Keeping Your Network Happy On LinkedIn

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

I've been getting miffed at my LinkedIn network lately. Here are some reasons, and what you can do to keep yourself in good favor with your professional contacts.

Stay on topic

I posted a while back about places I like to bring colleagues and clients. It's received renewed interest lately, and it had a little blip in the comment stream.

One person (who's a friend and who runs an organization I belong to) said something that was only slightly off-topic, pumping the organization I work for. And someone slammed him as unprofessional for advertising on the thread.

To stop that quickly, I left a comment that basically said, anybody else who only mentions one business might also be advertising, but that maybe we should consider another discussion about staying on-topic, since his comment about unprofessionalism was certainly off-topic as well.

Sell to new connections on first full contact

Your first opportunity to reach someone on LinkedIn is to personalize a connection request. You get about 255 characters, so there's not a whole lot of room for error. If I accept your connection (and chances are I will, unless all indications are you're a jerk), I really hope that five minutes later I don't get a message that says, "Hey, I see you do something. My company makes something that helps people like you do what they do. You should totally come check it out!"

Because that makes me not want to send you any business.

How you should approach that is to introduce yourself and ask what I do, because chances are, no matter how many times you've read my profile, you don't know exactly what I do or how I do it. You just assume you know my business.

Make me trust you first.

Personalize your request.

I feel like a broken record when I say that, but if we're connected on several other platforms, have each others' phone numbers, and occasionally have a beer together, there's no need to customize a request. But if we've met once or twice, or not at all, or only heard about each other, send a note. You wouldn't walk up to me, shake my hand, tell me your name, walk away, and consider me a good connection, would you? [If you answered yes, let's talk about that.]

What other ways are you killing it on LinkedIn?

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Connecting on multiple platforms, or why I’m no longer reading your updates

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

If you move your eyes to the right, you'll see a box labeled "Connect." It's under the search box, next to my mug over there. While you may not have a Delicious account, there's a reasonable chance you have a Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook account. Even all three. And possibly Foursquare, too.

I use those three social networking platforms very differently. Facebook is primarily social for me, although I do operate a Facebook page or 2 for businesses. I play Scrabble with my sister and other word games with my mom and some friends. I check in on birthdays. On rare occasions I'll check the status updates, but really, that is pretty rare. LinkedIn is purely business; even the stuff that feels social is business – I'm sharing professional information, and since I'm a sole proprietor, that business life sometimes spills over into the personal (and vice versa). Twitter is a mix of everything. I definitely don't over-share on Foursquare, and I only check in at clients, potential clients, and places I have a comment about. And I only share that on Twitter if I have something to say about it beyond, "I'm here."

Sometimes I find something worth sharing on multiple platforms, though I find that increasingly rare. More often than not, it's a photo shared on a Twitter platform that I send to Facebook as well so that I don't have to upload it twice.

If you're just on social networking sites to be there, that's cool. I have goals. Which is why if you're flooding my LinkedIn stream with the same stuff I just read on Twitter, totally overwhelming other connections who update what they're working on once or twice a week, I've pulled you out of my LinkedIn timeline. And really, a lot of us are on LinkedIn for the professional networking – we don't care if you're sharing ice cream with your kid. Save it for Facebook or Twitter.

I've been doing the same on Facebook lately, too.

This has a further consequence, as well: once I've pulled you out of my stream, you're out. It's not like I go back weekly to see if your practices have changed. If you point out to me that your practices have changed, I may go check, but if I've pulled you out of my stream and tomorrow you have an epiphany and decide to share good stuff on LinkedIn, sorry, I'm not going to know, and I'm not going to share it with my network.

How are you using these platforms, and how do you deal with people who use them differently from you?

Collateral Branding: The difficulty of Online-to-Offline

Friday, August 6th, 2010

I came across one of these notepads from the SUNY Oswego Metro Center (I snipped that image above; I figured you'd get the idea even if I didn't include all 20ish lines on the piece of paper). I love the Metro Center. It gives people the opportunity to take classes downtown. It opens its doors to groups like 40 Below. I even love these notepads: they're a good size, bigger than a shopping list, smaller than a journal. I even really like Amber Spain-Mosher, who handles the marketing for them.

But the Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn logos at the bottom caught my eye. Because in order to find them, we're supposed to search those sites. And that's fine – if you make yourself easy to find.

Facebook. Facebook has a really good search. In fact, as I was typing, it pre-filled the SUNY Oswego Metro Center page. Very good. The one problem is, take a look at the profile image they use – it's the statue in Clinton Square and The Post-Standard building, as taken from the front of the Atrium, which is the building that houses the Metro Center. There's no way to visually identify the Metro Center when you land on the Facebook page.

Twitter. Twitter has good content search. I ran two different searches and didn't find the SUNY Oswego Metro Center account. For the first search, I simply typed suny oswego metro center in the search box that runs in the right-hand column of a Twitter page. My only result was someone who checked into the Metro Center recently on Foursquare. Then I went to "Find People" and searched for suny oswego metro center (most people search lower case; so do I). I wound up with a list of 20 accounts, including CNN Weather and NASA's Stennis Center, but not SUNY Oswego Metro Center's account.

LinkedIn. You have to know how to search LinkedIn in order to be effective. It's actually fairly difficult. The search defaults to searching people, and it's an all-word search. When I searched for suny oswego metro center under people, I got six results – two were people who worked there (one as a graduate assistant), and the other four had gone to SUNY Oswego and had worked at places that included Metro Center in their name. Next, I tried to search under Companies, and received zero search results (they'd be combined under the SUNY Oswego umbrella).

There are a couple of ways to solve that. One is to list URLs. Unless 1,000 people like your page, that's unwieldy on Facebook (unless, of course, you were to buy MyBusinessNameOnFacebook.com and redirect it to your Facebook page), but then Facebook's search is actually good. My business cards don't list my Facebook URL, but they do list my company website, my blog, my Twitter and my LinkedIn.

Another way is to build a QR code (like the one on the left there). You can include a lot of information (about 1500 alphanumeric characters) in not very much space. As the smart phone market grows (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Palm, etc.), just about anybody is going to be able to read one of these – all they need is to download a free app and have an auto-focus camera. Most applications will give you a button to just add the information to your address book.

What challenges do you face when trying to market your online presence in an offline environment?

The social media bill of rights

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

The good people at the annual Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference this year put together something of a "Bill of Rights" for users of social networking sites. I'm going to go ahead and call it a cute idea, because mostly the "rights" assume that the point of putting together a social networking site is to let users do whatever they want.

In case you've been living in a socialist economy since the advent of the Internet, the truth is that social networking sites exist to sell highly targeted advertising and provide companies with very specific information about users.

No, really – that's the truth.

I can get on board with some of the 14 ideas the conference put forth, but not all of them. Not even most of them. Here we go:

1. Honesty: Honor your privacy policy and terms of service.

This, for me, is a no-brainer. The only agreement you (as the owner of a social networking site) and I make when I sign up for your service is that I accept your privacy policy and terms of service. If you don't stick to it, you've broken our agreement.

2. Clarity: Make sure that policies, terms of service, and settings are easy to find and understand.

When I first got started on Twitter, the Terms of Service was short and easy to understand. And it probably wouldn't have done them a lick of good if they had wound up in court for any reason. It's not like we're a litigious society or anything.

So now it looks like this. At least they have tips in there so you can understand it, unlike Facebook's (scroll to the bottom of that and look at how long the list of associated documents is!).

I have to be on the side of social media companies on this, though. If you don't like the terms, don't sign up. If you can't understand them, don't sign up. When you check that box, you're agreeing to those terms. If you don't understand your mortgage and you sign it anyway, you're still responsible for everything in it. Which is why you hire a real estate lawyer. If you really want to be part of Facebook's community but you don't understand the contract you're signing, hire a lawyer to explain it to you. Seriously.

3. Freedom of speech: Do not delete or modify my data without a clear policy and justification.

Let's be clear on this: The U.S. Constitution gives us freedom of speech. That means we can say whatever we want (with a few exceptions). As someone who used to deal with feedback from a large website with a social media component, your right to say whatever you want does not mean someone has to publish it. When the terms of service say, "We have a right to remove whatever we want, with or without cause or explanation," that's what it means. The network can just take something down because it wants to. Deal. You signed the contract, remember?

4. Empowerment: Support assistive technologies and universal accessibility.

This is just a smart move for networks. If you can make your network easy for people to use, they'll use it. That means that if someone with a disability can't use your site, she's not going to use it. If you want everybody to use your site, make it so everybody can use it.

That's not a users' rights thing, that's a smart business decision. If you run a dry cleaner and you have three steps leading up to your door and the dry cleaner next door has a ramp, who's going to get the business from anybody who can't walk steps?

5. Self-protection: Support privacy-enhancing technologies.

This runs entirely counter to why social networks exist. If you as a user need privacy, stay off of social networks.

6. Data minimization: Minimize the information I am required to provide and share with others.

Again, this is not why social networks exist. If you don't want to share information, don't share it. If you want to share it with some people but not others, don't accept those others' friend requests. It's not brain surgery.

7. Control: Let me control my data, and don't facilitate sharing it unless I agree first.

I'm in conditional support of this one. If the terms of service or privacy policy tells me what I can control and what is automatically shared, it's up to me to decide whether I'm comfortable enough to join your network. If you change the rules of the game in the middle, though, I take big issue with it – this is what Facebook did, and it's why my profile is nearly empty and you can't write on my wall.

8. Predictability: Obtain my prior consent before significantly changing who can see my data.

This is essentially what I said above in #7. If you're going to change the rules significantly, give me an opportunity to decide whether I want to play by them before you force me into it.

9. Data portability: Make it easy for me to obtain a copy of my data.

Let's get this straight: Social networks are not your personal thumb drive. No joke. If you want a copy of your information, make a copy. If Flickr went away tomorrow, would you lose all your family photos? If the answer is yes, back them up yourself. Flickr should not have to play nice with your hard drive, or with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or any other business it isn't partnered with. Otherwise, what's the point of competition?

10. Protection: Treat my data as securely as your own confidential data unless I choose to share it, and notify me if it is compromised.

Emm, no. If you don't want to share something, don't share it. It's easy not to join a network: just don't sign up. See how easy that was?

11. Right to know: Show me how you are using my data and allow me to see who and what has access to it.

Every social networking site already does this. If you read the user agreement, privacy policy, and terms of service, you should know this information. If you didn't, you shouldn't have agreed to them when you signed up for the site.

12. Right to self-define: Let me create more than one identity and use pseudonyms. Do not link them without my permission.

I disagree here, for the protection of the social networks, who are held responsible if they allow, say, a sex offender to contact a minor. The terms of service of most sites basically say, "You agree that the information you provide is truthful." If it's not, they have a good reason to refuse service to you as a customer.

13. Right to appeal: Allow me to appeal punitive actions.

This would be reasonable business sense, and many sites do allow users to appeal punitive actions. Twitter and LinkedIn do, for sure.

14. Right to withdraw: Allow me to delete my account, and remove my data.

You shouldn't join any social network that doesn't allow you to remove your data. Before iMeem was picked up by MySpace, it didn't let you delete your account, and they made that very clear in the terms of service and also on the help page, in case you didn't read the terms of service before you agreed to them. But they did let you delete the data. Same with Blue Goose News – while I couldn't delete my account there, I was able to delete my blog posts, my name, my email address and anything else that identified me. That was in their terms and I knew it when I signed up.

It all comes down to smart consumerism. If you don't like the way a business operates, don't patronize it.

How to personalize a LinkedIn connection request

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

One of the great things about LinkedIn is that you can connect to people who share your interests, who work in the same industry, and who live in the same area. One of the other great things about LinkedIn is that its focus is on professional connections.

Unlike Facebook, which is overrun by people sending you Farmville invitations and acquaintances who bugged your for weeks to accept their friend requests and now insist that you like their girlfriend's sister's boyfriend's second cousin's tropical fish shop in rural Kansas, LinkedIn gives you the opportunity to connect, share knowledge and nurture relationships.

One of the things I greatly appreciate and wish more people would take advantage of is the ability to personalize LinkedIn connection requests. If we meet regularly, are involved in several groups together, and are already connected on Facebook and Twitter, chances are I know who you are and what you do, and will accept a LinkedIn request from you without blinking.

But if we met at a networking event last week, I probably also met 20 other people there, and I probably have met a few dozen more since meeting you. Use a custom message to remind me who you are, where we met, and what you do. And if we haven't met, I'm unlikely to accept your connection request unless you tell me why we should connect. Maybe you read this blog post, learned something from it, and decided it would be a good thing to try out.

Here is how you send a personalized message.

1. Start at a person's profile. My public profile is here.

2. In the top right, click "Add Josh Shear as a connection" (it's the second link down next to my photo, just under the contact link).

3. Select a reason LinkedIn is a good way for us to connect (it will tell me what you selected; that might provide me a clue). If you select "Friend" or "Other," LinkedIn will ask for my email address. Use joshuanshear@gmail.com.

4. There's a box that says, "Include a personal note (optional)." That's where you should tell me where we met, or why we should get to know each other.

5. Press the Submit button.

That's it. What you don't want to do is send out a bunch of generic invitations to people you don't know. If they tell LinkedIn they don't know you, LinkedIn may penalize you, either limiting the number of connection requests you can send out, or, worse, suspending your account.

Chasing your passion

Friday, November 27th, 2009

I'd say I'm not a big fan of motivational, go chase your dream, up and at 'em, how to win at business and life books, but really I don't read them, so I don't know for sure that I'm not a fan.

And then I found Gary Vaynerchuk on Twitter.

The dude has passion, and he has a dream. The passion: Wine. The dream: Buy the Jets.

He has personality, he has energy, he has a foul mouth, he has hustle, and he's all about getting himself out there. He's got a site about himself, a wine shop and wine review site, a discount wine reseller and a gourmet food shop.

He's fun to watch, and, even if it is the freaking Jets on his spit bucket, what's not to like about a guy who knows which wine to pair with Lucky Charms.

I won't say his book Crush It changed my life or is going to change my life. But it certainly is an invigorating read (and a quick one – one person I passed it along to read it over two lunch breaks), and you definitely hear his voice come through (which makes sense, as he dictated the book – he readily admits that the written word is not his strongest medium).

But if you have passions and goals, Crush It will cue you in to some social media platforms you might not be using, and you'll learn how he built a veritable empire from a small liquor store.

And because I wouldn't be following his advice if I didn't do this, here goes:

Follow me on Twitter
Join me on LinkedIn
Become a fan of my amazing cancer-fighting beard

Now, have a great Friday, read the book this weekend, and get moving.

How I use various social media platforms

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Or, why I didn't follow you back or accept your friend request.


Something social media networks can learn from libraries: browsing. When you're In the same way you might accidentally stumble across a good book while you were looking for another one entirely, you can stumble across interesting people serendipitously.

The great thing about social media is we all get to use it differently. Sure, various social networks have various target uses, and not every network is for everybody. And, as Buckminster Fuller alluded to, we can't be all things to everyone, and when we try, we end up being very little to pretty much nobody.

For those who are thinking of jumping into a new network – or for those who have jumped and aren't real comfortable – here is how I use various social networks. The way I use these networks may not be right for you, but at least I can put some ideas in your head.

Twitter. I use Twitter the most of any social network. While I don't tweet every time I get up for another cup of coffee, I definitely mix the personal and mundane with the professional and awesome. I've made good connections with great people, spoken to a couple of groups, made new (real-life) friends, found a massage therapist and more on Twitter.

It can be overwhelming, but so can a river. And I wouldn't avoid looking at a river just because it's big and fast moving. If I miss something on Twitter, I miss it. But by and large, I've been happy with Twitter. Here's how I set it up.

I use TweetDeck, which allows me to divide my Twitter stream into columns. On the left, I have the column that shows people responding to me – that way I catch them early, and can talk back. I have other columns for my inner circle of people I want to make sure I catch everything from (or as close as I can get), people who are local to me, people who tweet about social media, and people who tweet about journalism – and then one column with everybody.

As I find another group to break down into, I will create another column (at this rate, it looks like it will be cancer-related topics, since I'm starting to follow people who people might be good to know for the fundraising project I'm working on.

Facebook. I've become particular about who I friend on Facebook. If we're friends in real life (not associates, not co-workers), I will certainly accept a friend request. If it's possible that we could have a friendship or at least a friendly working relationship, I'll probably friend you, and if that doesn't develop, you'll probably fall off during some purge or other.

Facebook has been great for connecting with people from high school. Thanks anyway. If we weren't actually friends in high school, and your name kinda sounds vaguely familiar, why would I want to be your cyber-friend now? For some people, Facebook is about how many "friends" they can amass – I tend to keep it to people I don't mind sharing with, and who I'm interested in hearing from and about.

So don't be offended if you cold call me and I ignore your Facebook request. Get to know me in real life first.

LinkedIn. I use LinkedIn purely for professional connections. If we are currently colleagues, I absolutely will not connect with you on LinkedIn – you don't need to know what I'm doing on the job front, and I don't need to know what you're doing.

On the other hand, if we're in the same industry, I'll accept your LinkedIn connection in hopes that we may be able to someday have a mutually beneficial professional relationship. It's not a place for me to be social; it's truly a professional networking space for me.

Flickr. I barely use Flickr. I've turned to Twitpic, which integrates with Twitter.

What do you do if someone doesn't respond to you, doesn't accept your connection request, or doesn't follow you?

Nothing. I'm confident in what I'm putting out there. If someone has no interest in what I do, that's OK. Other people do.

The one rule I do have, though, is if you Direct Message me on Twitter (which you can only do if the party you're sending the message to is following you), you better be following me back, otherwise, I'm going to unfollow you. Don't try to reach me through a channel I'm not able to reach you through.