caller identified himself and said that we’d recently connected on LinkedIn (Okkkaayyyy… ?). He then went on to describe his company and all their available outsourcing services, and would I be interested in exploring opportunities with them? I was not, and told him as such. He then went on to describe some product they have to offer and would I be interested in receiving information on that? I was not, and told him as such. I then politely explained my position and thanked him for his time.
As someone who used to be responsible for business development for a number of clients, and who personally made thousands of cold calls to business owners, I get it. If you call enough businesses, and leverage the right offer at the right time, you can make sales. But there’s a reason why I no longer cold call businesses. Social Media and Inbound Marketing are far more effective techniques for reaching business owners in need, and using social networks to facilitate cold calling is a tragic waste of opportunity.
If you’re currently calling or emailing social network contacts, or if you’re not yet reaching out to your connections, consider trying the following:
1. Treat each new connection like someone you just met at a local networking meeting. Introduce yourself and take a moment to get to know them by reviewing their profile and activity. Look for opportunities to help and be helped, and open a dialogue about any opportunities you find.
2. Do not focus on selling yourself and your business. Instead, engage in real, meaningful discussions on topics that are of interest to a potential client. This is where LinkedIn can shine, as you can Like and Comment on someone’s status updates and Group posts. You can also look for opportunities to answer questions and position yourself as an expert and resource.
3. Regularly endorse connections for applicable skills. Many have suggested that endorsements are a waste of time and a gamification of LinkedIn, but there is actually real value which can be gained by using endorsements. In this case, when i endorse you for skills, you receive a notification that I’ve done so and it keeps my name within your “field of vision” in a positive, non-threatening and non-sales way.
4. Consider writing recommendations for members for whom you can honestly talk about. If you haven’t yet worked together, as would be the case with a prospect, look for other ways you can recommend them. Do they regularly share interesting and valuable information? Are they a leader in their industry? I have received a number of such recommendations from people who simply appreciate the content and information that I share.
5. And finally, share great content and information yourself! Regularly provide status updates that are to articles you’ve written or read, and make yourself a resource to your prospects. When possible, create great content specifically designed to help targeted segments of clients and then share that with them directly, like when I wrote “Social Media Marketing for Real Estate Agents.” Using LinkedIn’s Contacts tool, I was able to segment my contacts and specifically target real estate agents, and then send each a brief message that invited them to read the article in a polite and professional way.
Treating your LinkedIn contacts or any other social network’s connections as a database for cold calling is a poor use of resources. Instead, concentrate on using LinkedIn the way it was intended, as a virtual networking and referring mechanism. Provide real value to your connections and prospects and the leads and sales will flow naturally. If you’d like coaching on how to use your content and social media like LinkedIn to drive traffic, generate leads and increase sales, contact me to arrange a free initial consultation.
Image courtesy of IronRodArt – Royce Bair (“Star Shooter”), Flickr.