by Josh Druck
on November 8, 2012

Connecting on LinkedIn: Quantity or Quality

A recent article published by TechCrunch declares that strategically LinkedIn has transitioned from a platform that facilitates the building of real-world connections to one that creates “a network of virtual strangers with the potential to further each other’s careers.” With this assumption made about LinkedIn’s objectives and overall focus, the article goes on to suggest that connecting to people you don’t know is the new norm; that compelling people to add connections at random or without a true relationship as a foundation is vital to LinkedIn’s continued growth in both membership and business.

The real matter at hand is not how people are supposed to use LinkedIn, but how they can benefit from it. What kind of network is going to help users achieve their business goals – a larger network built upon weak and even non-existent relationships or one comprised of tangible, real-world connections? It all boils down to one simple question: quantity or quality?

Who Are Your Connections?

The people you engage with on LinkedIn may be different from those you associate with on other social platforms, like Twitter and Facebook. Facebook facilitates the sharing of personal content and media, so members typically add friends and family with whom they have close personal relationships. Twitter has a different user behavior. To gain access to different types of content, Twitter members follow people based on personal interests rather than strictly on existing relationships.

LinkedIn is a strategic tool for building professional networks and leveraging connections to create business advantages. Members use the platform to foster relationships with existing colleagues and clients, find new contacts for business development or even search for a new position. To successfully achieve their business goals, members need to take a different approach with connections.

The Value of Quality

Looking at LinkedIn’s relationship-based search functionality, it is apparent that the quality of connections weighs heavily into the value of the search results. If a network is comprised of connections with weak ties, the people appearing in search results become less tangible. First-degree contacts are the gatekeepers to the people found in search results. If a member would be hesitant to reach out directly to them, then their value for producing a warm referral is far less certain.

Taking this idea a step further, the quality of your search results is affected by the strength of your network. Contacts that you may have connected to without a prior relationship may have repeated that process with their other connections, making your results even less useful. Content made available to you, such as job postings and events, also may be less relevant. If you want to use LinkedIn as a business tool and be able to take advantage of opportunities you find, you need to have real relationships with the people in your network.

Maintaining Your Network’s Integrity

To help users maintain high quality connections and still extend their reach with their profile, LinkedIn offers several alternatives to the standard direct connection. A recently released feature provides the option to follow thought leaders. This feature provides members with the ability to subscribe to updates from and view information about prominent members without directly connecting to them.

Another feature to extend your reach without compromising the quality of connections is LinkedIn Groups. Joining a LinkedIn group opens up the option to send members a direct message without requiring a connection.

So how should you handle incoming invitations from unknown users? In most cases, treat invites from strangers the same way you treat junk mail. Cold? Maybe. But is it necessary to maintain the integrity and usability of your network? Definitely.

If you receive an invite from a user that shows potential to be a valuable connection, reach out to the user rather than connecting; ask to know more about them, their intentions behind establishing a connection or even set up a coffee meeting. LinkedIn is, after all, a platform to build and leverage professional relationships, so it’s an added bonus if the opportunity arises to form new relationships that are truly tangible.

Regardless of your business goals or the demographics of your network, maintaining contacts that you share valuable, real-world relationships with are key to your social business success. When it comes to making connections and building your network, just remember – quality over quantity.

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