There is no denying that LinkedIn is one powerful tool for networking, business development and word-of-mouth marketing. Those that use it frequently tend to sing the praises of LinkedIn all the way to the bank. There is however a few different schools of thought as to how one should use LinkedIn.
1) Open networker (or LION):
LION stands for Linked In Open Networker, or just open networker. These people are totally open in their approach to networking and will accept any invitation. The idea here is to connect to as many people as possible in order to reach out to more people. A larger network is particularly useful when prospecting for leads and doing research on people and companies.
An open networker will publicize their LinkedIn URL at any chance to entice others to send invitations. As a LION, you will be expected to accept invitation from complete randoms and usually their friends as well. If you are not comfortable with this, you will probably want to pick another strategy.
Open networkers will have the largest networks, usually well over a thousand first connections. As you cannot see how many connections people have beyond the 500 mark, we can only guess how large some of the true LIONs networks are. Ron Bates claims to have over 44,000 connections and if you are a prolific member of LinkedIn I would venture to guess he has invited you as well (not sure how he does it!).
By the way, you may want to read Karalyn Brown’s article Why I Think I Regret Becoming an Open Networker before you plunge into being a LION.
2) Professional networker (let’s call this mouse):
Relationships Matter, as the LinkedIn tag line goes. This is what I believe LinkedIn was intended for, professionals connecting up to further each others’ careers. This would be the most typical LinkedIn user. A salesperson would connect to his or her clients, the client would connect to their suppliers etc. You don’t actually have to have met the other person but you will have dealt with them and deem there is a value being connected for both your careers. Professional networkers will normally have anything from 200 to one thousand connections.
3) Exclusive networker (or cat):
This category of people will only ever connect to people they know well, trust and respect. This type of network is likely to be very selective and can be drawn upon for passing on introductions and recommendations. You could say that the exclusive networker is actually not increasing their connections, merely storing them digitally on LinkedIn. There can be several reasons for wanting to be an exclusive networker, keeping your connections and activities confidential is certainly a major one.
While most recruiters are open or professional networkers, some choose to stay exclusive for the simple reason that they don’t want their clients to know what other clients they speak to or they don’t want to bring attention to hot candidates in the market by connecting to them. Yes, you can change your settings more private but your connections can still see who you are connected to in common for instance. Exclusive networkers will rarely have more than 200 connections, remember that these are tight relationships formed over the years.
Whatever type of networker you choose to be will be dependent on what the purpose of your LinkedIn membership is. Some industries might favor one type, I wouldn’t expect anyone working for secretive government agencies to be open networkers for instance. I would however expect anyone that represents the “Canadian Pharmacy” we have all learned about in our webmail accounts to be a very open networker.
It’s worth bearing in mind that if you put your LinkedIn URL on your email signature, blog or business card, you are expected to accept invitations from people you deal with. So in case you would like to be an exclusive networker, keep the URL to yourself. This goes for phone numbers, your primary email address as well. Even if you are an open networker, you will probably not want every random having your primary email and direct telephone number.
It’s also worth noting that as with most things, most people start out with the greatest intentions. They try and stick to exclusive networking at first. They then realize it takes time to build up a strong network this way and increasingly become professional and sometimes even open (LION) networkers over time. The nature of the beast that is LinkedIn dictates that you do benefit from more connections as it allows you to see more people in your searches.