One of the decisions I made early on in online networking was to become an “open networker” on LinkedIn. For those of you who don’t use LinkedIn, becoming an open networker is where you join a group and are added to a list of people who are open to connecting up with people. Other networkers can use this list to make contact with you. Three years after becoming an open networker I have thousands of connections. Now I kind of regret it.
I say “kind of” because there are advantages to being an open networker. One is that it expands your list of contacts by the bucket load. That means you are able to research thousands, if not millions of people in your broader network. This is great if you want to use LinkedIn to understand people, where they work, and how they may help you.
The downside of being an open networker is that I am fair game. Now I receive hundreds of emails from people I don’t know. Many of them have nothing to do with my business. People have assumed that since I am an open networker that I want to hear about their bridge building business in California or a great deal on grapes in Penang. I’m in Sydney and if you’re reading this, you know what I do. It sounds bizarre because it is bizarre. I am simply being spammed. While I received a few interesting emails among all of these, I’m sure many more good contacts have been lost in the masses.
For me, one of the few things to come out of this deluge of emails is a bit more insight on email impact and ethics. I try to understand how people communicate and how to improve my own communication. When I’ve read these emails I’ve realized how easy it is to all sound the same. If I open an email, it’s because it’s been a really clever or targeted email, and short and snappy, or the person sending it has “lucked on” a topic that has interested me.
With thousands of connections in my inbox, I also find it hard to manage the masses. It’s a challenge to find people that I really care about and want to form deeper relationships with. (If anyone reading this has that secret, please let me know. I’d really appreciate it.)
Another thing that I didn’t think about when I opened myself up to contacts is how other people may view this when they look at my profile. Many headhunters I have spoken to say that they look at the richness of your connections and who’s in your network. With so many contacts I am sure I look either really impressive or really indiscriminate.
My main take out of doing all of this is that I had hesitation about becoming an open networker. But I ignored my gut instinct. At the time I didn’t have a good reason not to do it. I now know from working within online networking, Twitter, and social media, that the community influences the way people use the forum. So with LinkedIn, many people have seen people hooking up and emailing each other, seeming indiscriminate and it becomes the “done thing.” It snowballs.
What I do know is that I’m not generally a person that works a room and hands out my business card to 25 people, even at a professional networking event. I prefer to chat with two or three people and get to know them. Open networking seems to be a bit like that spray can kind of approach. I’m not saying that’s wrong. I just don’t think that’s my natural style.
My main take out of all of this is my networking style worked for me one way offline, so I should have approached it that way online. Perhaps that’s a good rule of thumb for anyone, really.