As a business professional, what is your most valuable asset: Your MBA, your years of experience or the awards on your shelf? Or maybe it's the profit your business made last quarter or the last successful projected you delivered? Each of these is important and each is valuable, yet none are your most valuable asset. A business professional's most valuable asset is his or her contact list and the relationships fostered with each person on that list.
You may be the top operational, marketing or sales exec at your firm today, earning the big bucks and lunching with the CEO. One buyout, restructuring or economic downturn and you're out pounding the pavement. Your key to the executive washroom no longer works.
It's at times like this that you realize the value of your network. Can you turn to your LinkedIn contacts to ask for referrals in your efforts to gain another job?
You Are Who You Connect With.
Growing up, my father often shared this nugget of wisdom: "Tell me who your friends are and I'll tell you who you are." We tend to associate with those who have similar personalities, culture, and/or points of view. In fact, we're highly influenced by those we're maintaining a relationship with so it's no surprise that our personal and professional contacts often reveal quite a bit about us.
Professional contacts are similar. On LinkedIn, your network is there for the world to see and says as much about you as the details in your profile. What does yours say? What is the quality of your contacts? How aligned are they with your personal brand and professional experience?
The LinkedIn Rules of Engagement
Do you have a strategy for connecting with others on LinkedIn? Given the importance of networking to business professionals, having a clear strategy here is more important than on other social media channels, such as Twitter for example. Twitter is truly a mass communication tool where we can follow and engage with a wide audience, eavesdrop on others' conversations, and engage with people we've never met or hope to meet.
Do you connect with anyone who sends you a request? Many do, justifying the connection to a person they don't really know or have worked with as "community building." However, LinkedIn is not Twitter. The purpose of LinkedIn is professional networking. There's an unwritten rule that your professional contacts are those you know or have worked with. People that you can either recommend or not -- and provide a reason for in either case.
Arguably, what wasn't planned by the founders of this growing social network is what your connections -- and your engagement with them -- say about you. A large LinkedIn network of people whom you don't really know is counterproductive and a poor reflection on the quality of your network and networking skills.