There’s long been an (often) animated debate as to the “right” way to approach networking and particularly to building your network.
In the red corner: there are advocates of a quality based approach where you only connect with people you either know well or who are directly relevant to you and what you do;
In the blue corner: over here, the watchword is ‘quantity’ and so the aim is to connect with all and sundry and rely on the idea of serendipity, that’s to say that these people are bound to know someone (who knows someone) who will be interested in what you do or offer.
LinkedIn of course supports both approaches and seemingly takes no sides in this.
However, there is a caveat to this because of the way that LinkedIn structures and displays its search results, which may influence your thoughts on this. This is particularly relevant if you are looking at this as a (new) business development tool for you or your business and so rely on appearing prominently in LinkedIn’s search results for the services and/or products you offer.
As I talk to more and more people – in my role of someone who helps companies match their business goals with what LinkedIn can offer – I find that the quality approach is the one that most people seem to align with. And I admit that it is also the one that I have most affinity for.
However, with LinkedIn, having a larger network will have a positive effect on some of the elements that will help deliver the success that most are looking for on LinkedIn in 2 key areas:
i) your position in the LinkedIn search results for phrases that you are interested in being found for; and,
ii) your visibility when people search for the type of expertise, products or services that you offer.
Both key elements in determining your success in goal of developing more business opportunities.
1. Appearing higher up the Search results
When we search on LinkedIn, we do in fact have a number of options as to how we wish to display those results. However, most people leave the search order in its default position which means that it displays them in terms of “Relevance”.
“Relevance” is based on two factors: the first is the one that most people focus in on, which is the use of keyword phrases throughout the personal profile page. Here, having the right phrases in the right places will help you to appear more prominently (ie. higher up) in the search results list.
However, there is a second factor which is taken into account and is how closely you are connected to the person. This also has a key bearing and hence the fact that in most cases, you will find that the people at the top of the results are in fact 1st and then 2nd level connections to you rather than a whole host of people ‘further away’ who might well match your search more closely in terms of their profile information.
Essentially, the closer connected you are to the person doing the searching, the better your chance of ranking highly in their search … presuming the keywords are in place of course! 🙂
2. Visibility in LinkedIn
LinkedIn works on the basis of 3 levels of connection. That’s to say you have those people that you are directly connected to (your 1st level connections), and then the people that they are connected to (your 2nd level connections) and then finally those people that they in turn are connected to (your 3rd level connections).
Beyond that, people are termed as “Out of Network” and that has an impact both in terms of what details you can see about them and, in return, what they can see about you. For example, anyone outside of your network will only be able to see you as “LinkedIn Member” (it used to be they could see your professional headline) but not your name or company. [As an added point, with the ‘free’ account, even as a 3rd level connection, they only your first name and the first letter of your surname].
What’s the solution?
So, what’s the upshot of all this? Well, essentially being ‘closer’ to the person conducting the search will result in a better position within the searches for you with the keyword terms you are interested in and make you more ‘visible’ or ‘findable’ (whichever term you prefer) to them once you are in the search results.
Your mission therefore, without abandoning the principles of maintaining a ‘quality’ based network – if that’s your preference – is to make sure that you are as closely connected to the people you wish to find you as possible ie. a 2nd level connection, given that if you are a 1st level connection then they have already found you!
Increasing the number of connections you have is probably the simplest solution to this, although connecting to key individuals who are ‘hubs’ within the sectors or geographic areas where you want to be visible is perhaps more effective – how to find them is, however, something we’ll have to leave for another post.