By Rebecca Hawk
LinkedIn is a robust networking platform that can dramatically augment the networking that association professionals do at conferences and meetings. But the prospect of creating a network from scratch can be overwhelming to new adopters or professionals who haven’t touched their profiles in years.
Professional resume writer and career coach Phaedra Brotherton recommends a simple, straightforward approach based on your existing connections—and with an eye toward your professional goals.
Brotherton recommends starting to build out a LinkedIn network with your “offline” network. “If you’re brand new to LinkedIn, start with the people you already know,” she says. The platform makes it easy to find existing connections by synching with your address book, email contacts, and connections across other social platforms.
Brotherton recommends connecting with “anyone who has been or is a fan of yours—for instance, current and former coworkers and professional colleagues who have praised your work or who you’ve gotten along with really well in the past.”
There’s a key to building your LinkedIn network: Ask yourself what your goals are. “Your goals will determine who you want to add to your network,” Brotherton says.
Of course, you’ll likely encounter some gray areas when determining whom to connect with. “There’s probably some overlap between your personal and professional life,” says Brotherton. “It’s not really cut and dried.” While it might make sense to connect with your childhood friend who now works in a related field, a connection with a family member in a completely different industry may or may not be as helpful to your network.
Working at an association means that you’ll cross paths with members, partners, vendors, and service providers on LinkedIn. Whether you connect with them is all about your comfort level and the relationship you have with each person.
Having connections with members can come in handy down the road when you’re looking for volunteers for a project with your organization.
Depending on your organization’s industry and level of formality, connecting with members could be fruitful. “It’s great to connect with members so that they can get to know you,” says Brotherton, “Having connections with members can come in handy down the road when you’re looking for volunteers for a project with your organization.”
Brotherton likes to connect with external colleagues as a means of keeping in touch. “LinkedIn has replaced my Rolodex,” she says.
“If you go to a professional organization event and you strike up a conversation with someone whose work or organization you might like to know more about, ask for their business card and send them a LinkedIn invite when you get back to your desk,” she recommends. “This is a great way to actually expand your network.”
If you’re unsure about whether or not to connect with someone, use Brotherton’s rubric for potential connections: “You want to connect with people who you can help and who can help you professionally now or in the future.”
As important as it is to consider your own goals when forging connections on the platform, also keep in mind those of your potential connections.
“Think of the invitation to connect as if you were networking at a professional event,” says Brotherton. “You wouldn’t just walk up to someone and say, ‘I’d like to connect with you.’”
LinkedIn provides the same standard message templates to everyone. You can make yourself stand out from the crowd if you opt for a more personalized and transparent approach.
Brotherton recommends a brief note to give the person you’re reaching out to an idea of how you learned about them and why you’d like to connect. For example, “I saw the article you posted on nonprofits and thought it was interesting,” or, “I took a look at your background and I see that we have a few connections in common, and I’d love to connect with you to see how I might be a resource for you.”
Even a simple follow-up message works, Brotherton says: “I really enjoyed meeting you at the recent Annual Meeting and I’d like to stay in touch.”
By building a network based on existing contacts and concrete goals, you’ll find that starting or reigniting your LinkedIn network is simpler than you think.
Rebecca Hawk is the marketing specialist for Association CareerHQ at ASAE Business Services, Inc. Email: [email protected]