Thursday, 30 October 2008

LinkedIn Connection Approach Rethought

If you read my blog much, you know that I use LinkedIn quite a bit to help me find experts and expertise. You can see how I do this in my posts/screencasts LinkedIn Searching for Experts and Expertise and LinkedIn Answers to Get Help.

One of the techniques that I show in the first is that you can expand the reach of your search by choosing to search groups. Thus, by searching the eLearningGuild or ASTD groups, I'm able to find people who can help answer questions.

The screencast then shows how I would go about formulating a request for help through an intermediate contact.

I've known for some time that my success rate in contacting someone who is 2nd degree (there's one person in the middle who will pass my request on) is roughly 80%. If the person is 3rd degree, it's low enough that I don't even bother. The problem is that no one connects or knows both parties and can somewhat validate the request. So, I really only contact people I either already am connected with or are 2nd degree.

I'm a BIG TIME believer in the value of this. And, I sometimes wonder what I did before I had LinkedIn as a resource.

But, here's what has recently dawned on me. When I do a group search, the same effect is there about only being able to tap into 2nd degree. With the group search, I can find out that someone exists, but I can't really effectively connect with them unless I'm fairly close by.

This started me down the path of rethinking how I connect to people. I used to heed the advice that you should only connect with people who you know pretty well. And that's the way I've operated. However, that never seemed to work all that well, and I think I've figure it out.

I listened to a podcast that featured Christian Mayaud in which he described PAN CAN FAN.

An individual's social network (online or offline) is divided into three groups:

  • PANs = Potentially Active Network
  • CANs = Currently Active Network
  • FANs = Formerly Active Network
I used to think of LinkedIn as containing exactly my CAN and FAN. People I currently know well or have in the past. That's what LinkedIn tells you.

But what happens is that I'm constantly trying to reach into my PAN and it turns out that it's really only 2nd degree. Thus, my PAN is often feeling too limited. But, after listening to Christian, I've changed the way I look at LinkedIn connections and how I treat invitations. I now think of my LinkedIn direct connections as also containing PANs who I only know in a superficial way. I've changed where I'm willing to link to anyone who I feel may be a good person to know in the future based on their profile and possibly a limited messaging exchange. This is more in line with what people call a LinkedIn LION (LinkedIn Open Networker). I'm not sure I'm quite going as far as most LIONs who seem to link with everyone. But, I've certainly changed to be very open to linking even if I don't really "know" you.

The result has been interesting. It's a bit more like wandering around at a mixer. By putting it out that I'm likely to accept your link request, I get a chance to interact with a lot more new people. Most of the time it's a few simple emails based on what I see on their profile.

Oh, and I do subscribe to the one rule for LIONs, I no longer ever hit the "I don't know" button on an invitation.

Now, I don't know that everyone should change to look at LinkedIn connections quite the same way. My suggestion is not that this is the right course for everyone. In fact, my guess is that most people will continue to use it for only CANs and FANs as I did before.

However, if you are (a) reading this and (b) roughly in the world of eLearning, I would highly recommend that you make it your policy to connect with people like me who are likely highly connected in that world as well and who have said - I'm pretty open to linking.

So, what do you do?

You go to my profile:

You click on: Add Tony to Your Network.

You can click on: Other.

And then put in my email:

I don't promise to accept your invitation, but I do promise to treat it a bit like I would if you walked up to me at a networking mixer. If you are trying to sell me life insurance, I may move on. But I generally chat for a while and maybe exchange cards and we've now connected. Hopefully that means we can help each other better use LinkedIn in the future.

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