We investigated just what it is about LinkedIn that makes it the most Un-Social of all Social Media - and guess what we found...
LinkedIn. The go-to social media platform of the past decade for all things business related, with more than 300 million users worldwide.
Its slogan is ‘Relationships Matter’.
So how is it doing, you know, with that whole relationship thing?
Well, in my opinion, pretty poorly. There are lots of rules and regulations designed to actually stop you from expanding your network of contacts, and when you put them all together it makes it pretty damn difficult to gain new and, most importantly, relevant contacts.
There is a way, and I’ll come to this later on in the post, but first let’s dive in and figure out what’s wrong with LinkedIn.
I’ve put together a useful infographic to outline the various routes to connections in LinkedIn - and their potential pitfalls, and you may find it useful to refer to it as we go along:
Infographic: Un-Social Media, Why Is LinkedIn So Unsocial?
Invite People You Know
This is how LinkedIn want you to connect with your contacts. You link with people you know. To that end they’ll ask you if you want to import all your address books from Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo Mail, etc., etc.. All of the people in your address books will then be invited to connect with you on LinkedIn. Some will accept the invitation, some won’t and you’ll have a small network of connections.
But do you actually know everyone in your address book?
- Remember that job you applied for 5 years ago? You remember the HR secretary that you sent your CV to? No? She is in your address book. She’ll get an invite.
- The person at the local council offices that you sent an email to complaining about that hole in the road - he’ll also get an invite to connect.
- What about your ex-wife/husband - do you really want to invite them to connect with you on LinkedIn?
But why would you want to connect with any of these people on LinkedIn anyway? You’re already connected to them
You can send them an email any time you like!
To me, the great power of social media is the ability to connect to new and interesting people for mutual life enhancement. In the case of a self-professed business network like LinkedIn, its greatest power would surely be to connect to new and interesting people for mutual enhancement of business opportunities.
Connecting to only the people you already know makes a business network a bit of a waste of space. It’s like going to a networking conference and only talking to the people you already know…
So what you really need to do is find other people to connect to that would be relevant to your business.
Invite People You Don’t Know
So you send connection invites to people you don’t know. LinkedIn actually helps you with this and regularly makes lots of suggestions as to who you might like to connect with. Only problem is, it’s against their rules to do so:
- Rule 10.2.5. Don’t invite people you do not know to join your network.
If just 5 people decline your opportunity to connect by clicking I Don’t Know This Person (IDK) then you will be blocked by LinkedIn and will be unable to send any further connection invites. If you breach this IDK threshold you can request to be unblocked by apologising profusely on bended knee and promising never to do it again.
So if you want to build a large relevant business network, inviting people you don’t know to join your network is not the way to go.
LinkedIn Open Networkers (LIONs)
So if you can’t send connection invites to people you don’t know, then how can you expand your network?
The key is in circumventing the IDK rule. If you could be sure that whoever you invite will not hit IDK, but will instead hit ‘Yes, I’m happy to connect’, then the IDK rule will become irrelevant. This is the concept behind choosing to become a LION - a LinkedIn Open Networker. When you become a LION you implicitly agree to accept all invitations and will never IDK anyone. Although this is against the Ts & Cs of LinkedIn, they are actually quite relaxed about it - after all, it is a consensual act between 2 adults.
The only problem with being a LION is that you get invitations from all sorts of people that may be of little or no use to you. Typically you’ll get a lot of invitations from job hunters, recruitment experts, Human Resources personnel, Real Estate agents, marketing executives, salespeople and - worst of all - spammers. If you are a scientist and wish to connect to other scientists (like me) you’re plum out of luck…
Being a LION what you’ll likely end up with is a large network that is mostly irrelevant to your business interests, and - probably more importantly - since LIONs are deliberately trying to get noticed they spend most of their time talking but not listening. As a LION, you’ll probably be irrelevant to most other LIONs and be drowned out by the noise anyway.
Join LinkedIn Groups
What you want is a large relevant network, so you need to hang out in places where there are lots of people that you would like to connect with. That’s where LinkedIn Groups comes in.
There are well over 2 million LinkedIn Groups, so plenty to choose from and something for every taste. LinkedIn allows you to be a member of up to 50 groups at any one time, plus - and here’s a little known fact - an additional 50 subgroups.
So if you would like to hang out with Molecular Biologists, you might choose to join any of the 193 groups containing the term ‘Molecular Biology’ in the title, such as:
- MolecularLab (27,000+ members)
- American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (13,000+ members)
- Molecular Systems Biology (500+ members)
Then all you need to do is post relevant material, strike up conversations, build relationships and Bob’s your Uncle - you’re well on your way to building relevant connections.
The issue here is that LinkedIn have something that they call SWAM - System-Wide Auto-Moderation. The principle here is that if you’re a spammer you’re going to be posting spam, so anyone that flags any of your posts or comments as ‘inappropriate’, you get sent to SWAM jail and all of your posts in all 50 of your groups (plus the other 50 subgroups) get sent to the group moderator for approval before the post can be accepted. Many Groups are poorly, if at all, moderated, so your post may never get through.
Of course, you’re not going to be posting spam are you? Of course not, that would be detrimental to your business prospects, so you only post carefully thought-out, sensitively written relevant material. You do, don’t you?
- But what about someone who doesn’t like your point of view? Can they flag your posts? Of course they can.
- What about an ex-colleague who doesn’t like you? Yes, they can flag you too.
- Or a competitor that doesn’t want you building up your business contacts? Yup - they can flag any and all of your posts.
In fact, there have been instances when people have been cyber-bullied via LinkedIn, often in the form of ‘if you don’t endorse me for my skills I will flag your posts and get you sent to SWAM jail’.
SWAM jail currently lasts for 1-2 weeks, and while that’s not a terribly long time it is a serious pain in the arse when you’re trying to connect with people for the good of your business.
And of course, as soon as you’re out of SWAM jail, someone can send you right back in there…
I’ve personally been in SWAM jail 3 times. I have no idea who SWAMmed me, why, when or in which Group. I don’t believe any of my posts or comments to be spammy or inappropriate, but it seems a fact of life that if you’re active in LinkedIn Groups, sooner or later you’ll end up in SWAM jail along with the hundreds of thousands of other LinkedIn users that have also been SWAMmed.
Just do a Google search for ‘LinkedIn SWAM’ and see how irate LinkedIn members are over this. They’re bloody furious!
So the upshot is that posting to LinkedIn Groups with a view to building relationships and eventually expanding your connections can be slow at best and at worst intensely frustrating. Unless you have the patience of Job you’ll likely reduce your posting frequency or stop posting in Groups altogether.
Create Your Own LinkedIn Groups
If posting to LinkedIn Groups is proving to be a frustrating experience you always have the option of creating your own Groups. This is great because you can build Groups based on very specific criteria that will attract precisely the kind of potential connections that you want.
You want to connect with left-handers? OK, so create a Group for left-handers. You want to connect with left-handed purchasing professionals in the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning industry? Great - create a Group for it. Incidentally, you’re too late - there’s already a Group for that. I told you there’s something for everyone in LinkedIn Groups, didn’t I?
This is of course based on the principle that ‘if you build it they will come’, but we all know that just doesn’t happen. You need to publicise your newly created Group.
So where do you publicise it? To start off with you can post to your feed that you have this new great Group and you should all join it ‘cos it’ll be great and stuff. But don’t forget, you only have a small number of connections, so how many of those are going to join? Not many. And in any case why do you want them to join - these are the people you’re already connected with. The whole point is to attract new and interesting people. Sending a post into your feed of small connections doesn’t get your post seen by many people outside your 1st level connections.
Instead, you can publicise your great new Group in other Groups that you’re a member of. Oops - go directly to SWAM jail, do not pass Go, do not collect £200. The Group moderator will not take kindly to you publicising your competitor Group in his Group, so you can pretty much guarantee your post will be flagged as spam and then deleted.
So if you can’t effectively publicise your Group in your feed and you can’t publicise it at all in other Groups, how can you let people know your Group exists?
What you need is a large network of connections that can help you to spread the word. But you don’t have a large network. The whole point of creating your own Group was to try to expand your connection network and grow it from small to large.
We’re going round in circles now…
In essence, LinkedIn is a business network that allows you to stay connected with your existing business contacts, but it is incredibly difficult to build a network of relevant connections beyond those you already know without breaching one or more of LinkedIn’s many rules.
For a Social network that seems rather Un-Social to me.
Why Do You Want To Build a LinkedIn Network Anyway?
In a previous blog I laid out the results of analyses we’d done on our social media efforts of 2013 (why not have a look around - I'm sure you'll find it!).
Comparing Google+ with LinkedIn, although our posts on Google+ attracted 11 times the amount of social engagement than LinkedIn, we had 7 times the number of visitors to the website from LinkedIn and they stayed 80% longer and visited 10% more pages than did Google+ visitors.
Although Google+ as a Social Media outlet was far more social, LinkedIn still retained some clear advantages, so it’s well worth persevering with.
How To Build Your LinkedIn Network
As I stated at the top of the post there is a way to grow your LinkedIn network, albeit at a relatively mundane pace.
Firstly you do all of the things as mentioned above - without breaking any of LinkedIns rules, of course. You can:
- Connect with the people you know
- Become a selective LION
- Accept invitations to connect from e.g. only other scientists
- Join and engage with LinkedIn Groups
- Accept that progress will be slow
- Create your own LinkedIn Groups
- Accept that progress will be slow
Secondly, you are not limited to networking on LinkedIn, there are many other outlets such as Google+, Facebook, Twitter, etc.. When you build relationships with interesting people on any of the other Social Media you can ask them if they would be happy to receive an invitation to connect on LinkedIn.
It’s a really good idea to connect with people across a variety of Social Media. The different outlets have a different raison d’être and a different feel, so you get to build relationships on different levels.
Google+ and Facebook can be a bit more friendly, while LinkedIn is a little more business-like. Twitter is, well, by its very transitory nature it’s more difficult to build meaningful relationships on Twitter.
Thirdly, one would hope that your website is suitably search-engine optimised to attract the right sort of traffic. If it is, you have a ready-made audience already. Make sure there are plenty of invitations on all your pages to connect on all the Social Media outlets that you use. The fact that they already found what you do interesting or useful is valuable. Don’t waste the opportunity…
Fourthly, do you include Social Media ‘Share’ buttons on your email newsletters? And do you encourage your subscribers to forward your newsletters to their friends, colleagues and neighbour’s uncle? Well, what a missed opportunity that would be…
Finally, make sure that you include Social Media ‘Follow’ buttons in your business emails (learn how to create a template and have them inserted automatically). You will never know how many opportunities you missed by not including social Follow buttons.
So to sum up - there really is no quick and easy way to build a large relevant network of contacts in LinkedIn, but by taking a holistic approach utilising all available avenues you can get there eventually.
And anyway, who said it was a sprint…
About the Author
Lee Baker is an award-winning software creator with a passion for turning data into a story.
A proud Yorkshireman, he now lives by the sparkling shores of the East Coast of Scotland. Physicist, statistician and programmer, child of the flower-power psychedelic ‘60s, it’s amazing he turned out so normal!
Turning his back on a promising academic career to do something more satisfying, as the CEO and co-founder of he now works double the hours for half the pay and 10 times the stress - but 100 times the fun!
He also wanted to be rich, famous and good looking. Ah well.
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