Want to Grow Your LinkedIn Network Effectively? Follow These Expert Tips

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How many people do you have sitting in LinkedIn limbo, waiting for you to respond to their connection requests?

Currently, I have eight. When I look at their names, I find myself wondering, “How do I know you?”

“Need More Leads — Call Me,” “Portrait Photographer” and “Multimedia Designer” are some of the descriptions I see in my suitors’ bios. No, I don’t need any leads or to get my picture taken, thank you.

LinkedIn novices looking to grow their networks can be tempted to accept invitations from anyone. But is this a good practice? To find out, we asked three LinkedIn experts about the best way to approach requests from people you don’t know personally and how to grow your network correctly.

Help Me, Help You

Viveka von Rosen isn’t worried if she hasn’t met you in person when connecting on LinkedIn. After all, she’s almost at capacity with nearly 30,000 LinkedIn connections.

Von Rosen is the co-founder and chief visibility officer at digital sales company Vengreso and a published author specializing in LinkedIn for online marketing. In her view, only accepting connection requests from people you know personally limits the size of your network.

“If you are only going to connect to people you know, you might as well just use Outlook,” von Rosen says.

Kelli Burns, a social media researcher at the University of South Florida, says the main group you should be trying to connect with — if you know them personally or not — is people in your industry. “Those are the people who might hire you or send business to you in the future,” she says.

But what if someone asking to connect with you doesn’t work in your industry? When that happens to von Rosen, she checks the person’s profile to see if they are legitimate — that it’s not a fake account or spam — and if there’s a chance she and the pending connection might help each other in the future. “It’s okay to connect to people you don’t know as long as there’s a mutual benefit,” von Rosen says.

Curate Your News Feed

Back when LinkedIn first started, it was a place people parked their resumes and connected with coworkers, but over time users wanted more from the site, Burns says. With the addition of a newsfeed highlighting professional updates from connections and industry news, it became a more robust social media platform.

Keep in mind that when you add more connections to your network, you’ll see their updates, likes, comments and shares. This can be a useful tool for learning about connections outside your company or industry, von Rosen says, but if you have no interest in keeping up with those connections, don’t add them.

“So as long as you’ve got a network that’s sharing relevant content that you can engage upon and start conversations with, that makes sense,” von Rosen says. “If it’s just a bunch of garbage… you’re going to end up ignoring [LinkedIn].”

Personalized Invitations Carry More Weight

Managing LinkedIn connections is one thing, but sending LinkedIn requests comes with its own set of guidelines. One of the best ways to make sure your connection request isn’t ignored is to be upfront about why you want to connect. LinkedIn users have the option of attaching a personalized note when sending an invitation. Doing so allows the sender to explain who they are, why they sent the request and how joining each other’s network can be mutually beneficial.

Kate Paine, founder and president of the public relations firm Standing Out Online, trains people to create a more meaningful presence on LinkedIn. She encourages clients to include a personal note when sending a connection request. “I tell every single person, ‘unless it’s your spouse, your significant other or your mom, you do need to send a personal note,’” she says.

Plus, it’s more appealing to receive a personalized greeting than the standard LinkedIn message.

“You’ve already started being a human like you would if you were in a room with somebody,” she says. “You wouldn’t just go up to somebody at a conference, shake their hand and start talking to them like you know them. I’d think that was creepy.”

Burns says she doesn’t see a lot of people using the note feature. “I get a lot of requests, and I might get one out of a hundred that have a personal note attached to the invitation,” she says.

What if the pending connection didn’t include a note? Paine says you might be able to send them an InMail message if their privacy settings allow it. InMail allows people to send messages directly to other LinkedIn members outside their network. It’s a service available to LinkedIn Premium users, a monthly subscription that includes access to more robust features. If you have the free Basic version of LinkedIn, you will not be able to message outside your group of connections unless the sender initiated the conversation.

If you start a dialogue and discover that the person wishing to connect isn’t a good match, tell them in a diplomatic way why you don’t think it’s an appropriate fit, then click the “Ignore” button and move on. Remember: There are plenty of other LinkedIn connections to be made.

“It’s a great place to build relationships,” Paine says. “It should not be a place to collect followers.

“Quality over quantity on LinkedIn is very important.”

Matt Reinstetle is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.