Etiquette for LinkedIn and the Professional Networking World

By Dave Taylor

  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.
  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).
  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.
  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. 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 communiqué forward, say so - and say why.
  6. Avoid the boilerplate text, if you can. 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.
  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 it's an abuse of the LinkedIn system and the trust of the LinkedIn community.
  9. Play by the rules. 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, seeing as how LinkedIn provides the basic functionality to users at no charge.
  10. Value relationships over transactions. As in physical-world networking, valuing people for their intrinsic worth over the business transactions they enable is key.  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.

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