To Build a LinkedIn Network, Talk to Strangers

In a previous post, “Are You Making This Basic LinkedIn Mistake?” I asked “Are you making the mistake of having a LinkedIn network mainly made up of friends, colleagues, and industry peers?”

That’s easy enough to do, but it’s not a smart use of LinkedIn.

In this post I provide a basic LinkedIn network building strategy, probably too basic for LinkedIn power users but hopefully useful for regular, busy professionals who are ready to make more effective use of the platform.

The key to the strategy is in the heading for this post – talk to strangers.

As kids we were told not to talk to strangers, and children today are taught about “stranger danger”. But if there is any lingering effect of that in our grown up minds now, we need to get over it. On LinkedIn if we don’t connect with strangers we’re missing out on one of the key benefits of the platform.

I mean connecting strategically, of course, not haphazardly.

Here are my seven key principles of network building strategy on LinkedIn.

1. Identify the industry, location, position or role of the people you want to connect with
2. Use Advanced Search to find people in  your target market
3. Aim up
4. Invite 5 new connections every day
5. Use LinkedIn Groups
6. Update regularly
7. Publish on LinkedIn

1. Identify the industry and location of the people you want to connect with

I find often that when I ask people who is their target market they say “Everyone” and when I enquire further I find they have a belief that their product or service could benefit everyone on the planet. And for some products or services that may be true but for marketing purposes we have to do some segmenting and identifying of what our niche of the market will be. LinkedIn helps us do that, especially with the Advanced Search function.

2. Use Advanced Search to find people in  your target market

Every LinkedIn member’s profile is tagged under one or other industry category. Last time I checked there were 147 industry sectors listed, from Accounting to Writing & Editing. To see the full list, choose Edit Profile and then choose the section for Location and Industry sector (just under the Professional Headline, which in turn is just under your name, high up in the Profile).

With location, I recommend you start with a local search, inserting your zip or post code in the box provided. Then you can increase the radius. Even if your target market is in another location, regional, national or international, you might just find someone “around the corner” who can help you, or even become a customer.

You can also use keywords and such factors as School attended. For instance I can refine my search to produce only people who attended the University of Sydney.

A Premium account gives you access to a number of other factors, such as membership of specific Linkedin Groups, role, years of experience and seniority level.

3. Aim up

In building my network, one of my aims is to connect with people who are better known than I am, more influential, and with better status than I have in the industry sector I am targetting at a particular time. When I have invited such people to connect with me, I have rarely been disappointed. In fact, my impression is that people of real achievement and real influence respond more immediately and affirmatively than others who have not achieved so much. That’s assuming I have made my approach intelligently and respectfully.

Be bold. Risk a few rejections – which will usually not be rejections, more like silence.

4. Invite 5 new connections a day

For some of us the idea of inviting 5 new people will be ridiculously easy. For others it will be a stretch. Find your “slightly out of the comfort zone” level so that you feel the target is manageable but not overwhelming. One a day is better than none – and pretty soon you will feel ok about raising the number.

5. Use LinkedIn Groups

A great way to find good connections is to join appropriate LinkedIn Groups, study the discussions, see who contributes most impressively, start adding useful, intelligent comments to their discussion topics or their comments and watch your “Who’s viewed your profile?” results. You may be surprised at how quickly some people will check you out. Then see if you have a mutual connection who can introduce you so you can start a conversation. I made a short video showing step by step how to get an introduction on LinkedIn.

If you prefer a more direct approach to inviting people to join your LinkedIn network, you might like LinkedIn expert Andy Foote’s post How To Connect On LinkedIn (100% Of The Time)

6. Update regularly

Regular status updates, preferably on a daily basis, provide a more indirect but important way to build your network. They help make you an active participant on LinkedIn, not just someone who visits occasionally. People in your network will see your posts, and hopefully gain value from them. and that will help you when  you next contact them, for instance to seek an introduction to a member of their network.

7. Publish on LinkedIn

Publishing on LinkedIn is another indirect but potentially valuable way to build your network and improve the perception of your brand value with those already in your network. I made a short (13 m 22 s) video to explain how to publish to LinkedIn.

Bonus tip: the 6 out of 10 rule

If you want to grow a network that is more than extension of your existing network, and you are willing to get a bit out of your comfort zone, use the 6 out of 10 rule of thumb for invitations to connect. In other words, aim to have 6 out of every 10 invitations go to strangers. As the Irish poet William Butler Yeats said, long before LinkedIn, “There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met.” So if you are aiming to send at least five invitations a day (5 days a week) do your best to ensure that at least three of them are to strangers.

What would you add to or subtract from this list of strategic principles to build an effective LinkedIn network?

Image: Section of LinkedIn Inmap, showing Des Walsh’s network as at November 2014 – this service has been discontinued by LinkedIn.

Des Walsh

Business coach and digital entrepreneur. With coach training from and its Graduate School of Coaching, and a founding member of the International Association of Coaching, Des has been coaching business owners and entrepreneurs for the past 20 years. Over the same period he has also been actively engaged in promoting the business opportunities of the digital economy. He is a certified Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) coach, and a certified specialist in social media strategy and affiliate marketing.

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