Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Building a Powerful Support Community”
As most professionals know, LinkedIn has become a massively powerful professional tool—for connecting with colleagues and mentors, building personal brands, sharing company’s stories, eliciting interest from potential customers, clients, recruiters and hiring managers, sharing thought leadership and more. And LinkedIn is growing. Some recent statistics from BusinessofApps.com reveal that LinkedIn generated $8 billion revenue in 2020, an increase of 19% year-on-year and:
- LinkedIn has 756 million members
- The U.S. has the most LinkedIn members, followed by India and China
- According to LinkedIn, over 100 million job applications are sent each month
- Over 57 million businesses and 120,000 schools have LinkedIn accounts
According to Hootsuite, LinkedIn is the most trusted social network in the U.S. And Microsoft has reported that LinkedIn topped $3 billion in ad revenue in the last year, surpassing Snap and Pinterest.
Clearly, LinkedIn’s impact is growing and for many professionals and businesses, it’s vitally important to get it right in terms of how they’re engaging with others there. A burned bridge on LinkedIn is often one that can’t be rebuilt. You have one chance to make a powerful and positive first impression, so it’s important to succeed at it.
From my perspective as one who is very active on LinkedIn and hears from hundreds of individuals each year who are making some sort of a request or pitch, I can say that the single biggest error I see professionals make on the platform is the manner in which they are reaching out to a complete stranger.
So often, they’re taking the wrong approach that ends up being off-putting and opportunity-crushing. For instance, people commonly now use LinkedIn as a avenue for the “cold-calling” approach, reaching out with a cold sales pitch or offer, without knowing anything relevant about the individual they’re pitching to or ascertaining in advance if what they’re selling would be of the slightest interest or value. And worse, they don’t expend any energy making their pitches engaging or helpful. The reality is that the majority of people on LinkedIn absolutely hate being pitched to, and are viewing the platform as a professional social network, not a place to be hawked and sold to. Whenever I’ve posted a comment or message on LinkedIn about this problem of being cold-pitched continually, I’ve received hundreds of comments and messages from members sharing their extreme frustration about this.
In my Forbes.com interview several years ago with Judy Robinett–startup funding expert, bestselling author and a super connector at the highest level—on her book How To Be a Power Connector: The 5+50+100 Rule for Turning Your Business Networking Into Profits. she shared what she viewed were the top 5 blunders networkers of all kinds make, and they are:
- They network in the wrong places for what they need
- They network at the wrong level for their goals
- They have no way to assess the relative value of the connections they make
- They have no system for optimizing their networking efforts
- They fail to network in the best way to create high-value, long-term connections
These 5 networking blunders sum up very well how these cold pitches and blind outreaches to strangers on LinkedIn (or to other LinkedIn members whom they barely know) are missing the mark, and also slamming doors that could have been very instrumental if they’d been opened creatively, wisely and respectfully in the first place.
Here’s what to avoid, when reaching out to a stranger on LinkedIn:
If you’re hoping to sell your services or products, instead of relying only on empty pitches sent to the wrong people, do your homework and offer something helpful to inform, educate and entertain
I personally receive approximately 50 cold pitches each week on LinkedIn, and I would say only 1 in 500 is anywhere close to being something I’m interested in. Most often, I shouldn’t have been included in the target list in the first place, because I’m not a fit at all with the key demographics and psychographics of those who would want or use this product or service.
But when my interest is piqued, it’s because the individual didn’t just send me some boring, uninspired canned language about how their services are great. They went to the effort to create something unique and engaging, and tailored to me personally, sharing their own thought leadership and expertise on the topic, and sending a dedicated Loom video, for instance, demonstrating exactly how they could help me (such as in copywriting for a sales page, or offering a new graphic design for my website, etc.). They showed me clearly how they could move the needle for me and my business.
In that way, I’ve been given something helpful that will move me forward in deciding whether or not I want to learn more about this individual. And because of that act of giving, there’s been a true connection formed, and that connection is usually fruitful for us both. Sometimes, I’m motivated to connect off the platform with the individual, and from that interaction, I tend to feel more comfortable introducing them to other colleagues who might find their services helpful.
Don’t ask for a big favor of someone you’ve never met
I’ve received many different kinds of requests over the years from total strangers, including folks asking for key introductions to hiring managers who are overseeing highly-coveted roles at well-known organizations (including LinkedIn, Google, Salesforce, etc.). Even though I’ve never spoken to or connected directly with the individual who’s reaching out, I’m asked if I’d introduce them to my connection at these organizations, and recommend them for the role.
Don’t make the mistake of sending an out-of-the-blue request to someone you don’t know, asking for a special introduction or favor. Remember this important principle: People will help you (and buy from you) only when they know, like and trust you, and for that to happen, you have to form a real, authentic connection. And being connected at the first level on LinkedIn doesn’t mean you have a real relationship, yet. To form a true bond and relationship, there’s a back and forth required, a mutually-beneficial and rich exchange—of ideas, support, interests, and other elements—that go into forging a real-life relationship.
Individuals aren’t going to put their own reputations on the line by introducing you to a hiring manager if they don’t know anything about you, your personality, your performance history or your fit for a specific role.
Don’t press the “Connect” button without following up immediately with a personalized note
When you’re making your first outreach and sending an invitation to connect, don’t just click the “Connect” button and leave it at that. Immediately, send a longer note (not just canned language like “Hi, I’d like to connect”) of several sentences, that share some interesting details on how you learned of this individual, why their work is of interest and offer some compelling reasons for wanting to follow them and get to know their work better. Use the full number of characters you have access to, and make your message about them, not all about you.
Overall, the key takeaway is to remember to do the work and put in the effort to find an authentic way to be of service, to build a true connection, and be gracious and helpful.
Don’t come to strangers with your empty hand outstretched, expecting something that’s of benefit to you when nothing has been offered.
Kathy Caprino, M.A. is a career and leadership coach, speaker, educator, and author of The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss. She helps professionals build their most rewarding careers through her Career & Leadership Breakthrough programs, Finding Brave podcast, and her new Most Powerful You course.