LinkedIn wants you to keep connecting with people you know. LinkedIn also wants you to expand your connections outside your network, CEO Jeff Weiner announced Thursday at the company's Talent Connect conference.

My reaction when I heard this news: What?

I have always agreed with LinkedIn's recommendation to connect only with people you know. That's smart networking. It's about building and cultivating mutually beneficial relationships, not collecting connections. 

Turns out LinkedIn is still down with that. But the company is urging its more than half a billion users to think outside their traditional networks -- like employers and college alma maters -- when adding connections.

`Network gap'

LinkedIn says it has identified a "network gap." Some people aren't even in the running for certain jobs or opportunities because they lack the right connections.

"At LinkedIn, we believe that two people with equal talent should have equal access to opportunity. But some people don't have the right connections or community to help them land the job they want," according to a statement on LinkedIn's Social Impact page. "That's why we're inviting our members to take the Plus One Pledge. If we reach outside of our networks, we can level the playing field and help close the network gap."

How this will work or what it will look like isn't yet clear, and I wasn't at the conference. One report I read said this means connecting with someone you "share a ride with or sit next to on a plane." If that is true, and LinkedIn wants us to think beyond connecting with work colleagues, industry peers and college friends and professors, then I am all on board.

Good networkers already get it.

And I'd say that if you have been using LinkedIn right you've been doing this all along.

LinkedIn is asking us to get to know and support people all around us. I've connected with people I've met on business travel or at the gym or through other friends. I have sent "cold" invites for people whom I want to know, but with a message that I want to meet by phone or over coffee because for one reason or another I know we should know each other. Similarly, I have accepted similar out-of-the blue invitations to connect, when the senders asks to actually meet or chat.

My rule for connecting is we have to know each other in some way. We have to have worked together, gone to school together, met somewhere out in the world, been introduced by a common connection. After all, you can't help a stranger and you can't ask a stranger for a professional favor either. That's why to be connected on LinkedIn, we have to have laid eyes on each other or at least talked once. That's it. That's networking.

If you connect to everyone you encounter, your network is going to be big -- maybe really, really big, and there will be times you won't remember how you "know" someone. The solution for that, peruse your connections now and then and reach out with a personal note to ask how someone is doing or if they have time to catch up by phone or in person. That's networking.

If a connection you are fuzzy on asks for a favor -- a job referral, a written endorsement -- don't just ignore it or say "How do I know you again?" Rather, your reply should be something like, "Great to hear from you. Let's catch up. Let's talk."

That's networking.

Published on: Sep 27, 2019
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