Theoretically "connecting" with other industry professionals has never been easier thanks to social sites like LinkedIn. However, this ease has lead to an increase in bad business behavior. While strengthening your network by connecting with people you don't know is part of the expected LinkedIn experience, doing this one thing to those connections could get you rejected by them completely.As the digital networking landscape continues to grow it has become common for people to receive connection requests from individuals they don't really know, or haven't actually met in person. Maybe they're in the same industry, or you share a few common connections. It's just become a normal part of engaging in business in the digital age. However in some cases, as soon as this connection is made that individual asks for something. Such a buzz kill. Does this scenario sound familiar?
"Thanks for accepting my request. I have a product that will really make your life easier. I would love to schedule a time to show it to you."
or maybe this?
"I'm so glad you accepted my connection request. Could you please put me in contact with your office's hiring manager?"
Everyone can relate to how artificial LinkedIn messages like this feel. Just because someone agreed to connect with you doesn't mean they owe you their time. When you try immediately to ask for help or attempt to sell something without establishing trust or even try to formulate the basic courtesies of a new relationship, it comes across as rude and honestly, quite lazy. Connecting on LinkedIn should make networking easier, but it shouldn't be an excuse for not putting forth effort.
Consider What You Bring to the (Workplace) Table
You should still look at LinkedIn as a way to expand your reach, but consider what value you bring before you start asking the same from others. Share a link to an educational article about your industry, or ask if you can introduce them to anyone on your team. It's always better to give than to receive, but it's also a good business practice that will place you in a more favorable position to ask for things you may need later on.
A good rule of thumb is to treat online networking like you would in person. You wouldn't introduce yourself and immediately jump into why you would be a good fit for their job opening. You would ask questions about the other person to see what their job is like, casually leading into their work environment and what they like about their job. If you see a potential mutual benefit, you would continue to foster the relationship. A bit later, when it was appropriate to reach out with a request, you could do so and hopefully receive a positive response. A good conversation might go like this.
"Hi Carol, thank you for accepting my connection request. I see you graduated from Mizzou like me, Go Tigers! I work as a freelance writer, and noticed you work freelance as a web designer. What motivated you to go that route?"
and a few messages later...
"I would love to chat when you have time to see if there's a way we could possibly refer clients to each other. I really admire the work you sent over, and think some of my connections would too."
This message is open about the intentions of the connection, without being pushy or one-sided. They also leave it open-ended and compliment the other individual's work, explaining they see a potential mutual benefit. It's the perfect balance between fostering a connection and gaining from it at the same time.
Your actions online speak bounds about you as a professional, and they also indirectly reflect on your workplace. If you're known for spamming people's inmail word will spread, and it's much harder to correct those type of scars to your reputation than it is to prevent them. Take special care in how you interact with other professionals on sites like LinkedIn. Your future self and your organization will thank you for the extra effort.