Connecting with strangers to expand your professional network is common these days. Especially on sites like LinkedIn. That said, there's a right way and a wrong way for engaging new connections in conversation. If you don't do it correctly, you'll find the person who accepted your connection request may suddenly shut you out. Or, as the cool kids say, "They'll ghost you."

Online networking isn't a shortcut.

The rookie mistake I see many people making when networking on LinkedIn is asking for help too soon. Just because someone agreed to connect with you doesn't mean they're ready to do you any favors. Nothing seems more self-serving then to open the conversation with:

"Thanks for connecting with me on LinkedIn. I see you know Bobby Jones at XYZ Corp. and was wondering if you would introduce me?"

Or with something like this:

"I see you've worked at ABC Inc. for five years. I've always wanted to work there. Would you be able to introduce me to the hiring manager?"

When you seek assistance in your career without first establishing trust and respect, you'll find new connections quickly disconnecting, or even blocking you from their account.

On LinkedIn, it's better to give than to receive. Here's what to do...

To build up a relationship with new network connections, I suggest you see how you might be of value to this person. Ask them about their career goals and offer to introduce them to someone in your own network. Better still, share the link to an interesting industry article or video as a way to show your professionalism and get them to engage in conversation around the subject matter. Online networking is no different than in-person networking. You need to have a dialog that helps you get to know one another. This leads to a level of trust and respect that will inspire you to want to help one another.

In your career, your network is your net worth--invest wisely!

Every time you network, your reputation is at stake. And, as they say, "a reputation takes years to build and a minute to destroy." With each new contact you make on LinkedIn, the goal is to make knowing you worthwhile. Adding value and serving your network builds it up. Whereas, asking for favors from strangers tears it down. Be smart and focus on developing lasting relationships--your career will thank you!