Wednesday, April 23, 2014
It might seem surprising that a public relations professional would be conservative in LinkedIn. Actually, I am a huge fan of LinkedIn and several social networks but some might say that I am too conservative. I am very active online and there are many places that anyone can reach or follow me but I do reserve LinkedIn for a network of colleagues and people with whom I’ve had some type of direct interaction. I believe and respect that comfort levels among users of LinkedIn and all social networks are as different as the individuals who use them. I am always re-evaluating and interested in hearing suggestions for a different or better approach but so far, I haven't heard or discovered any arguments or examples that have changed my point of view for LinkedIn.
Last month, you may have read or heard about Kelly Blazek's notoriously ugly response to a LinkedIn connection request from job seeker, Diana Mekota. Media coverage of the LinkedIn exchange escalated when Diana shared Kelly's nasty reply online. Kelly, who ran a Cleveland Job Bank, publicly apologized, admitting that her note was unprofessional and wrong. If you missed it, this clip with comments from Kelly Wallace, CNN Digital Correspondent includes a video summary:
Negative publicity about Kelly Blazek and her abrasive reply to Diana Mekota went viral.
To learn more about the outrage and reactions you can search for the names of these women.
(Kelly's Twitter account, @NEOHCommJobs is no longer active)
During the social media backlash, there were reports that others had come forward and shared additional harsh replies that they had received from Kelly. According to an article by Janet Cho, The Plain Dealer, published on Cleveland.com, Kelly had a significant following but she has pulled down her Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, erased her blog, and she also returned the 2013 Cleveland Communicator of the Year Award that she had received from the Cleveland Chapter of the IABC (International Association of Business Communicators).
The situation is unfortunate. Kelly has been very respected and she has served a large network of followers for quite some time. As her popularity and exposure increased, she became frustrated with the increasing numbers of LinkedIn invitations to connect from people that she didn't know. Although some of her points may have been valid, they were lost in her abrasive and sarcastic delivery. Although most have agreed that Kelly's delivery style was extreme and inappropriate, some have also commented that Diana's response was destructive as well. Even though Diana may feel validated through the social media outrage, the ongoing churn of negative publicity could be damaging to her reputation as well.
Both Kelly and Diana might benefit from reading "Relationship Economics" by David Nour. In his book, David stresses the importance of prioritizing and investing in relationships. A few years ago I heard David speak and he validated so many of my thoughts about the importance of building and nurturing relationships. Although networking is important and all of our contacts may be valuable, we only have so much time to invest in developing them. Nour explained that all of our contacts are not equal and our communication and connections with them shouldn't be the same. He provided great examples and specific tips for organizing our contacts and becoming more deliberate in regular communications with them to appropriately and continuously nurture and build meaningful networks.
One of David’s stories that really stood out to me was about the way that he respectfully responds to LinkedIn connection requests from people that he doesn’t know. David is an advisor, speaker and author with a dynamic business, Nour Group. He speaks to large groups of people on a regular basis. He’s also an active LinkedIn user with more than 500 connections. Even though David shares this example with his audiences and asks them not to send him a LinkedIn connection request unless they truly know him, he still receives requests after each presentation. Instead of ignoring the invitations, he responds respectfully by explaining that he uses LinkedIn for active business relationships and invites them to follow him on another site.
I have followed David’s example more than once. It’s not that I am disinterested in those who reach out, but there are many places that we can connect and get to know one another before sharing a full LinkedIn connection.
According to LinkedIn, it was designed “to connect the world’s professionals to enable them to be more productive and successful. To make services available through its websites, mobile applications, and developer platforms, to help professionals, their connections, and millions of other professionals meet, exchange ideas, learn, make deals, find opportunities or employees, work, and make decisions in a network of trusted relationships and groups.”
Did You Know that Your LinkedIn Account
Could be Restricted?
When we signed up for our LinkedIn accounts we entered into a legally binding agreement to follow LinkedIn Terms of Service. Did you know that the "Dos and Don'ts" in these terms instruct us not to connect with people that we don’t know and our accounts could be restricted if we violate the service agreement?
If you invite people that you do not know and trust and too many people decline your invitations,
your account may be restricted and LinkedIn may send you this message.
It may seem counter-intuitive to limit connections in a social network, but I think it actually makes sense. I don’t connect with people that I don’t know. I’m a strong proponent of networking but I am also a firm believer in using a variety of communication tools for relationship building, nurturing and making relevant and appropriate connections with people as we get to know them. There are many ways to communicate and engage new contacts without making a LinkedIn connection.
If we connect to one another in LinkedIn we are indicating that we know one another. We should know enough about a connection to be comfortable sharing our contact list with them, to endorse them or introduce them to our other contacts.
Who Do You Know?
About a year ago, I attended a social marketing seminar and I joined a round table discussion on LinkedIn, specifically. The conversation around the table seemed to be focused on increasing the number of LinkedIn connections, rather than connecting with people to nurture meaningful business relationships and build productive networks. The motives seemed backward to me and when I expressed this, shock appeared on the faces around the table. Many of the participants argued that connecting in LinkedIn was like exchanging business cards.
I had to disagree. Attending an event or joining a group certainly doesn't mean that the attendees and members know one another. Networking events and groups can be great opportunities to meet people who may have some common interests, and this can certainly lead to ongoing relationships. However, I view a business card exchange as an introduction and an opportunity for follow up communication to explore whether a relationship might be established. In most cases, following an initial introduction, it might be more appropriate to send a direct e-mail, make a phone call, or meet for a cup of coffee before sending a LinkedIn invitation.
Shouldn't We be More Concerned about
Building Relationships than Adding Connections?
When we focus on common objectives to build mutually beneficial, meaningful, trusted, professional relationships and networks within LinkedIn, we can be more discriminating when we invite and accept invitations to connect. We can follow and engage with anyone in LinkedIn through public profiles, company pages and group dialog without full connections. There are so many places that we can be involved with people around our various interests that we don’t need to “connect” to everyone in LinkedIn. When a direct relationship develops with an individual, we can add them to our formal connections at that time.
The business card discussion at the social marketing seminar reminded me of tradeshow lead generation in the days before we had social networks. At tradeshows, piles of business cards were often collected at the booth reception desk. Many tradeshow attendees were eager to hand out business cards to collect a "tchotchke" (free promotional gift) or to enter to win a big prize. When we began to sort the leads for post-show follow up communication it became clear that only a small percentage of these business cards represented individuals with genuine interests in our products and services. The most valuable business leads came from the pockets of our company representatives who stood in the booth and spoke with people to learn more about their interests. If we aren't discriminating about who we connect with in LinkedIn, we are missing out on the real power of social networking. LinkedIn isn't about the numbers of connections, it's more about building relationships, communities and networks around common interests. Why would we want to bury valuable business contacts and communication under names and posts from people that we don't really know?
To build and participate in a network of trusted relationships and groups, we must engage with one another in meaningful ways. My LinkedIn membership represents much more than a collection of names. Most of my connections are people that I have worked or interacted with in some capacity; we have at least had conversation about our mutual interests.
Who Do You Trust?
We have different types of relationships and we should have different levels of trust. Trust is earned and built over time, not delivered with a business card. Everyone that we meet does not need to know everything about us or hear and see everything that we say or do. This is true both professionally and personally, in LinkedIn and other social networks.
If you have ever viewed "Who's Viewed Your Profile" in LinkedIn you may have seen "Anonymous Users". Many find this disturbing, and feel as though they are being stalked. Several have protested against LinkedIn allowing anonymous users to view others' profiles but there are also arguments for allowing the feature. For example, in this TechCrunch article, Sara Perez describes how the anonymous feature could be helpful when you take steps to block another member (LinkedIn recently added blocking).
There is already so much information about us available online today, it isn't just in LinkedIn. However, when we join LinkedIn we must recognize that we are increasing our professional exposure online and this can be powerful for expanding our networks and our careers. LinkedIn enables us to create a public professional summary and (through privacy & settings) we can control the level of information that is presented there. That public profile does not require a LinkedIn Connection to view so we can be discovered by those who may be looking for us or the skills and expertise that we offer and even the anonymous users can see it. Through LinkedIn "inMail" any LinkedIn member can send us a message or inquiry and we can reply without a full "connection" so there is no need to invite someone to connect before you know one another.
Occasionally, I connect with someone through a new introduction in LinkedIn. However, I do not accept invitations from people that I don’t know, especially when the invitation is simply “I’d like to add you to my professional network”, the LinkedIn standard message without any hint of mutual interest. Doesn’t that kind of request seem self-serving? It might as well say something like this, “You seem like an interesting person, I’d like to see your list of connections - see who you know”.
When I began using the LinkedIn app on my iPad, I accidentally sent the canned LinkedIn invitation to a few people (I didn't realize that the iPad app didn't work in the same way as the desktop version). It seemed rude, or lazy to send a canned communication like that to someone that I knew. When I realized what had happened I sent a follow up message and apology. Even if we know each other, shouldn't we act like humans, demonstrate our interest and invest a little time to communicate and express our reason for making the LinkedIn connection?
There are So Many Other Ways that We Can Connect and
Cultivate New Relationships
We can join LinkedIn groups and engage with people who share our interests, without being fully “connected” to them. We can also follow and comment on a variety of blogs and content outside of LinkedIn. When we participate in industry conversations online, we can cultivate new relationships and begin getting to know one another.
I have a public website, a blog, a few Twitter accounts, and a Wakefield PR Facebook page where anyone can follow and reach out to me and I regularly post and communicate through these sites. I also have a detailed public LinkedIn profile (you probably do too) that can be found by anyone who searches my name or key words relating to my business and I recently started a LinkedIn company page for Wakefield PR & Marketing Communications, where I'll be sharing public posts on a regular basis.
If one of my posts or comments attract the attention of someone that I don’t really know, it isn’t hard for them to find me or reach out to communicate with me directly. While everyone may not have their own website, most of us have a broad footprint online through a variety of social networks. With so many places to discover, meet, follow and begin to build relationships online why would we need to “connect” with everyone in LinkedIn?
Copyright ©2014 Laurie Wakefield