How not to 'use and abuse' LinkedIn
I recently received the following message on LinkedIn, from a business owner I'd never met or heard of: "What sort of a stunt do I have to pull to get a story on my business?"
No introduction, no explanation of what the business was and no niceties at that.
Perhaps it was intended to be tongue-in-cheek, but having never met the bloke before, the tone smacked of someone wanting to "use and abuse".
Plus it was kind of rude.
I suppose the request - promptly deleted - at least contained a personal message, which put it ahead of dozens of other invitations to connect from complete strangers.
It seems that, when it comes to LinkedIn, your approach can help forge valuable connections, or alternatively, create a total disconnect.
For Susan Attwood, who left the corporate world a year ago to start her own communications business, LinkedIn has been a "lifesaver", allowing her to meet new contacts and pick up steady work, including interstate and in China.
But she can also recognise bad etiquette when she sees it.
"I think [it's bad], when people don't bother to personalise the message so they just try and connect, and in the body of the message will be a big spiel about how fantastic they are and how I should use their services," she says.
Attwood receives a large number of requests to connect from graphic designers, but "it's just not personalised and they obviously don't know the work I do".
After years spent building up her connections, Attwood can also find it a little grating when acquaintances ask for introductions to her LinkedIn contacts.
"I've got about 500 people on my LinkedIn - to assume I know all of these people really, really well, I find that a little bit annoying," Attwood says.
When looking to network on LinkedIn herself, Attwood includes a message explaining why she'd like to connect, and usually suggests catching up for a coffee or a chat.
"I never want them to feel that they're not really sure why I've contacted them."
LinkedIn has also proven a valuable tool for Michelle Gamble, "chief angel" at Marketing Angels.
But some approaches rub her up the wrong way.
"The biggest mistake etiquette-wise that I experience on an almost daily basis is people who you have no previous relationship with asking to connect on LinkedIn," she says.
"While LinkedIn can be great for reaching out to people you think you have affinities with, it is almost always done with no context.
"If I am given no reason from some random person for connecting with them, why would I?"
However, if Gamble has met someone at a business event, she'll always follow up with a quick message and a request to connect on LinkedIn.
"That way, even if we don't do business with each other, I still have a way of staying in touch."
She has used LinkedIn since 2000, and believes "the more people who know about you and know what you do, the better".
"For me, every time I connect with someone, I'm strengthening a relationship."
Jacqui Bull, co-founder of Sidekicker, has had various experiences on LinkedIn since starting her virtual marketplace a year ago.
"Following press coverage I've had strangers inbox me, congratulating me on the business idea, which is really nice," she says.
"It also helps maintain relationships and networks by being able to see when a connection gets a new job or posts an exciting status update about their business."
As for the negatives, Bull says she doesn't find LinkedIn endorsements particularly credible because of the ease with which connections endorse one another.
Another bugbear is when contacts send a generic group message plugging a course or event.
Five things to avoid on LinkedIn
Laurel Papworth teaches social media at the University of Sydney and also helps small and large businesses develop online strategies.
Here are her tips for businesses on what not to do on LinkedIn.
1. Don't spam strangers
The first time people hear from you shouldn't be when you are touting your new product or pushing your services. Answer questions, show value and then offer consultancy or a product.
2. Don't be irrelevant to that community
Some groups are right for you; some are not. Yes, you are a life coach or an IT consultant, but don't join the accountant's group just because they may need you.
If you join a group, offer value, or stay out of the conversation until it's relevant to you.
3. Don't be selfish and only promote your own stuff
People are looking for generosity online. And this doesn't mean just being generous with advice. Find great articles, pertinent statistics and share them regularly with your community.
You will become the go-to person for industry information.
4. Don't get into nit-pick fights with competitors
Discussions online can be passionate, and everyone is staking a claim in the ground. Make your point, then back out. No one likes a know-it-all, even clients who are looking for experienced businesses to work with.
5. Don't forget why you're there
You're on LinkedIn for business reasons but specifically for a business you are passionate about.
Don't spend too much time stalking customers and competitors, and don't start to feel like LinkedIn is a chore.
It's a great place to remember why you started your business in the first place and find like-minded souls.
Sydney Morning Herald