Every time I speak about social media and LinkedIn in particular, the question of who to connect to comes up. There’s obvious benefit in connecting with those you already know, as they can testify to your good work attributes, support you with leads on job opportunities and they can introduce you to others. But connect with people you don’t know; why would you do that?
First of all, connecting with people you don’t know is the only way you’re going to expand your current network of contacts. It’s the only way humans have ever done so in the entire history of mankind. The difference here is we’re meeting digitally and electronically rather than in person… at least the first time. By expanding our network, we increase the possibilities that somewhere in those connections, there will arise opportunities. When those opportunities arise, some you know will say you’re lucky, but by connecting with people you don’t know, you increase the odds of being considered for these opportunities. You make your own luck.
One of those opportunities is networking itself. You might start with people who also work for the same organization as you do, but whom you’ve never met. They may work in different departments or different physical buildings. So for example, you might connect with someone who works in Digital Communications and later consult with them about what guidelines you’re supposed to follow when communicating outside the organization. Having a relationship with that person prior to needing them can accelerate your need for a quick response and their level of engagement in responding to your request.
You may also benefit from connecting with someone you don’t know who is in the same field, with the same job title as the one you hold, but who works elsewhere. When you do this, you have an instant commonality; you can openly discuss best practices, new innovations, problems that require solutions and of course, opportunities. Each time you reach out to comment or offer up an idea, your reputation improves and so does your value proposition.
What you definitely don’t do is connect at 10:00 a.m. one day and at 10:05 a.m. ask this new connection who was a stranger 5 minutes ago to give you a job. If you do, don’t be surprised to receive no reply at all, find yourself disconnected or be told in some way that your request is inappropriate. Why would they feel any compulsion to help you when they know nothing about you? They aren’t going to risk their own reputation within their organization endorsing the application of someone they don’t know.
Yes the best way to help yourself is to extend yourself to assisting others. You’ll feel good for starters and what you may or may not hope for is a future reciprocal act. But don’t fret and think connecting with others is going to mean you’ll just end up helping a lot of other people and taking up more of your precious time. You might read an article they’ve posted and like it or comment on it. You could ask a question of someone (other than, “will you hire me?”) that pertains more to what it’s like to work where they do, what challenges they are facing or even simply letting them know you’re open to helping them if they’d ever like a conversation with someone in the field who works outside of their organization. See where it goes.
Many of the connection requests you accept will be from people who understand connecting is a good idea, but they never do anything other than connect. No matter, don’t fret about it and use this as your reason for not connecting with folks you don’t know. Sometimes the people I accept a connection request from suddenly reach out after a year or more of having no dialogue. What I don’t know is they’ve been reading some of my posts, felt they’ve come to know me and then when they’ve felt comfortable, it’s then they reached out. I suppose you could say they were evaluating my trust and sincerity; which they derived from what I post and the consistency of my messaging.
Make a friend before you need a friend. Look, we all need people to help us along. The most helpful people are those who feel some true connection in the relationship that’s been established. I hold in high regard some people I’ve never met in person and whom I likely never will. They come and go in my digital life; some I’ve helped quite a bit as evidenced by their words of thanks. Others have helped me and some have helped people I know by way of referral.
You may not want to be on social media for privacy and safety reasons. Enough said. No need to convince me as you may not want to be found by people from your past.
If you count yourself among those I’m connected to yet never met in person, thank you. I appreciate my connections, even the ones with whom the conversations have yet to begin. But there are many with whom I have conversations with on a regular basis and to you I extend my biggest thanks. I hope you see our connection as worthwhile too. It’s cool to think how much we can say with just our 8 fingers and 2 thumbs!