I often refer to LinkedIn as the most underused social media resource out there: most of us have a LinkedIn profile, but we just “set it and forget it,” rather than using the site’s more sophisticated capabilities. At the very least, LinkedIn is a great way to connect with people in your target industries, by joining Groups that they also belong to (direct client 101: you don’t find them if you only hang out with other translators). You can also use LinkedIn saved searches–even with the free account–to keep track of business prospects. You can use LinkedIn like a virtual Rolodex so that you’re not scrabbling through your desk drawer for the business card of someone you met at a conference five years ago. LinkedIn is also really useful for doing research about your potential clients: finding out who’s hiring, who changed jobs, and so on.
But first, you have to contend with the sticky issue of how to handle LinkedIn connection requests. When I first joined LinkedIn, I was pretty liberal about who I connected with, theorizing that anyone who worked in our industry was potentially a good connection. Over the years (and many hundreds of connections later), I’ve become less of an “open networker,” so I only accept connection requests from a) people I know or b) people who personalize their connection request message and explain how we know each other or why they want to connect with me. If I don’t know the person outside LinkedIn and they don’t explain why they want to connect, I hit “Ignore” and then “I don’t know John Doe,” because I see little value in these types of blind connections.
“But LinkedIn just sends the connection request automatically!,” I hear you cry…”It’s gone before I can personalize it!” Well, not if you do it the right way. Yes, if you’re just looking at LinkedIn’s list of “People You May Know,” and you click the “Connect” button, there goes the invitation with the stock message “I’d like to add you as a connection on LinkedIn.” However if you are looking at the profile of the person you want to connect with, and then you click Connect, you’ll get this popup:
Then, you can indicate how you know the person, and you can write them a personal message. Everyone has to come up with their own LinkedIn strategy: some people will connect only with people they personally know and work with, while others are open to networking with anyone who hits the Connect button. But personalizing your connection request looks more professional and will undoubtedly result in a greater success rate than mass-connecting anonymously.