We all know that when we meet someone at a networking event, we want to put our best foot forward and make a favorable first impression.
That's why we get self-conscious if we feel our palms are a bit sweaty or there might be a poppy seed stuck between our teeth. We know to give a friendly smile and a firm but not crushing handshake. We know not to invade the person's private space by standing too close. And we know to communicate standard pleasantries like, "Hello" and "Nice to meet you."
Yet when it comes to networking online, so much of that awareness of how you might be coming across goes out the window. Not for everybody, but it happens enough that I can't stay quiet any longer.
Yes, the rant you've been waiting for...my personal pet peeve...the sloppy LinkedIn invitation.
How you introduce yourself for the first time to someone who doesn't know you sets the stage for the relationship. Not that their impression can't be changed, but that takes more work than doing things right the first time.
When you invite someone to connect with you on LinkedIn, you have the option of including a personal note with your invitation. Unfortunately LinkedIn pre-populates this field with a rather sterile introduction:
"I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn."
-- Joe Smith
There's no warmth, no personality, no indication that even a modicum of time or thought was invested. It looks like you were in a hurry, lazy or clueless, none of which is particularly appealing to people you want to do business with. Your invitation may still be accepted, but simply adding another connection to your LinkedIn profile really isn't the point.
The point is to develop relationships. And a stamped out, cookie cutter, impersonal invitation like the one above is not a good way to start.
The sad thing is that it doesn't take a lot of extra time or thought to stand out in a positive way. There are only five things you need to do. Not a hundred, just five, so there's absolutely no excuse:
1) Say hello
You would do it in person, so why not do it here? Add two words to the beginning of the note such as "Hi Liz" or "Dear Liz." This makes me feel like you're addressing the note specifically to me.
2) Add context
Your first sentence should be a brief explanation of why you want to connect. Something along the lines of "I saw you speak at last week's event" or "I read your book" or "I see that we both know Marvin Jones." Even "I saw your name pop up when I was logged in" is better than nothing.
3) Introduce yourself
Describe what you do in your next sentence. DO NOT say, "Read my profile to learn what I do." That's just rude. If you're the one making the initial contact, it's YOUR job to give them the basic information. "I'm a systems engineer at Boeing" or "I'm a blogger and executive coach in San Diego." Let people know who you are, and if they want to find out more, your profile is just a click away.
4) Invite them to connect
I don't have a big problem with the default sentence "I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn" IF the other four steps of this formula are followed. But while you're personalizing things, why not personalize this sentence as well?
One of my favorite ways is to say, "I'd love to connect with you on LinkedIn and see how we can help each other." Think about what would make it appealing for someone to accept your invitation.
5) Add a closing sign off
Before your name, add a closing like "Best regards" or "Sincerely" or "Take care." Something that you would include in any other note to a stranger whom you are trying to impress.
So what's the benefit of taking the 10 extra seconds to do this, rather than leaving the default message as is?
First of all, you've stood out among all the other LinkedIn invitations your contact may have received that day or that week or that month, so you're going to be remembered.
Second, you've left the impression that you're friendly, polite and willing to go the extra mile.
And third, you've established that you're interested in building a relationship rather than just increasing your number of connections. In other words, you're about quality rather than quantity.
For a few extra seconds of your time, I'd say that's a big return for your investment, wouldn't you?
What do you think? How do you feel about receiving a LinkedIn invitation with the default intro rather than a customized one? What are your ideas for personalizing your messages? Please leave a comment on the Smart Networking blog. I'd love to hear from you.
© 2010 Liz Lynch. All Rights Reserved
Liz Lynch, business development strategist and author of 'Smart Networking: Attract a Following In Person and Online,' teaches entrepreneurs and professionals how to get 24/7 networking results WITHOUT the 24/7 effort. Get her Smart Networking Toolkit at www.SmartNetworking.com.
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