I love talking to strangers and I love making new friends. Before the pandemic, WFH, and wearing a mask in public, it would usually begin with some point of connection that engages a conversation. That might be the current state of the weather, how long it’s taking to get served at Starbucks or how much I liked what they had to say at the event we both just attended. I don’t stand in front of a stranger, wave my hands and say, hey, let’s be friends and then walk away. Yet that is exactly how many approach making new connections on LinkedIn. The saddest part is it’s only gotten worse as business has slowed and so many of us are working from home.
I’m not sure exactly why anyone thinks this is a smart approach to making a new connection or how that’s going to be of any benefit to them or me. I suppose it’s nice to boast about the number of connections one has on a social network, but there’s no real value in big numbers. The quality of your connections is far more important than the quantity. It’s precisely the reason why micro-influencers are becoming more valuable to brands than macro-influencers.
It’s also not a very human thing to do. Whether you’re using LinkedIn to build your network for professional growth, get a new job, or generate leads the whole point of being there is to connect with other humans.
With over 675 million users from more than 200 countries on LinkedIn, there are a lot of new friends and good connections to be made. But like the offline world, there are ways to go about it.
There is not much that makes me crazier on LinkedIn then when someone I do not know sends me an invitation to connect with no personalized message. Yet it happens all the time.
Granted LinkedIn does not make adding a personalized message as easy to find on a mobile device as it does on a desktop. You have to work a bit. It requires you visiting the person’s full profile and clicking on the tab labeled ‘More’ which will then offer you an option to personalize your invitation.
But it’s worth the effort to take a moment and give me a reason you want to connect – that is if you’re interested in making a solid connection and not just in making your numbers look good.
Don’t bait me
There is no doubt that LinkedIn can be a great source of business leads, but don’t bait me. Don’t send me a personalized invitation that makes it sound like we have something in common, only to begin a series of annoying emails trying to sell me something.
I had one recently who reached out with this message: “I saw we were both in the same space (digital marketing) and so I just wanted to reach out and say hi.”
Against my better judgment I accepted that invitation after which came a bombardment of messages trying to sell me something. We are up to seven now. I have not responded to any of them but that has not stopped them from coming. The only reason I have not unlinked this person is I’m running my own little experiment, curious how much longer this will go on before it stops. The last message read: “I was curious to know specifically what kinds of services you offer?” Which brings me to my next point.
Do your homework
If you really want to know me or find something that I might be interested in buying, do your homework. Take a moment to figure out if whatever you are selling can solve a problem I might have. Read one of my blog posts. Do something to show me you care. Don’t ask me if I need help with my social media or content when that is one of the services I offer.
I reached out to someone the other day with the express purpose of wanting to sell them, but before I did that, I did my homework. I found an article that had cited them. It was a point of connection, after which I suggested how what I was offering would be useful to them. I didn’t bait them on the pretense that I wanted to be their friend (not that I wouldn’t want to). I was honest.
I got an immediate response. I don’t know whether I will get the business, but at the very least I showed I cared enough to do a little homework.
It’s almost ridiculous to suggest that being human would be a best practice, but it seems to be increasingly necessary to state such.
A platform like LinkedIn is such a gift, more so now than ever as we adapt to new ways of working remotely. It affords us so many great tools to connect, to stay connected, to build our networks, find jobs, and stay on top of our industry – even as we work from home in our day pajamas. It’s one of the reasons I have clients as far away as Singapore. But just because it’s powered by artificial intelligence, does not mean we should act like we are.
If you want to make a new friend, if you really want to connect – the easiest way is to start by acting like a human. Think. Show you care. Look for a reason that benefits us both.
A version of this post was originally published on January 4, 2019. It has been updated to reflect the times.