Tight versus Loose Network Strategies

adviceI answered a very interesting question in LinkedIn Answers recently in which a LinkedIn member asked about the validity of this proposition: “Would it be wise to use a service that promised 1,000,000 LinkedIn contacts in a weekend?”  Apparently, the questioner had been on a webcast in which the promoter offered a paying service to leverage a LIONs den to rapidly build a huge network.  Here is my response:

In principle, it is possible to build a one million person network in a very short period of time, but consider your personal style and goals for LinkedIn before doing it.

Style

Do you feel comfortable referring people you do not know (beyond their status as members of LinkedIn) to people you do know? For example, if you have one million connections, and a colleague or client wants an introduction to some of them, how comfortable will you be in that situation? You will either have to make the introduction, saying to your colleague that you don’t know the people to whom you are referring him/her, or you will have to connect them and imply that you do know the people better than you really do. This can serve you as long as you (and people in your network) are comfortable with it.

Goals

tight_loose2People who don’t know you (but are connected with you) may not be compelled to respond to your requests for introductions (after all, you are one in a million ,^) as quickly or completely as someone you know better. Ask yourself, “How actionable will those one million connections be?”

Also, LinkedIn has fantastic tools to keep you in touch with your “first level” connections. If you have one million, you might be overwhelmed by your network activity. Alternatively, let’s say you grow your network organically (and more slowly). You may have 1-200 people with whom you have some degree of trust. If they are mixed in with one million others, you may find that you will have so much network activity that you can’t keep track of people you know.

If you are a recruiter or have goals that are more transactional in nature, having one million contacts could serve your goals very well. On the other hand, if you are involved with developing trusted relationships with people to meet your business goals, you may find a huge network more a burden.

Tight and Loose

Although the above proposal is an extreme case of “looseness” while some people might go to the other extreme and only connect with people who live in their block or work at their company (very tight). The fact is that most people lie somewhere between the poles of “absolute tight” and “absolute loose.”  Here’s why:

  • Quick, who would you be more willing to help: a stranger or a friend?  Most people would help the friend first, so the more you have developed trust among your LinkedIn connections, the more responsive they are to you.
  • On the other hand, it’s a well recognized fact that opportunities (new clients, jobs, more work) come most often from people with whom you acquainted but not very close–because they can take you into new directions.

Also, as you reflect over your approach to building and growing your network, don’t only think about your goals and proclivities, but think about the most important people in your network: how risk tolerant are they? What kind of introductions will they want from you? Are they comfortable with winging it a little, or are they very risk averse when meeting other people?  Remember, your network is your party, so take care of your guests!

For example, I am a management consultant to global enterprises, and people expect me to be able to make qualified introductions. I depend on developing trust because people want to manage risk by dealing with trusted people. However, if I were an IT recruiter (transactional) filling specific positions with people, I would probably want to grow my network substantially.

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