Reclaiming Your LinkedIn Network

Have you found yourself looking at your LinkedIn network and recognizing too few people? Here’s how to sort it out

adviceMany executives have allowed their LinkedIn networks to grow by reactively accepting invitations from former colleagues, club members, people they met networking, etc. One day, when something compels them to look at “their” networks, they are dismayed to see that it’s not a pretty picture. They don’t recognize some of the names. Others aren’t really what they think of as “trusted.” They might get requests from their connections to connect them with someone else in their network whom they barely know. They don’t know what to do, and they wonder whether they should just throw it all away and start over. This is a very predictable and normal circumstance, and here I offer a step-by-step guide to reclaiming your network.

Weeding the Garden

Planning

The first step is to think about what you want to accomplish with your network. Do you want to stay connected with people you already know? Meet new people in a defined area? Build your understanding of social networks? Based on your goals, what people in your network and outside would have similar or complementary interests? The best gardens have a concept or strategy behind them.

If you are like most people, you will want a mixture of people in your network. Fast-moving friends, colleagues and acquaintances. People you may not know well but who are focused on things that also interest you. Think about categories that make sense to you. Try thinking along two vectors: how much you trust the person and what kind of expertise, interest or passion the person has. You might be willing to keep someone in your network that you don’t know well enough to trust them but who is interested in something that is important to you. For people in that category, make it a goal to get to know them better. Everyone has his/her own comfort level about tight-tie and loose-tie connections.

Surveying

Now that you have planned, grab the rake, hoe, shears and gloves. How you go about this will depend on how large your network is. Assuming it’s between 100-200 people, task yourself with taking 1, 2 or 3 letters of the address book at a time for a two-step process: qualifying and pruning. Go down the address book list, and blow by people that you know you want in your network. When you get to someone you’re not sure about, click on his/her name to view the profile and measure him/her against your criteria. The big three screening criteria for many people are expertise, people and affiliations: what is the person’s knowledge base? What organizations does s/he belong to? Whom does s/he know?

profile_tabsA great way to get a better flavor is to view the person’s activity on Answers (see picture, right, for how to access). What kind of questions does s/he ask, and how well does s/he share when responding to questions? Finally, look at his/her Recommendations. Are they sincere and specific? Obviously the more data points, the more valuable the criterion. On a piece of paper, mark the last names of the people who don’t fit.

Pruning

connections_tabsAfter you have some names on the paper, you can remove them from your network very easily. Hit the “Remove Connections” link at the top right of your connections address book. It will present you with a little “address book” where you can tick the boxes and remove as many people as you want—in one click!

When you remove someone, LinkedIn does not notify the person that you have removed him/her. You will disappear from his/her connections list without fanfare, and s/he will be transferred to your “contacts,” where you can add him/her to your connections later if you want (currently, there’s a waiting period of 3 days).

I recommend pruning as a separate step because it can be a hassle or an embarrassment if you delete people you don’t intend to delete. By having it as its own step, you’ll be less likely to make a mistake. Also note that, when removing connections, the names are not hot-linked, so you can’t get any more info on that person from that screen.

Fertilizing and Tending

When you have finished weeding, you will have a much more agreeable LinkedIn list of connections that fall into two major areas:

  • People you trust; people “you like” often fall into this category
  • People who know things, people or groups in which you are interested

The Fertilizer is Trust

The next step is to focus on the people you know less well. You need to get to know them better, so you can increase your trust level with some of them. By the way, there will always be people you want in your network whom you don’t trust because they have expertise you value. The converse is also true. You trust some people even if they don’t have knowledge or connections that are not aligned with what you are doing. Of course, there are different levels of trust, too. Think about this; it will help you to sort things out. There are many approaches you can take to increase trust, and the most effective will depend on your and the other person’s natural preferences and how well aligned your interests are:

  • Schedule a 45 minute call to bring each other up to speed on what’s important this year and refer each other to one or two people or organizations. Once you do this, follow up with the people to whom you referred the person. How did the introduction go? Was it mutually beneficial? Pay attention to tone of voice and body language.
  • In LinkedIn Answers, ask the person an important question that is relevant to his/her background. What is the response like? You can ask questions privately as well. Obviously, use email to do this as well.
  • Introduce the person to someone else, whether through LinkedIn or email. How does s/he respond? How does his/her response make you feel?
  • If you’re in the same geo, ask the person to join you at a round table or association meeting you’re going to anyway. Do this as far in advance as feasible, so schedules don’t get in the way.
  • Go to coffee, lunch, etc.

Of course, before you go on this campaign, categorize and prioritize your list.

Maintaining

archived_messagesAt the same time, when people invite you, do not automatically accept. When you get an invitation, use some screening criteria similar to during Pruning above. First, how does the invitation make you feel? Is it short, specific and sincere? How much trouble did the person take?

Second, click on his/her profile. How aligned is s/he with your interests? Based on this, you can “archive” the person, which simply takes the invitation off your active invitations page. You can hit “Show Archived Messages” at any time and accept the invitation later. The person only knows that you have not responded. It’s not really a rejection. If the invitation is interesting, consider hitting “send ‘person’s name’ a message” and propose a phone call to get better acquainted. Write something like this:

“Name, thanks for inviting me to connect. I try to actively help people in my LinkedIn network, and I would like to get to know you better, would you like to have a short call to explore how we could help each other?”

If the person doesn’t respond, s/he’s probably not a good candidate for a “trusted” connection!

Parting Shots

Please let me know how this works for you, or suggest your favorite gardening methods!

9 comments to Reclaiming Your LinkedIn Network

  • It’s amazing that I couldn’t find out how to remove a troublesome connector that refused to link with me or acknowledge any contact.

    Thanks to your post, I accomplished it quickly.

  • Chris: I enjoyed your post. The recommendations on evaluating invitations are thoughtful and helpful. As far as removing connections, perhaps a review of many folks under the same “invitations” criteria is workable. Friendly thought: the pursuit of generation of relationships with fully unknown people seems time-consuming. Maybe an overarching consideration of networking goals and strategies could map where to pursue relationships, which admittedly takes time though may propel the person forward. In general, keeping in mind a possibility to remove connections can slowly identify people falling outside the desired set and ready for removal. Even my comment resembles the varying analysis you thoughtfully suggested, and is needed in the review of connections. Kind regards, Bob

  • Len, thanks for sharing; it’s always nice to learn that a post is immediately helpful!! Cheers-

  • Bob, thanks for your thoughts and expansion. I kind of think of it as an ebb and flow, and if one is inviting people, it’s also useful to prune. The idea here was that many people I’ve worked with on LinkedIn have “acquired” connections passively, just by accepting invitations. When you create a LinkedIn plan (as we do in EGLI seminars), you can be far more purposeful.. which isn’t to say you are less spontaneous. People will always want to connect just for fun, too.

    What are your experiences thus far?

    Cheers-

  • Chris, thank you for the post and the good thoughts. I have attended several of your workshops and found them very useful. I remember how you stressed to have a plan and take the time necessary to work it. I would suggest not just “taking the time” but make the time. Everyone is so busy but this is important and deserves to be scheduled time as an investment in one’s self.

  • Dick, that’s a great distinction, we do have to make the time because no one has any to take ,^). Thanks!

  • Jamon

    Chris: I agree with the process you’ve outlined here but am not sure I understand the rationale. I have a very large LinkedIn network (600+) which I cultivated most recently for an extensive job search (I am not an open-networker). Some of my contacts are past colleagues from over a decade ago, others are new contacts I’ve just met. How can I know now who might be a good contact in the future for an as yet unknown need? I’m of the belief that one never knows where peoples’ paths may cross again, especially as the world grows smaller and smaller. Plus, a larger LI network allows me access to information about more individuals in LinkedIn. I understand that I cannot maintain active one-on-one relationships with 600+ people, but I can segment my highest value contacts for more frequent contact, while letting the LinkedIn as a tool to maintain access to my larger, more peripheral network. I actually think having a large network of relevant contacts helps me develop my personal brand. If someone asks me for an introduction I don’t feel comfortable making, I tell them so. I may “trust” my contacts with varying degrees of depth, but I consider the status of my relationship with a connection on an individual basis before I ask anything of them, anyway. What is the harm of keeping the majority of my contacts intact? I know it would save me time to only focus on contacts who will help me move forward–but how do I know NOW which contacts will do that for me in the future? If I had pruned my network before my job search, I would have missed out on a lot of help from surprising places.

  • Jamon, thanks for sharing your thoughts and bringing in a “loose tie” flavor to the discussion. A couple of thoughts:

    As I emphasize when working with clients, you need to make your network congruent with yourself; if you and the most important people in your network are comfortable with looser connections, it’s completely appropriate to have larger networks. Most of my clients have tighter networks; enterprise executives are typically more conservative, so they expect that people in their networks know the people in their networks better. When you are comfortble making introductions that are less qualified *and the people you care most about are okay with it, too* this can work beautifully. It sounds like that’s your situation.

    Second, as you’ve noticed, LinkedIn is adding more tools to keep you in touch with your network. Status visibility, and people can increasingly comment on anything in your LinkedIn feed. If your “network octane” is too thin, these updates can become LinkedIn smog after a while. If you have too many people you don’t know, their updates can crowd out updates from people in your network, and you’ll miss some important updates. Of course, this is completely manageable, but you’d have to create a process. As you say, segment your network, and put on your calendar to “check in” and hit to profiles of the people you care about most.

    Thanks again for giving us some good arguments for having a larger network. All social networks give us the opportunity to create and manage more connections, and everyone has to “roll one’s own” when it comes to finding out what works. The most important thing is to resonate with yourself and the most important people in one’s network

  • […] If you have some “down time,” this is an excellent time to conduct a LinkedIn Network Review. In other words, follow the same process for your whole LI network. It’s like a garden that needs periodic pruning. More on this here: Reclaiming Your LinkedIn Network. […]

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