LinkedIn is the world’s largest business networking and marketing association, having 450 million members in June 2016. Therefore, as a B2B marketing tool, the strength of the platform lies in the connections you make, and how you leverage these relationships to grow your business. It is easy enough to get connections on LinkedIn, but in order to use them to their maximum advantage it is helpful to understand how connections work, and what you should and shouldn’t do with them.
Physically getting connections on LinkedIn is simple. You can start off by looking up a business associate, colleague or client by name in the search box. You then click on a ‘connect’ button to start the connection request process. LinkedIn creates a generic email message which is then sent to your contact, which you can personalise if you wish. We strongly recommend you do so, as it sets a productive, personal tone to your relationship, and makes it more likely they will accept your invite. Before sending someone an invitation to connect, you will be prompted to indicate how you know them e.g. whether they are a friend, a customer, business partner etc. If how you know them is listed on LinkedIn, for instance if they work for a customer company that has a page on the platform, you’ll be able to select this through a drop-down menu.
Once you’ve filled out the details and customised your message, you can click send and your invitation is emailed to your contact. Hopefully they will accept your invitation, and the next time you login to LinkedIn they’ll be listed as one of your connections.
This is where it gets interesting. After you look up one person, LinkedIn will suggest other names based on association. So, if you look up a company’s Sales Director, LinkedIn may also suggest you view the profile of its CEO. This is about as far as many people get with LinkedIn: they will quickly build up a ‘network’ of connections based on their friends, colleagues and acquaintances – along with a few chancers (usually salespeople who have sent them unsolicited connection requests). Unfortunately, LinkedIn facilitates this random network building strategy by suggesting connections based on your email contact list. These contacts invariably include family members and other people with whom you have no meaningful business relationship.
It goes without saying that such a network of connections is almost useless for business marketing purposes. To build a list of useful connections, you will want to connect with potential customers and influential people within your industry. This will involve people that you don’t know personally, and maybe have never even shared an email with.
So why would you send an unsolicited connection request to someone you don’t know? Isn’t this as bad as spam or cold calling? The answer is that while you technically can send these people connection requests, you don’t have to. This is because LinkedIn’s connection algorithm works on the basis of webs of association.