Etiquette for LinkedIn and the Professional Networking World

My friend and colleague Liz Ryan of WorldWIT recently wrote a piece that she entitled Ten Tips: LinkedIn Etiquette that I thought was excellent and wanted to share it with my own audience. Herewith, therefore, her ten tips for professional networking online…
After a decade (and for some of us, longer) online, we know all about Netiquette, right? Don’t use all caps in your subject line (or, God forbid, the body of an email message). Don’t send attachments to people who don’t know you well. Don’t we know pretty much everything there is to know about etiquette online?
Well, maybe not. Online networking sites like LinkedIn can challenge our ideas about what constitutes white-lace-handkerchief behavior online. In fact, if we’ve learned that it’s important to be polite when using email, it’s even truer in the social networking sphere. Here are ten tips for establishing yourself as a well-mannered online networker, when using LinkedIn:


1) Create a user-friendly profile. Your LinkedIn profile is your virtual business card. Make sure that it represents you the way you want to be viewed by strangers – make that ‘people you haven’t been introduced to, yet.’ A sketchy LinkedIn profile signals that your busy day doesn’t allow you to fill in trivial details like what you’re doing now, what you’ve done in the past, or any other useful information. Such an incomplete profile won’t serve you as you network on LinkedIn, but it’s impolite as well: its message is “I’m going to use this database to find people, but I won’t bother to include enough information about myself to indicate how I might assist anyone else.” Take a few moments to fill in the gaps.
2) Invite true friends – or at least, true acquaintances – to connect. Spam is spam, and you must have a minimal level of contact with a person before inviting him or her to connect with you on LinkedIn. A contact – a less-intrusive overture than an invitation to connect – is a good way to approach people with whom you have no relationship. LinkedIn users vary in their views on how well you must know someone before connecting to him or her, but it’s inappropriate to send connection invitations to people who have never met you, heard of you, or had any inkling of your existence (unless they have indicated a desire to be approached by strangers). Think about it: if you found a person’s phone number on a scrap of paper, you wouldn’t feel that you had permission to phone him. Your possession of an email address doesn’t give you license to contact an unacquainted LinkedIn user and suggest a connection – and it’s this kind of overzealous outreach that gets users in trouble with LinkedIn, as well.
3) When you make a request, be clear about your intentions. You’ll find your LinkedIn contacts generally happy to forward your requests if you approach them politely and are clear about your goals. In the physical world, if you asked a friend to introduce you to his friend because of a mutual interest in sailing, and then actually hit the friend-of-a-friend up for a loan, you’d be viewed as a sneak. It’s no different online. If you’re job-hunting, say so. If you’re looking for investors, ditto. A wolf in sheep’s clothing soon finds his messages sitting, unforwarded, while his LinkedIn contacts wonder whether he can be trusted.
4) Reciprocity is a wonderful thing, and gratitude is key. When possible, it’s great to include in your LinkedIn outreach messages some suggestion that you’re aware of your obligations as a requester. That could mean an offer to make a useful introduction for the person who’s forwarding yours; or an offer to help in some other way; or just a heartfelt thank-you for the introduction you seek. It’s disconcerting for your first-degree forwarder to receive a slew of requests from you in one day (and this is common when one of your first-degree contacts is more-highly-connected than others) with no acknowledgement at all of the favor you’re asking. LinkedIn is no different from the ‘real’ world, in that sense: asking for an introduction is a favor, and it’s nice to show gratitude for that.
5) Pass along requests promptly, or say why you won’t. Membership in LinkedIn is a kind of agreement with the community that you intend to participate as an active node in a large and vibrant network. If people send you requests and they sit there, unforwarded and unresponded-to, for weeks, you’re not only the weak link in the system. You’re impeding someone else’s business efforts, and giving no reason for your bottleneck behavior. If you can’t forward on a request or move a communique forward, say so – and say why. LinkedIn provides a handy list of reasons for declining a request, plus an “other” option – use ’em.
6) Avoid the boilerplate text, if you can. Of course you can. Unless you’re terribly afraid to strike out on your own with creative verbiage, please make an effort to put your own stamp on the standard invitation language that LinkedIn supplies. For instance, you could mention something impressive that you’ve heard about the person you’re contacting, or bring an old friend up quickly up to date on your doings. Using the boilerplate text shows a certain want of effort – so, even if you stick with the standard language, why not add “sorry to use the boilerplate text, but I’m not much of a wordsmith”?
7) Don’t abuse your network. Once you have cultivated a network, it’s tempting to reach out to the gang anytime you have news or a need for assistance. And LinkedIn’s functionality allows you to broadcast a note to your posse of contacts, by way of a Profile Update blast. Use these sparingly, not as a substitute for the Daily All About Me Newsletter. If you do, you may find yourself being un-connected from people who can’t manage the high volume of what’s-new-in-your-life mailings.
8) Don’t invent history to acquire colleagues. LinkedIn allows you to find former workmates at any company that has employed you, without being connected to them otherwise. Finding a colleague match only requires that you and another person worked at the same organization during the same time period. So, as tempting as it may be to make connection with people who worked in various appealing companies over the years, if you invent a work history in order to do that, you’re going to Hell. Perhaps that is overstated, but if you falsify your employment history on LinkedIn in order to create colleague-links with people you haven’t actually worked with, it’s an abuse of the LinkedIn system and the trust of the LinkedIn community.
9) Play by the rules. There are a number of ways to misuse LinkedIn in such a way as to convey the message, “I don’t care about the long-term health of this network or the company that built it – this is All About Me.” Including your email address in your LinkedIn name, for instance, makes a fee-for-use service like InMail superfluous for someone who wants to reach you, which is (if nothing else) exceedingly rude, seein’ as how LinkedIn provides the basic functionality to users at no charge. Unless you want to broadcast the message, “I don’t care whether LinkedIn can optimize its revenue strategy or not – I’m gonna optimize my connect rate,” you might consider rethinking your Me First approach.
10) Value relationships over transactions. As in physical-world networking, valuing people for their intrinsic worth over the business transactions they enable is key. No less than in middle school, ‘users’ are never welcome company for long. “Ka-ching” networking – the kind of outreach that signals “Say, you could make me a buck today” is unseemly and unfortunate. LinkedIn is a fabulous tool that enables connectors and influencers to help other people and achieve their own goals, too – and it’s great when we keep those priorities in balance.
Happy networking!
Thanks, Liz, for sharing this with all of us.

27 comments on “Etiquette for LinkedIn and the Professional Networking World

  1. Linked-In is one of the most awesome tools I’ve come across as a networking tool. I highly encourage all folks to look, review, and see what it can do for your business networking.

  2. I was showing a colleague LinkedIn but wanted to list some other alternative websites like it. Any suggestions?
    ctt

  3. Great article. I’ve been using LinkedIn with limited success for some time now, and I’m looking forward to using these tips to expand my network and get more out of the service!

  4. Liz Ryan’s 10 tips are spot on! As a member of linkedin, I know her advice is in sync with the spirit of linkedin. Her points apply to offline networking as well. We must remember our manners, keep people in the loop (leaving them dangling is dangerous) and must acknowledge and reciprocate.
    Business networking sites allow us four to six degrees of separation but the reality is that we don’t have 760 “friends” no matter how many buddies, links or connections our online sites provide.
    Susan RoAe, author of How To Work a Room and The Secrets of Savvy Networking

  5. Thanks for the valueable tips.It definitely is an eye opener far more effective than cramming” no caps no bolds”

  6. Great Post! I have used Linkedin for several years and couldnt agree more with your comments! I am a member of several other sites and these tips are applicable to any of them. One of my favorite sites is a Professional Networking Website called Fast pitch!
    Its an excellent place to network but also has the tools to help you market your business.

  7. I had a friend who had just been layed off by her law firm. I had another aquaitance in LinkedIn that was looking for the same skill set she had, so I introduced the two through LinkedIN and he hired her.

  8. I’ve been using Linkedin for several months and it’s amazing how many people I’ve lost contact with that I’ve found. It is a professional community of people. What you wrote is a welcome reminder that the virtual world is no different than reconnecting or building relationships as in the real world.
    Dr. Peller Marion
    Author of Career Tune-Up

  9. Another polite use of LinkedIn should be to at least thank someone after you receive a recommendation from them (especially if you requested it), even if you don’t give them one in return.

  10. Dave,
    Great post and good suggestions on using LinkedIn. In general I agree with the 10 points, but would articulate #10 “Value Relationships over Transactions” a little differently.
    For professional networking sites to be truly valuable, they need to drive actions that help users in their job searches. I don�t think valuing �Transactions� is inherently bad. I would agree that single minded focus on selfish transactions is to be avoided. However, transactions in a relationship based on respect and reciprocity drive value and should be supported.
    Mike
    Founder, Favorang.com

  11. “Linked-In is one of the most awesome tools I’ve come across as a networking tool.”
    You can use this to get in connect with friends, family, and co-workers. It is an amazing program.
    “By the way, did you know that networking expert Jan Vermeiren has written a book about LinkedIn? It is called “How to REALLY use LinkedIn” (see: http://www.how-to-really-use-linkedin.com) He also gives away a free light version and access to webinars.”

  12. Question about LinkedIn usage
    I know a few companies that are hiring for positions identical to my work experience – I mean exactly identical.
    Is it BAD or horrible use of LinkedIn to find the manager in the department that is probably doing the hiring/interviewing for this position?
    I am reasonably certain he would be the right person. Rather than sending a request for networking, but sending him a gmail through LinkedIn?
    Is that appropriate?
    Job boards generally dont work.
    Contacting HR generally does not work.
    Which means references or some sort of direct call.
    And by the way, several books these days are recommending direct calling. But what should be legitimate?
    thanks
    Dennis

  13. Hi, Is there any other Professional Network just like LinkedIn, which would help us to get contacted with others.

  14. These rules are good advice for any networking site. I like BrightFuse better than LinkedIn, but that is just a personal preference. They are both wonderful tools for networking.

  15. I am currently looking at my employment options and wonder if using something like LinkedIn is beneficial when it comes to applying for jobs, esp in todays world where so many people are going for the same jobs. Does it help?

  16. I found the tips by Liz valuable and practicable too.Presented in an absorbing and intersting manner.

  17. Linkedin is awesome tool but still it is costly.. I believe if Google people can introduce same some of the networking techniques used by linkedin there will be a fierce competition on who goes up

  18. Is Linkedin an open uncensored site which allows freedom of expression (within boundaries of decency) and does not restrict business competition?

  19. Thank you Dave,
    I am a v tentative new user of Linkedin and a technophobe to boot. Actually I think that the technology hates me back.
    I found your etiquette blog helpfull and practical and could understand everything you said. A worthwhile visit!
    I am however a brilliant people person so if I can be helpful in return do cantact me.
    Maire

  20. I believe that the true value of a LinkedIn account is the level 2 list of connections. I have downloaded and browsed my whole LinkedIn level 2 network (35 000+ contacts) and I am browsing the new contacts every other week, it gives me new leads all the time, very easy to contact. Took me some time the first time I got it all but now it takes me very little time to spot interesting leads in the updates (I am looking for very specific type of companies). The most interesting part is that my direct connections are working for me for free; each time they connect to new people, these people end up in my database and I just have to look at them to spot my sales lead.
    It’s not a feature of LinkedIn, you have to use a third party service. There are several companies out there that provide this service. I am currently using Smart Bees (http://www.smartbees.biz), they have been very helpful so far.

  21. If you need to take your videos with you anywhere, you should first convert them to 3GP format so they are able be read on handheld devices for example Audio players, iPhone along with other mobile devices
    Plato Video to 3GP Converter is software which allows you to convert your avi, mpeg, flv 3gp, rm, divx, xvid, wmv, asf, mov, qt, swf to 3GP format. It supports batch conversion and also supplies the possible ways to convert simply a element of your video by setting a start point and a breakpoint about the source file.
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  22. I think a lot of people should understand this “When you make a request, be clear about your intentions.” I received a lot of invitations from people around the world just wanted to increase their numbers of connections.

  23. Nice topic, we compile responses from entrepreneurs and business owners for our ANSWERS section on our own site too, though you have some unique additions. Keep up the great content, we’ll be paying attention…

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