It started off innocently enough. I’ve been a member of LinkedIn for…a very long time…and after joining it years and years ago I haven’t been tempted by the “let us check your address book for connections…” prompts that LinkedIn tosses on the screen now and then.
And my innocent, and well-meaning, boo-boo that followed has led to some very, very interesting insights into community, connections, and social media.
Here’s what happens when LinkedIn culls through your Gmail (for example) address book. It looks at the addresses you have against members of LinkedIn and it makes the assumption that if you’ve emailed with a person you might want to connect with them. It’s a good assumption, actually. I have well over 2000 addresses in my Gmail address book alone. That makes it pretty likely that more than a few people I’ve emailed with since 2004 (when I started using Gmail—at its very beginning by the way) will also be on LinkedIn. So after a few minutes, LinkedIn showed a small box with four people selected. Now, what I should have noticed was the little “886 of your contacts are on LinkedIn…” note at the top.
I unchecked a couple of the boxes and clicked “Next”. On the next screen I chose not to invite a few hundred other people to join LinkedIn. Which is hindsight was very good move indeed. I clicked done and went back to what I was doing (reading something or writing or whatever).
In a couple minutes my email started lighting up. Lots of “so and so has accepted your LinkedIn request…”
Yeah, you’ve guessed by now that the little box of four that LinkedIn put up scrolls and I just invited to connect with over 800 people.
What has happened since then is, I think, nothing short of amazing. And while you might think that the big win was that I now have like 2000+ connections on LinkedIn—it isn’t. So let me tell you what I’ve learned.
First I want to be very clear, that even when you’re first joining LinkedIn, inviting to connect with hundreds of people at once is not a good thing. Also I do not view LinkedIn or Facebook or Twitter as a contest to see who can have the most connections. This post is not about getting a trophy.
Turns out there were a ton of people who I’ve been meaning to connect with on LinkedIn, but hadden’t yet. Now I am. People I’ve worked with in past jobs, people I’ve met over the years, really cool people who I really would like to stay in touch with.
Shy and humble doesn’t cut it
The next group of people who I’m pleased as punch to be connected with are folks—lots of industry folks—who I’ve messaged, met, chatted, etc with over the years, but I’ve felt too shy to ask them to connect. Well, turns out that was a load of hooey. One of these folks even Tweeted me saying “I can’t believe we haven’t been connected before!” so the lesson is, it can’t hurt to ask. Don’t spam the person you’ve met with connection requests, but heck if you have a legit reason to ask to connect—ask!
Your profile speaks volumes
I’m not going to discount for a moment that the fact I keep my LinkedIn profile pretty up to date (it can always use a polish or two) is a big factor in people choosing to connect with me. People can see what I’m doing (a lot of writing, plus my work here), what I’ve been doing since we crossed paths, and who they might also know who is already connected to me. At a glance people can see what I’m all about and make a decision to connect or not.
Be honest why, when asked why to connect
I’ve had more than a few LinkedIn emails asking, essentially, why should we connect. They first thing I said was that I had goofed. That we had probably emailed at some point in the past and that’s how this all happened. Essentially I take the pressure off that if they don’t want to connect it’s cool and I’ll be cool with it. Then if the person’s name or profile jogs my memory I try to suggest where we might have crossed paths. Simple as that. If you goof, you have to own it first.
People want to connect with you
The last thing I learned was that, and it’s related to the previous five points, people want to connect with you (and other people). It’s part of being human. It’s part of creating society. Connection to others is how we’ve managed to get where we are in this world (individualy and collectively as a species) and this little “experiment/goof” has illustrated this to me in spades.
That’s it. Six things I learned after making a mistake and not being careful about thinking the “Next” button. In the end, however, I think I’m going to be much, much richer for it.