LinkedIn is so not Facebook for Professionals

handshakeI talk to a lot of people about LinkedIn – it’s what I do – and coming hot on the heels of LinkedIn being one big recruitment fest, the next most frequent comparison I hear is that LinkedIn is “Facebook for Professionals”. While that description might tap into the interactive aspect of the site, it’s still wide of the mark to my mind and not how I recommend that we think of it.

The issue for me is that people behave differently when they get behind a keyboard … particularly on Social Media. They’ll say things they would never dream of saying face to face. I can think of a few high profile tweeters who have fallen foul of the “Type & Hit Send” mentality and then regretted it.

Equally, the random sharing of information such as your breakfast habits or the fact that you are currently seated in Starbucks and “the Mango Mocha Choca is to die for” is something that should remain the reserve of the Twitter and Facebooks of this world and not something that I’d recommend subjecting new professional acquaintances or business contacts to on LinkedIn.

So how to describe LinkedIn?

For me, the nearest analogy of LinkedIn is simply a large room … perhaps containing a face to face networking event if you like. Something which has as its main course something that is definitely business focused and yet with a potential side serving of social if you feel so inclined.

This comparison also reflects much more accurately how we should act there – in fact, I would go so far as to say that if you wouldn’t act in a certain way face to face with someone then you shouldn’t be doing it on LinkedIn either.

Walking into that room, we should do so with an aim in mind – if you haven’t, I’d argue that there’s no real point in being there. Personally, I might go there to try to talk to potential clients – sales managers, marketing managers and the like – people who might be interested in understanding how LinkedIn could benefit their teams. You will have other people in mind, others you want to approach, get introduced to or strengthen relationships with – well, they’re all in there, it’s just a case of finding them and then seeing if they’re willing to chat.

Standing just inside the door, you might start by looking round the room and, quite probably, make a beeline for someone you already know … just to break the ice and ease yourself into the event. Or is that just me? You talk, strengthen your relationship and you’ll probably explain what’s brought you there – if you’re lucky, they may offer to introduce you to people they have already met there or know who might be interested.

Alternatively, search out people that you might like to talk to – if you have prepared for the event, then you may well have spent some time looking at the list of attendees to see who you want to approach. Brill – let’s go find them.

You walk up to someone in a room – do you just hand them a business card and walk off again, or do you introduce yourself and ask about them? Hopefully the latter. On LinkedIn make sure that you do the same and personalise every invitation you send out …. stand out right from the start, rather than limply offer the generic “I’d like to add you to my Professional network on LinkedIn” which still makes up 80% of the invitations that get sent.

Nobody likes a limp handshake.

On LinkedIn of course, when we do introduce ourselves this is backed up by the huge amount of information on our profile, so we can dispense with a large amount of the preamble. We might continue the conversation and arrange to meet up again later to continue the discussions – the first steps in developing that business relationship. Do we need to stay in that room to do so, absolutely not … business is conducted everywhere … and the same is true of connections we make here on LinkedIn. Develop them on here of course but develop them elsewhere too.

If there were badged tables where we could congregate to talk with others about a certain topic then that would be the face to face version of the Groups – awesome! And of course, there are those shy souls among us who decide to sit this one out – they sit to one side and although there will be some who wander over to say “Hi!” (send an invite), they aren’t really working the room to best effect.

So, in terms of a way of approaching LinkedIn, I’d really encourage you to consider the Big Room concept and when you go in there, do so with a purpose in mind and then give yourself the time to develop a rapport and engage with the people you find there … don’t just rush around handing out business cards and then moving on which is neither clever nor productive.

Go on – the results may surprise you!

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