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How to be credible when you connect on LinkedIn

Do you automatically accept every connection request you receive on LinkedIn? I don’t, writes Robert Clay of Marketing Wizdom, and I hope you don’t either. Here’s why.

LinkedIn is a massive global phenomenon these days. As I write this it has 120 million users and is the biggest professional network in the world. It’s said that if you’re not on LinkedIn you may as well not exist. And there’s plenty of truth in that. It is also an incredibly valuable resource. But its value comes from the quality of the connections you establish, and that means NOT accepting every connection request that comes your way.

Although I already have a large network on LinkedIn (14 million people through 3 levels) it has been built one link at a time, being very selective about who I connect with. If I or someone else has specifically directed you to this post when you’ve tried to connect with me or them, it could be that something about your approach or your profile is acting as a barrier to my or their connecting with you.

If you want to connect with me (or anyone else) and you haven’t already met face to face, then I suggest you follow the guidelines set out below. And when other people want to connect with you I suggest you adopt a similar approach for your own due diligence before blindly accepting connection requests.

Personalise your connection request

Let’s start with your connection request. When you try to connect with me (or anyone else for that matter) on LinkedIn I recommend that you ALWAYS personalise your connection request, e.g. “It was great to meet you at time/place/event. I saw your profile here on LinkedIn and if you’re happy with my profile after you’ve checked it out, it would be great to connect with you here.” Obviously the wording you use will vary depending on the situation.

If you just use the standard bland wording i.e. “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn” or “Since you are a person I trust I wanted to invite you to join my network on LinkedIn.” (or other regional variations), and you’re not already well known to me, or we have never interacted, you’re in danger of coming across as yet another person who probably wants my email address to spam me with unwanted messages, or perhaps someone who wants to do the same to my contacts. Most people have little or no tolerance for uninvited emails these days, and as I get 10-20 such requests every day, I’m really not likely to accept.

If you personalise your invite and explain WHERE you came across me or where and when we met, or WHY you want to connect with me, it will likely get my attention because you’re demonstrating that you’re thinking about each connection individually, and not just connecting by rote. In that case I am MUCH more likely to connect with you.

If you send a connection request on the pretext of being a friend, or claim to have worked with me at a company or organisation that I’ve never had any dealings with, or have never heard of, or claim that you went to a school or university with me that I never attended (I get several of those every day too), then you’re insulting my intelligence and I may well decide that you’re dodgy for making such easily disproved claims before the relationship is even underway. The connection needs to be real.

I’m more relaxed about this if it’s the only way you can connect with me, as long as you give a good reason for connecting and I also buy into that reason. It comes right back to personalising your connection request.

But if you fail to personalise your connection request AND you purport to be a friend or former colleague when that clearly isn’t the case I am extremely unlikely to connect with you. Would you really want to connect with people for no good reason and on the basis of a completely fabricated connection? Smells like a potential spammer, whether that is the reality or not.

Giving your prospective contacts a credible reason for connecting is only the first part of the equation. Before deciding whether to connect with you I will normally look for several more things.

Do you have a profile photo?

I want to know who I’m dealing with. If I don’t see a profile photo it may be because you’re not who or what you claim to be. That arouses my suspicions and makes it less likely that I will connect with you. If you’re new to LinkedIn and haven’t got around to adding a photo yet, then may I suggest you do so at the earliest opportunity. It only takes a few seconds.

Is your profile complete?

LinkedIn is a wonderful tool for getting a sense of who you’re dealing with. It’s useful to know what you do, where you’re based, what you did in the past, what you’ve accomplished, the ways in which you’re qualified and how you can add value to any connection. A decent LinkedIn profile tells you all of this, and more, at a glance. If your profile tells me little or nothing I might think that you’re just out to spam me and my contacts which makes it very unlikely that I would want to connect with you.

Again if you’re new to LinkedIn and haven’t got around to adding any detail to your profile, I suggest you get onto that task as soon as you can because an empty profile raises more questions than it answers and does nothing to generate any confidence in you or what you do.

Have you earned credible recommendations?

LinkedIn allows your contacts to recommend you. It’s good to know that recommendations cannot be edited by their recipients, and furthermore every recommendation can be traced back to its source with a single click, so that you can tell it’s genuine. Before connecting with you I will always look for credible recommendations on your profile to indicate whether you’re any good at what you do.

If you have a few hundred connections and no recommendations it gives the impression that you’re really NOT that good at what you do … which will again raise serious questions about whether I really want to connect with you. How can someone have several hundred connections but NO recommendations if they’re any good at what they do? Something doesn’t stack up.

And if you DO have recommendations, I want to make sure that they are not just ‘recommendations by rote.’ What I mean by that is that some people blast everyone they know with requests for a recommendation, whether they’ve earned it or not, and some contacts feel obliged to respond. I regularly receive such requests.

If you ask me to recommend you when I have no experience of your product, service or expertise, I will ask you how you can possibly expect me to recommend you. To do so would not only be inauthentic, but it also, for me, goes against the whole ethos of LinkedIn, which is about building high quality connections or relationships.

When you see bland recommendation after bland recommendation on someone’s profile along the lines of “He or she is reliable, and/or knows their stuff”, or “He or she is a great networker” or “he or she is a good guy/girl/person” those recommendations clearly have no substance, and you can be pretty sure that they’re examples of people who have responded to a recommendation request just to be nice, or out of a misplaced sense of obligation, or to curry favour … and not because the person requesting it has earned it. So I look for genuine recommendations.

Sometimes I’m contacted by people I’ve never heard of, but when I read their recommendations it is obvious that they are VERY good at what they do, and their recommendations are genuine. In those cases it is always a delight and great honour to connect with them and I really don’t have to think too hard about it. I WANT to associate with people like that. They make a very valuable addition to any network.

If you’re new to LinkedIn and you don’t yet have any recommendations, then by all means ask people from whom you have genuinely EARNED a recommendation to recommend you. But DON’T blast everyone you’re connected to with a recommendation request unless they have real life experience of what you do. Anything else is meaningless. People are not stupid and will see right through hollow recommendations which will in turn only devalue everything else you do. A good network is not about numbers but about quality, sincerity and trust!

The best recommendations, of course, are always the ones that are unsolicited. And it’s usually possible to tell which ones they are.

Are our mutual connections credible?

I also look at how you’re already connected to me. If you’re already connected to a number of people I know well, trust, or hold in high regard I’m much more likely to accept your connection request than if there is no connection at all, or your only connection is via people I hardly know, if at all, or if I consider them to be lacking credibility in some way.

And if someone has their blog embedded in their LinkedIn profile it’s usually a good sign. You can get an even better feel for what they’re about.

Conclusion

So in conclusion, if you want to connect with me (or anyone else) on LinkedIn, make sure you personalise your connection request by giving a credible reason. Don’t fabricate the connection. Make sure you have a decent photo on your profile and that your profile is complete. Demonstrate your competence with genuine recommendations that you’ve EARNED … and consider who you’re already connected to. The more credible they are, the more credible you will be.

Do those things, show that you’re genuine and that you add value, and I’ll likely be delighted to connect with you. Ignore those things and I’ll likely have plenty of good reasons to ignore you.

Now that you’ve read my views, I’d be interested to hear yours. If you have anything to add to this post or would like to elaborate further on any of the points I’ve raised here, please comment below. I welcome anything you can contribute to the discussion.

Please share your thoughts and add your questions to the comments below. I’ll try to provide as many answers as possible in my future online videos, seminars, workshops, masterclasses and blog posts.

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