Connecting with strangers

Connecting with strangers

The curious world of LinkedIn

From a very young age, most of us are generally told not to talk to strangers. But when it comes to social media, it appears different rules apply.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for building connections through social media and it can be an extremely valuable tool for businesses in building their profile and developing better relationships with customers, partners and the wider public. But key to social media’s strength is the ability to help build relationships rather than simply broadcast messages.

So why abandon the social niceties which have served us well, simply because we’re connecting online? I understand the need for efficiency, but a small amount of effort put into an introductory message could mean the difference between a valuable connection who could ultimately put business your way, versus just another number on your contacts list.

Services like Twitter and Instagram are designed to enable you to freely follow and unfollow people without any formal ‘connection’, and require you to share very little personal information.

But LinkedIn wasn’t designed that way and still advises people not to link with people they don’t know (as with Facebook). While there is much to celebrate about the way social media allows us to build networks beyond our immediate social and business circles, in my view there is still no substitute for the personal approach. I’m as unlikely to connect to a complete stranger on LinkedIn in response to an automated invitation as I am to wander into a stranger’s house!

In business, we are always meeting new faces. But how often – if ever – have you had a one to one meeting with someone without introducing yourself first? If you’re serious about using LinkedIn to help build your business, doing a bit of homework and personalising your approach is time well spent. Let your target know why you want to connect – perhaps you’re both exhibiting at an event and you want to make advance contact, you’re based in the same city and want to build links, or there’s a new challenge facing their industry that you might be able to help with.

I recently had a meeting with someone who had done just that – and we’re now discussing how we work together. I welcome the opportunity to build links with potential suppliers, partners and clients, but without that personal touch at the outset, they would still be sitting in my ‘invitations received’ box.

So next time you hover over that LinkedIn ‘connect’ button, take an extra minute to write a message – who knows where it could lead?

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