LinkedIn has become the absolute market leader when it comes to professional connections, and it is only becoming more dominant with time.
The thing with LinkedIn, though, is that it can be abused and actually destroy potential business connections if not utilized properly. In that way, it is not much different from other platforms that are often misunderstood and used by many as glorified sales channels.
Here are three simple steps to take before adding someone on LinkedIn, let alone actually sending them a message and connecting:
1. Do research on their work.
I am just going to say right off the bat that receiving a pitch on LinkedIn about something completely irrelevant to my work and interests, especially if two minutes of research would have revealed that, is about the most obnoxious thing people do on the platform.
Imagine walking into a doctor's office and asking her if she is willing to represent you in court. That is pretty much equivalent to pitching a journalist or anyone else something not within their focus or scope of work.
I am not talking about doing three months of research before adding someone on LinkedIn, I am talking about three minutes; three minutes that will change everything and significantly increase your chances of getting a positive response.
2. Look at mutual connections.
There is nothing quite as effective as mentioning a mutual friend or connection when breaking the ice and trying to establish a connection with someone. A simple "Hey David, I see you are close with Michelle, we went to high school together," will do the job.
Again, I am talking about a few minutes of looking through that person's LinkedIn connections, and if you really want to increase your chances, maybe even their Facebook friends. Which leads me to the next point:
3. Look at their other profiles and get to know them.
What happens on LinkedIn stays on LinkedIn, but you can't really get to know a person on a personal level by reading their essays on computer vision and machine learning. You can, however, learn a lot about a person from their tweets, their Instagram pictures, and their Facebook content.
The beautiful thing about all these platforms is that they are mostly public and the information is accessible.
If you want take some real initiative before reaching out to someone on LinkedIn, maybe spend 10 to 20 minutes learning and getting to know the person, and then reach out with an opening line about some common interests.
Not only will this create some mutual ground to connect on, it will also make a very good impression on that person that you were thorough and cared enough to come prepared by doing a little out-of-the-box research. Of course, the line between that and creepy stalking is quite blurry, so walk carefully.
The most important thing about LinkedIn and social media is that they are tools and vehicles with which you can connect with people outside of your network.
However, in many ways, they replicate real life and the way people establish relationships offline. That includes common interests, mutual trust, and potentially people you both admire.
Always ask yourself a simple question when connecting with someone online: Would I behave this way offline? If not, then take a breather and go back to the drawing board.