Thursday, January 24, 2008

How Do Your LinkedIn Connections Grow?

...With silver bells, and cockle shells, and pretty maids all in a row. In preparation for my talk on "Effective Use of LinkedIn" for the upcoming meeting of the Career Transitions group, I took a close look at my own LinkedIn connections. Some of the things I learned surprised me.

I don't know how much of this will make it into my presentation on February 9th (at 9:45 am), but I thought I would share some of my thoughts here as a way of working out what I want to say to the group.

I looked at each of my contacts and determined how many contacts each of them had. The power of LinkedIn, after all, is not in your own first-degree contacts (who do you know?) but in the second-degree contacts (the "friend-of-a-friend" factor).

I was surprised to see that the majority of my second-degree contacts came from a relatively small number of contacts: 25 percent of my LinkedIn contacts connect me with 83 percent of my second-degree connections!

This is clearly an example of the old 80-20 rule in operation -- that 80 percent of your revenue will come from 20 percent of your customers.

My experience with LinkedIn, however, tells me that I want quality of contacts as well as quantity of contacts. The most interesting connections have come to me through the 75 percent of my contacts that have a relatively small network: they may not have many connections, but what they have is strong and very powerful. Quantity is good if I want to do a broad-reaching search to learn more about some distant person that I know only by name. Quality is important if you want to be introduced to someone and have the referral to mean something -- a level of trust, a de facto endorsement of the people in your network.

I haven't really figured out how to evaluate the quality of my LinkedIn connections, but I did go through and sort them by how we met. I first thought that, given that I'm writing a blog about networking and meeting lots of new people, that most of my connections would come from people I've met through networking. Wrong.

Sixty percent of my connections are with people I used to work with! Around 30 percent is from direct, in-person networking. I've met seven percent online, mostly through LinkedIn Answers or from blogging, and many of those I've gone on to meet personally when the opportunity presented.

Which brings me to my last chart, showing the source of my second-degree LinkedIn contacts (that is, how do I know the person that connects me to this "friend of a friend?"). I was interested to find that there is a balance to my connections. Some of the people I know from my previous jobs have clearly put some time and effort into building up their own LinkedIn networks. And, not surprisingly, the people I meet in my networking also have a relatively large number of connections.

And, of course, there are those I've met on-line. Many of them are LIONs (LinkedIn Open Networkers) who will connect with anyone, and some of them are among the top 10 or 20 most connected people on LinkedIn.

My LinkedIn network reflects my own personality and my own philosophy about how to build relationships. I'm not connected to just anyone. I connect with people that I have an existing personal relationship with, or, if we just met quickly while networking, there is some sense of synergy in connecting. Even my connections to LIONs are done with a purpose -- generally the person is in a profession or a business that brings them in contact with the people that I would like to connect with.

Take a few moments sometime to look at your own LinkedIn connections (or Facebook or other social media site, if that is your preference) and think about what you've built, what it means to you, and where you want it to go in the future. In my talk at Career Transitions, I'm thinking of using a "garden" metaphor to describe how you want to build your LinkedIn network. You don't want only Irises in your garden -- they are indeed beautiful, but they only bloom three weeks a year. You want a garden with variety. More about that later...

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