Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Personalize Your Invites for More Contacts

When you're getting started on LinkedIn, you learn many things from trial and error. Or by poking around the site. Or by asking friends and connections for their tips. And sometimes LinkedIn gives you advice along the way, but sometimes the LinkedIn system has pre-populated fields -- like the message invitation text -- which appears to be completely acceptable and foolproof, but could actually slow your efforts to expand your LinkedIn network.

This post is dedicated to helping you learn why to personalize your invitation, and offer some tips on how to personalize from various areas in the site.

TIP: Skip the Import Step
So let's start at the beginning, when you first sign up for your LinkedIn account, there are several steps in the process: signing up, receiving a confirmation email, clicking the link to verify your account, and setting up your profile. LinkedIn also offers you a quick and easy way to Invite people to connect with you on LinkedIn. This page looks like this:

Who You Already Know on LinkedIn - the tricky "Import" Feature
Personally, I never think it's a good idea to use this particular LinkedIn feature for several reasons:
  1. There may be people in my email contact list whom I do NOT wish to invite to connect with me: my Dad who is not and will never be on LinkedIn, my great aunt who would have no use for such nonsense, my friend whom I am already connected to through their work email (so I wouldn't want to send them ANOTHER invitation to their personal email, which they may not have connected to a LinkedIn account), a few fellow members of Toastmasters that I know aren't active on LinkedIn, etc. etc. 
  2. LinkedIn accesses my personal email box and stores that information. I'm obviously open to sharing information on the Internet, but anytime a site asks to store my personal information even when I'm not using the site, it makes me nervous.
  3. If you follow their simple, step-by-step instructions, it will automatically send those individuals a impersonal invitation, the infamous, "I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn." With the growing popularity of LinkedIn, you might receive this message a few times a week. And if you can't quite place the person who is inviting you to connect, you're likely to ignore it. 
TIP: A Personalized Invitation is ALWAYS Better than the Standard Invite
aka "Optional" should not be "Optional"
"Personalize EVERY invitation," suggests Brenda Meller.

I always suggest that LinkedIn users take a few moments to personalize EVERY invitation. As in EVERY invitation. This includes EVERY invitation. (Yes, it's that important). How do I personalize, you ask?
  1. Start by deleting the standard invitation text. Consider it garbage: "I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn." Whenever I receive an invite with this text -- and I don't know the person offhand, I typically respond back with three words, "Have we met?" This gives the person an opportunity to explain how they are and why they want to connect. HINT: most people won't do this. They will simply ignore or delete your invitation and you've lost the opportunity to gain a new connection.
  2. Insert a greeting appropriate for the person, "Hello John" or "Dear Michelle" as an example.
  3. Give the person a frame of reference how they know you. Ex: "It was nice meeting you at the Troy Chamber breakfast this morning." OR "Hope you've been doing well. It's been a while since we worked together at PMH." OR "We sat next to each other at the expo on Tuesday and exchanged business cards."
  4. Invite them to connect. Ex. "I'd like to connect on LinkedIn." OR "Let's connect on LinkedIn so we can stay in touch."
  5. BONUS: extend an offer for assistance. It's always better to offer something FIRST before asking for their assistance when you may need it later. Ex: "Let me know if there is anything you need."
  6. Your signature name. This is the only part of the pre-personalized LinkedIn text that I leave in.
An example of a personalized invitation on LinkedIn. ~Brenda Meller
The simple technique of personalizing every invitation will help you to increase the number of connections by providing you a higher likelihood that the intended recipient will read and accept your response.

Plus, you've started the dialog with this contact with some friendly conversation, which will go a long way in making LinkedIn more useful to you in the future.