The second element that LinkedIn used to create the SSI (Social Selling Index) is your network, or rather how you create and expand your network. There is an order, a pattern of sorts that you follow when you decide to either invite someone to connect or accept an invitation. LinkedIn capitalizes that and uses to determine how good you are at connecting with other professionals.
I’ve heard a number of authors and sales and marketing people talk about your network as a spider’s web. The metaphor doesn’t work very well unless you intend to catch and eat customers instead of doing business with them. I was intrigued after hearing that so many times, so I went on and did some research.(*)
I found out that behind what I know think is a poorly used metaphor, some facts point north.
It starts with finding the right spot
Not all places are suitable for a spider to web their webs. It is not entirely clear for science how they pick the spot where they will weave, yet it is clear it beings in a dark place.
The analogy seems dark, though it makes some sense when you think on how you start building your network. When you create your profile you are practically invisible. You may be found if someone looks specifically for you, but will they invite you to connect?
After you’ve built your profile and given some color to it you are ready to start connecting with people but how and where to start? The easiest way would be:
Invite colleagues from past and current jobs.
Invites customers you’ve may have done business with
Invite people from other social circles such as college
Invite family members
Some would recommend you invite your family members to connect but as this is a professional network I would only advice if they had active LinkedIn profiles. If your mother or grandmother just likes “browsing the Internet” they might not be the best type of connection for your professional network.
Knowing who to invite first guarantees your network grows fast and strong.
Then drop your anchors.
Once the proper spot has been chosen, most spiders will start weaving the same way: they will set one anchor first, then another one and finally a third one. Two points are all they need to start creating their webs, three to secure it.
Again, the analogy points to a dark place and yet it offers a very good visual metaphor. Where do you want your profile to be anchored on? It depends mostly on 3 elements:
What you’ve trained for: Is your academic background important for your career?
Your seniority level: Are you just starting your career, well experienced, or right in the middle of it?
Your path: Are you a generalist or a specialist?
Your profile will look stronger if it tells the right story and if it tells it the right way. You need to decide what it will like, always keeping your customer’s point of view in mind. These three points offer you enough strength so that if you are lacking in one of them, the other two support it.
Here is how it works:
If you are heavily invested in something and you’ve decided to go in a different way (your path), you can lean more on your education and seniority level.
If instead, your achievements don’t help at all (seniority level), make your education and your path count more. You will show leadership skills.
If your academic background has shaped your career and you recently discovered it doesn’t help anymore (what you’ve trained for), you can convey adaptability by showing how experienced you are and how the path you’ve chosen can help your customers.
And finally, give it some structure.
The architecture of a web is pretty species-specific. All experts agree on that. They also agree on the fact that there no two webs look alike, regardless of the structure. It does imply something though: you can know the type of spider you will find by looking at its web.
The same as with these eight-legged examples I’ve used in this article, you can tell what type of professional a person is by looking at how they build their network.
This is what your network can potentially say about you as a professional:
Hidden network: you don’t want to show others who you know. Transparency is a big thing these days, especially in business. Who would speak better of yourself than colleagues you’ve worked with and customers you’ve helped? Why would you hide them…unless you just don’t want to be associated with them.
Less than 500 connections:You are either not very active nor very “popular” with other professionals. The size of your network does not determine its strength but yet, the 500 threshold is quite low considering LinkedIn has more than 500M users (as of June 2017).
Too many L.I.O.N.S.: you will take anyone. Open Networking is not a bad thing though LinkedIn Open Networkers (a.k.a. L.I.O.N.S.) are not perceived as “valuable”. It is known that this type of users will just connect with people for no other reason than connecting. It doesn’t quite say you care about helping them, does it?
Always keep in mind that when building your network, you are setting a structure. Are you inviting in too many colleagues and no customers? Is it just customers and no colleagues that can recommend you? Is it just friends or L.I.O.N.S.? Do you use your network at all to do business?
Think of it this way: your network can close a deal for you. That means you need to take good care of it, doesn’t it?
Maybe we can mimic nature here and just do as the spiders do. Well, not all of it, just the “how-to” build a proper network park will do 🙂
(*) If you do want to know more about how spiders make their webs, here is a good article that will give you the 101 on the subject.
This is the second article in a series of four that I will publish on the four pillars of LinkedIn’s SSI. All four articles can be found in the ITIWITIS blog.