Does online networking count?

May 21, 2014

"LinkedIn doesn't count as networking."

So said self-described 'insane networker' Mary Kopczynski when I first heard her talk about networking on an 85 Broads call last year. I interviewed Mary recently for my latest podcast, The Hell of Networking, but during the show itself we didn't get onto the topic of online networking or women's-only neworks (we did, however, cover plenty of other stuff, so I hope you'll tune in). I'm covering online networking in this blog post and will talk about women's-only networks in another post later this week.

When I asked Mary to explain her earlier statement, she took a step back. It turns out she actually bought stock in LinkedIn, so clearly she knew the platform had potential. But she did reiterate that for her, true networking is about meeting people in person, then connecting with them again later, possibly by phone or email. She said meeting someone at a conference, and then finding that person's LinkedIn request in her inbox the next day, was 'totally forgettable'. She would rather the person did not connect with her until they actually had something they wanted to ask her. As long as they reminded her of how and when they met, and were polite in getting in touch, she said she is only too happy to respond and help them out if she can.

But she does use LinkedIn to good purpose. She told me about a time a friend had got in touch with her and told Mary she was thinking of applying for a job at a certain company. Mary said, 'Do nothing - dont apply yet!', sprang onto LinkedIn, realized she was connected to the company's CEO, and immediately wrote him a message asking him to meet with her 'amazing' friend for coffee just to see if she might be a good fit for the company. I forgot to ask whether her friend got the job. 

I've found Twitter a good networking resource in that I've been introduced to people over Twitter who I've subsequently met in real life, people with whom I have a lot in common. I've also 'met' people on there who I've never met in real life but who I've had some other kind of meaningful connection with, such as finding they're a fellow podcaster and ending up being interviewed for their show. I love the serendipity of Twitter. To me, LinkedIn has a different, more formal feel, perhaps because it's so obviously about work and career advancement.

My beef with online networking - OK, LinkedIn -  is this: far too many people I don't know send me LinkedIn requests, with absolutely no explanation as to why I should say 'yes'. To my mind, this is the worst aspect of this kind of networking. 

I am always amazed that people I have never met would send a generic request with no explanation as to why I should connect with them. The whole point of LinkedIn, I realize, is to get connected to people who are connected to other people who you may eventually wish to connect with, but what motivation does someone who doesn’t know you have for introducing you to someone else? They can’t advocate for you in any way as they have never met or even spoken to you, so what’s the point? I wish people would realize that if you are going to send a complete stranger a LinkedIn request, you must tell them why it's worth your while to connect with them, what you have in common, etc. I have said ‘yes’ to strangers who have messaged me making clear why we should connect. But (feeling slightly bad about it of course – after all I am female) I generally ignore the others. It’s such a tiny thing to write a line or two explaining why you’re worth connecting with. Why on earth don’t more people do it?

But I’d be glad to hear from anyone who feels differently. I don’t believe in expanding my LinkedIn network simply to have a massive network. If you accept requests from those you don’t know, why do you do it?

I agree with Mary Kopczynski that online networking can be useful, but you have to use it judiciously. If you haven't spoken to someone for a while or you only met them once at a conference - someone you're connected to on LinkedIn - make sure to remind them, if you message them, of when and where you met. You have to deploy some manners and a bit of charm, I think, to get people to respond. 

Again, your thoughts are welcome. What have I forgotten here?