Great LinkedIn invitations? Are they really that big a deal? Sure, canned messages are lame, but inviting someone to connect via LinkedIn (or any other social networking site) is just a simple matter of record-keeping. What’s wrong with just, “Hey, let’s connect?”
That’s one way to look at it. But consider this: every communication you have with someone in your network is an opportunity to move that relationship forward, to make it stronger. It’s not that there’s anything “wrong” with treating a LinkedIn invitation as a simple mechanical action, but it’s a missed opportunity. A few extra seconds can transform it into a relationship-building activity.
There’s another reason your LinkedIn invitations matter: if too many (five or so, best guess – LinkedIn doesn’t publish the actual number) of your invitations are rejected (“I don’t know the sender”) by the recipient, your account may be temporarily suspended and you will lose the ability to invite people to connect without their email address.
One way to ensure having your LinkedIn invitations accepted is to email the person before sending them a LinkedIn invitation and ask them if they’d like to connect on LinkedIn. That’s not always possible, i.e., old friends/colleagues/classmates who you’ve lost touch with. I also don’t think I’d email somebody solely for that purpose. But if you’re having an email dialog with someone already, slipping it into one of your messages is a good way to grease the skids for an invitation.
Let’s look at the “stand-alone” invitation in three scenarios: 1) someone you know well, who you are confident will accept the invitation, 2) an acquaintance or colleague that may not immediately recognize your name, and 3) someone you don’t know personally, but are interested in connecting with.
The basic format is the same in all cases:
- Establish context. This is the main thing that will vary between the different scenarios. More below.
- Invite them to connect, in your own words.
- Suggest a next action. Coffee. A phone call. Sending them a link. Making an introduction. If you’re particularly interested in developing this relationship, make a commitment and then keep it. Otherwise, you can put the ball in their court.
Scenario 1: Current active contact
In this case, the emphasis should be on strengthening the relationship and moving it forward. Start by recalling your most recent interaction with them, or what brought them to your mind. “It was great to see you the other day.” “Thanks for sending me a copy of your book.” “I was reading an article about widgets the other day and thought of you.” If you know them well, you may even express mild surprise at the fact that you’re not already connected.
Here are a few actual examples I’ve sent/received:
I have a friend in Seattle with a job opening — I’m hoping you might know someone it’s a fit for. It’s easiest to forward it to you via LinkedIn since that’s where the job listing is. And…we should be connected anyway! 🙂
Hi Jason – just going through and adding some of my Austin friends. Funny how you just assume you’ve connected, but never have, y’know?
Any word on those videos from the conference?
Thanks again for the Boat Show tickets — the whole family had a blast!
Hi Eileen — you came up in my "people you might know" list, and sure enough… 🙂
How are things with you these days? Any big plans for 2010?
I’ll bring the Willie book Thursday evening and I’d also like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn. Cool with you?
All the best,
Good to meet you at SXSW, will have your interview up today. I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.
As you can see, it doesn’t have to be long. Those three elements can be achieved in three sentences, or even two. The elements can even be implicit – for example, when Sonny promises to “bring the Willie book”, that recalls our past conversation in the process of making a future commitment.
Scenario 2: Acquaintance
The purpose here is two-fold: first, make sure they don’t think you’re an absolute stranger if they don’t recognize your name immediately; second, re-establish the relationship and open the door for follow-up. Start by reminding them where/how you know them. This is your best guarantee against the dreaded “I don’t know.” button.
How’s it going????? Been a long time since we communicated. Looks like things are going very well for you in Austin… must have been the right move to make!!! How’s your mom doing??? Is she still playing piano somewhere?
All the best to you!!
We spoke last year when I was helping John Assaraf relaunch his book Having It All. Love your About.com Entrepreneur site, and what you and Jay are doing with the Relationship Economy.
Love to connect our networks and find out who a good connection for you is.
Create a great day,
Hi Ginger — your name came up under "people you may know" — pleasant surprise!
Are you still working with Stephen? How are things going?
Our paths haven’t crossed recently, but I remember you from Ecademy and I’d like to add you to my network on LinkedIn.
Scenario 3: Someone you don’t know
Let me say once again that generally, the better approach with someone you don’t know is to contact them via email or request an introduction on LinkedIn. Not everyone uses LinkedIn in the same way, and sending connection invitations to total strangers isn’t a very effective use of your time and can get you in trouble with LinkedIn.
That said, there are some exceptions. One thing LinkedIn doesn’t handle very well is asymmetrical relationships. Typically, a vendor doesn’t necessarily know a whole lot about their customer, except maybe that they pay their bill on time. Let’s take it a step farther. Is someone who bought my book a “customer”? What about someone who reads my blog? Or heard me speak? I connect with these people. And most people will, if you establish that context.
Another exception is people who are interested in hiring me. Right. Like I’m going to say “no”.
Name-dropping works too. If you say that someone I know and trust said you should get in touch with me, I’m going to accept the invitation.
Here are some real-life examples:
From one Austin guy to another, I’m lovin’ your Tweets amigo!
Hi Scott, loved your webinar on Linked Intelligence, I will start making some improvements! I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.
I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn. We have never met but Steve Latham is a friend
and since my company is looking for experts to outsource social media services to, I would like to get to know you better.
Hi Scott, I loved, loved, loved the Linked In seminar this morning!! Thanks much! I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn. Looking forward to the QuickStart Guide.
Oh, and flattery works. Seriously – it’s not an ego thing – it’s just nice to be sincerely appreciated.
So it’s your choice. You can send a canned invite and make it just a mechanical record-keeping act, or you can take one minute to make it a meaningful communication with a valuable business contact.