In the last couple of weeks I spent more time learning about how new LinkedIn functionality can help me become more attuned to my professional network.
It's important not to lose touch with the people you meet at events, for example, yet the connection tends to become more tenuous as time goes by - unless there is a way to continue staying in touch that does not mean an automatic subscription to a newsletter. Has anyone thought of asking for permission to send the newsletter, by the way?
There are many reasons why LinkedIn can be ideal for maintaining and possibly developing the loose ties or weak links you have in your network:
- The interaction can and does happen online - although the tool generates emails to the members of your network in some instances (profile updates, new questions, etc.), the email comes from LinkedIn, not from someone to you specifically. It seems like a subtle distinction since you gave them permission to keep you up to date with the initial act of linking. Somehow it feels good to be able to delete that email immediately and know that it is still stored in your LinkedIn home page to deal with it later. The tone and layout of these emails is less annoying (as well as less frequent) than the ones I used to get from Facebook. No pokes on the shoulder here, either.
- You can ask and answer questions - I tried it last week when I was doing research for a story and it worked beautifully. In the space of a couple of hours, I had solid business advice from professionals in my network. The beauty is that the content in question and the answers allowed me to meet a couple of new people who would have probably never crossed path with me in the blogosphere. This might be true especially of people in the B2B world. Asking and answering questions also gives you the opportunity to become a thought leader in a subject matter.
- The weakest ties may be the most active in your network - if I have a pretty close business relationship with someone, chances are our day to day communications happen on other platforms. We may meet face to face, on the phone, or correspond by email. LinkedIn is very useful for staying aware of what those others are working on, with whom you would not have a day to day or frequent check in otherwise. On more than one occasion, I have forwarded introductions from people in my network to others. This is much more powerful than just trying to reach someone you don't know directly - it comes with a cover note and the recommendation of a person whose brand you trust.
- You can see who checked your profile - on the right sidebar in your home page, you will see a box titled "who has viewed my profile?" I've had a couple of surprises there, too. Maybe you came up in a keyword search for someone who is looking for talent in a specific area. Or perhaps you know someone that someone else would like to get in touch with. You have probably noticed the "people in your network are hiring" towards the bottom of the page, too. Recruiters have a special way of using LinkedIn. Harry Joiner recently wrote about recruiters and LinkedIn at Marketing Headhunter.
- There's a beta news service tailored to your industry and company - I am liking this a lot. It allows me to see what my colleagues are reading. So far, I have found several articles of interest and the beauty of it is that nobody had to lift a finger. The system put them in rotation whenever I visited. Under the news section, you can now see all the network updates. Most of the time I scan these. LinkedIn also sends an automatic "updates" email periodically, in case I missed something.
There are professional groups and networks on LinkedIn. To date I tried only one, so I do not have a good idea of the amount of communication and activity those generate. All in all, this is my online professional networking tool of choice - it keeps things clean and simple.
I would be curious to learn how you've used LinkedIn. Do you check to see if someone has a profile there before interviewing them? Have you researched providers in your area? I've seen many recommendations. How are those working out for you?
UPDATE: LinkedIn has a new (beta) home page. Check it out. It seems they did away with the "see who checked out your profile" function.