By Jeff Kline


How To Make Valuable Connections On LinkedIn

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

"I think it's so groovy now, that people are finally getting together."

In the summer of 1967, Friend & Lover recorded their one hit wonder, "Reach Out Of The Darkness." Nearly half a decade later, their words still ring true.

This week on The Summer of Social Media for Nonprofits, I’ll be discussing how to reach outside your immediate LinkedIn network to make valuable new connections among your organization’s target audience. These connections could turn into new customers, members, donors and vendors!

But before I begin discussing your strategy for making connections on LinkedIn, I want to ensure you have a good understanding of the reason why a large network is so important.

Reach Out Of The Darkness, And You Might Find...A New Prospect

Neal Schaffer, author of Maximizing LinkedIn for Sales and Social Media Marketing, is a huge advocate of expanding your network on LinkedIn beyond people you personally know. Schaffer’s tip is to multiply your age by ten, and use that as the minimum number of people with whom you should be connected. (This presents quite a challenge for those of us who remember when "Reach Out of The Darkness" was topping the charts!)

Why is a large network important? Well, first there’s the obvious reason—the more connections you have, the better your chances that some of those connections will become customers, members or donors for your nonprofit. Second, by having a large number of 1st degree connections, you’ll also be exposed to a greater number of 2nd and 3rd degree connections. (What are 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree connections?) When you cast your net further, you also cast it wider, increasing your opportunities for discovering new prospects.

Now that you understand the reason why a large network is so valuable, it’s time to discuss your strategy for making valuable connections.

Part 1: Getting In The "LinkedIn Mindset"

clientuploads/brain_blue.jpgI mentioned this in a previous post, and it’s a term LinkedIn guru Schaffer introduced. The “LinkedIn Mindset” is achieved by understanding that LinkedIn is used for professional networking and creating business-to-business (or nonprofit-to-nonprofit, in your case) relationships. Make sure you understand the following items before proceeding: 

So before you begin prospecting for new members, customers, donors and vendors, take a few minutes to think about the following items and get your head in the right place.

1) Focus on your B2B goals. Click here to revisit an earlier post where I listed specific business-to-business goals for different markets.

2) Keep your target audience in mind. Just as with any other marketing activity, your efforts will be most effective if you go in with a set of personas to target. Create marketing personas for each of your nonprofit’s different types of prospects. Include details such as job title, education, age and seniority—this will keep your prospect search structured and effective.

3) Be aware of LinkedIn’s User Guidelines, which clearly state, “Do not invite people you do not know to join your network.” If too many of your requests to connect are rejected and indicated by the recipients that they don’t know you, LinkedIn will restrict your ability to connect with people. This restriction will lift after some time, but its difficult to determine how long your penalty may last.

(You’re probably wondering why I’m encouraging you to connect with people outside your network, if that’s exactly what LinkedIn is telling you NOT to do. The key is to first get to know these people through different methods of engagement on LinkedIn—turn them into “warm leads,” as Shaeffer calls them—then ask for a connection!)  

4) Always include a note. There are many different methods for reaching out and connecting with people, as I will discuss in a moment. But regardless of the way you get in touch, always be sure to explain why you’d like to connect, and propose how the connection could be a mutually beneficial relationship.

Part 2: Connecting With People Outside Your Network

Now that you’re in the right mindset, it’s time to take action!

Start by using LinkedIn’s Advanced Search to find your prospects. 

Using your personas, search for prospects based on Job Title, Location, Industry and any of the other criteria. Sometimes it’s helpful to narrow your search to people who are in the same groups as you. If you have a Premium LinkedIn Account, you can narrow your search even further by Seniority Level, Years of Experience and Company Size. 

Once you’ve identified people with whom you'd like to connect, the next step is to strike up a conversation. Below are 4 methods for turning perfect strangers into warm leads.

Step 1) Join the same groups as your prospects. 

Visit your prospect’s profile to discover the groups in which he is a member, and then join those groups. Get involved in a group by commenting on group discussions—especially if it’s a discussion your prospect started!

Within groups, you have the ability to send private messages to members. Simply hover over a member’s picture and click the Send Message option that appears. Or, if your prospect started a discussion, you can hover over the discussion, click More, and select Reply Privately. This allows you to strike up a conversation and ask for his permission to connect.

Send message in LinkedIn group

While you’re participating in these groups, you’ll probably find other people with whom you’d like to connect. Groups can be a great place to search for and engage with new prospects.

Step 2) Ask for an introduction. 

Another way to get to know someone before connecting with them is through LinkedIn’s Get Introduced feature. When you find a prospect who is a 2nd or 3rd degree connection, click to go to their profile. Next to the Send InMail button is an arrow—hover over the arrow and select Get Introduced. A popup window will appear, showing your shared connections with the prospect. Select whom you would like to ask to introduce you to the prospect, write a note explaining why you’d like to be introduced, and click to send your request! The default message they’ll receive looks like this: 

[Your Name] would like you to forward an introduction to [Prospect’s Name]. 

Your custom message will appear below, and your connection will have the option to forward an introduction to your prospect.

Get Introduced on LinkedIn

Step 3) Send InMail.

InMail is LinkedIn’s premium service for sending messages to people who aren’t your 1st degree connections. In order to send InMail, you must upgrade your account to LinkedIn Premium. Each month, you are allowed to send a set amount of InMail. The benefits: you can send a personalized message to anyone before sending a request to connect, and for every InMail you send that doesn’t get a response, you get another InMail free. The drawback: cost, and the fact that InMail is LinkedIn’s version of cold calling.

Step 4) Use Board Member Connect.

LinkedIn has an entire section of its website devoted to helping nonprofits make valuable connections. One of the services LinkedIn provides is Board Member Connect, available exclusively to nonprofits registered in the U.S. This service was developed to help nonprofit recruiters take advantage of their board members’ LinkedIn networks to identify qualified potential new employees, volunteers, donors, vendors and even new board members.

Board Member Connect consists of three main components:

  • Educational webinars to help you work with your board to implement your recruiting strategy.
  • Free use of Talent Finder, a powerful tool with enhanced search capabilities.
  • Membership to the Board Connect group on LinkedIn, where you can engage in discussions with other nonprofit executives and recruiters using the service.

If you’d like to learn more about Board Member Connect, check out this slideshow:

UP NEXT: Creating And Optimizing Your LinkedIn Company Page

I hope today’s post inspired you to reach out and begin making some meaningful professional relationships. Next week on the Summer of Social Media for Nonprofits, I’ll be discussing how to create an engaging and effective LinkedIn Company Page for your nonprofit!

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