LinkedIn is not about how many connections you have. It's about how well you know your network and how well you tend to it, so that your career or business flourishes. Period.

Recently, I encountered two people who see LinkedIn so differently, like aggressive offensive and defensive endeavors. A CEO of a small company asked me if there was some sort of software that would copy all the connections his business partners had over to his profile, and vice versa. He wanted everyone in his small company to "know" the same people.

Then a financial services professional told me that she doesn't accept connections from people she knows at competing firms, because she doesn't want them to see her connections, many of whom are clients. Neither of these folks logs into LinkedIn often--or ever--so I gently tried to tell them they're going about it all wrong. 

Quality connections, not quantity

LinkedIn isn't about collecting connections or shunning them. It's not about abundance or scarcity. You can't go about it out of fear--fear of not having enough connections or having the wrong connections or connections who will steal your clients away. It's not how LinkedIn works. It's not how life works. LinkedIn--and life--is about relationships. Like any relationship, you get out of LinkedIn what you put in.

Know your connections

It starts with knowing your connections. That means having some rules regarding which LinkedIn invitations you send out, and which ones you accept. For me to accept a connection, I have to have met them in person or have worked with them by phone or email. I will sometimes accept an invitation from someone who has reached out and would be good for me to know. But I make myself get to know them.

In fact, as I write this I'm looking on my calendar at the call I have scheduled for later in the day. It's with someone who reached out to me on LinkedIn. We know several people in common, and her business is one I want to know more about. I accepted her invitation to connect and messaged her that I'd like to set up a "get to know you" call. She thought that was a great idea. 

If you don't know your connections, how can they refer work your way, write a recommendation, or introduce you to a recruiter or potential business partner? They can't. Likewise, you can't help connections you "know" by name only. 

What to do if you have a bunch of connections you don't really know? I recommend sending out a couple messages a month asking for time to connect by phone over coffee.

Check in often

Next up, you'll want to check LinkedIn often. It doesn't have to be every day. A few times a week is great, and it really takes just minutes or even seconds. Here are some easy LinkedIn activities that, if done regularly, will yield returns in terms of keeping your name top of mind for your connections and helping you to spot opportunities and know what's going on within your network.

1. Scroll through your news feed.

See what your connections are posting. Maybe one is announcing a job promotion. Give that a thumbs-up. Maybe someone posted an article about their industry or yours. Give that a read, and consider sharing it.

2. Congratulate people for their work anniversaries.

This is so easy. LinkedIn has even written the "congratulations" message for you, although I sometimes take a few seconds to customize the message.

3. Check your messages.

Speaking of messages, check yours. Often, when I am doing a LinkedIn profile makeover for clients, I see they haven't checked their messages in months or more. You never know when someone might be reaching out via LinkedIn because they lost your email address or it was just more convenient for them at the time. They might be messaging about a prime opportunity, and you don't want to miss out. 

4. Check your invitations to connect.

If you know the would-be connection or want to get to know the person, accept that invitation and make a plan to connect in real life.

5. Post an interesting article or status update.

If you have news about your work or an article about your industry that is noteworthy, share it so that you pop up in your connections' news feeds. Again, this is about keeping yourself top-of-mind among your connections. 

LinkedIn is about knowing your connections and paying attention to what's going on with them. It's about letting your connections know what's up with you. And it takes just a minimal investment of time--a few minutes a day, a few days every week. Put it on your calendar until it becomes routine.

Published on: Nov 15, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.