Expanding Your Inner Circle

How to network on LinkedIn—outside of your immediate connections

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LinkedIn is saturated with some of the world’s top decision makers, and the company says at least one executive from every top 500 company is present on its site. “It is the social network where the world does business,” says Neal Schaffer, author of Windmill Networking: Understanding, Leveraging and Maximizing LinkedIn ($24.95; BookSurge Publishing).

Although you can pull up anyone’s profile at the click of a mouse, many of the decision makers you want to know may be out of your reach. So, how do you catch the attention of someone who isn’t in your network?

“LinkedIn has an intimidating atmosphere,” says Schaffer, “but being intimidated won’t get you acquainted with your target executive. Getting engaged and developing a robust presence on LinkedIn will.” Here are four things you can do to form a relationship with someone who doesn’t have you on their radar:

Boost your connections. Those who are least active on LinkedIn are the hardest people to get in contact with. Don’t be one of them. Connect to everyone you know or used to know. “Someone you knew five or 10 years ago may know the CEO at a company you want to work at,” says Schaffer, who lived in Japan for 15 years and used LinkedIn to grow his network once he moved stateside. Inviting people you actually know to join your network will expand your second-, third-, and fourth-degree connections, meaning you can identify more people who might work at your target company or know your target individual.

Ask for an introduction. LinkedIn has an application which allows you to request an “introduction” from one of your first-degree connections who are either directly or indirectly connected to that person. The default number of introductions that you can have outstanding at any time for the free account is five, so you need to be strategic. If the person you want to contact is a second-degree connection from you and you know the person who connects you very well, your chances of being able to contact your target individual are high. Your chances of success decrease if your target is a third-degree connection or higher, because you can’t control the “missing link” which is that second or third-degree person.

Go where your target is. If you don’t have any first- or second-degree connections to your target, you can find clues or data points that will allow you to connect naturally. LinkedIn provides several points of entry to learn more about your person of interest. First, you can “follow” anyone’s profile regardless of your connection with them. Next, follow someone’s activities on LinkedIn Groups and learn whether they keep a blog on LinkedIn. Join the groups they are members of and actively participate in the group conversation. Members of the same group are allowed to connect through messages. Schaffer also recommend the recently launched tool LinkedIn Today which allows users to curate content based on what their connections and industry peers are sharing and reading.

Engage them. Get to know your target before you reach out to them. Search their profile for things you have in common and try to develop a relationship. “If they write a post, comment on it. If they ask a question on LinkedIn Answers, answer it. If they RSVP to a LinkedIn Event, attend that event,” says Schaffer. “If they are on Twitter, which you can see from their LinkedIn profile, why not go over to Twitter and send them an @Reply message?” You don’t need to be formally connected to contact someone on Twitter.

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