Social media for business should be strategic, but my personal social media is … well, personal. I plan family vacations at Pinterest, I follow people I find interesting at Twitter, and all my friends at Facebook are people I know in the physical world. I have no goals for my use of social media beyond things like keeping in touch with my sister in New Zealand or keeping up with what’s new in my field from industry leaders at Twitter.
I spend a lot of time on social media on behalf of clients, I’ve been in on the beta versions of most social media platforms, I’ve got profiles on everything from Ning to Carbonmade, and I just didn’t want to mix business with pleasure. LinkedIn, being quite clearly the business side of social media, got short shrift from me. It’s like an office party, I felt, where people pretend to be social because it might be good for business. We rock it for our clients when that is part of their strategic plan, but I didn’t spend much time there myself.
Then I attended a conference where a speaker talked about something they’d done at their company. They asked everyone to make 400 connections at LinkedIn. Everyone at this company was able to accomplish this within a few months, and it had a lot of benefits for the company and for the team.
400 sounded doable. In fact, Tom Hapgood already had 400 connections, which made him a shoo-in for the winner on our team. Kim Herrington was close, and she quickly reached the coveted number, too. The rest of us were not that close. Some of us are introverts — we go to parties or meetings and talk to our family and friends instead of getting to know new people. Others just aren’t that into social media on their free time. One of our number finds social media old-fashioned. None of us had made any effort on LinkedIn, so we had about 150 connections each, roughly the number of friends and colleagues people actually have in the physical world. (Okay, the post-modernist has eight LinkedIn connections, but we’re talking typical here.)
So making 400 connections required some effort. We went through the LinkedIn ritual of automatically emailing everyone in our online address books and accepted all those invitations we had ignored. We looked through the “People You Might Know” list and invited a couple of folks to connect. I pulled that stack of business cards out of my drawer and connected with people I had met in the physical world. I joined a couple of groups, even though my previous experience with LinkedIn groups had convinced me that they existed largely for self-promotion and rarely had interesting conversations unless professional social media managers like us created them for strategic purposes.
Gradually, as I worked toward the goal of 400 connections, I noticed something. People I found interesting but didn’t know well were happy to accept my invitations, and I got to know them a little better. I began to see someone in the “People You Might Know” area and think “Wow, we have 22 shared connections? We should know each other!” I found groups that were thought-provoking and enjoyable. I saw more updates from people I knew, since I hung out at LinkedIn more. And for the first time ever, LinkedIn is now #1 on the list for social traffic to our website.
In short, the more I put into it, however artificial it might be to have a goal of 400 connections, the more I got out of it.
This is true for many things in life. You get benefits proportional to what you put into it, even if your goals aren’t that lofty. And sometimes it’s worth experimenting with something a bit more before deciding it’s not worth putting in that effort. I’ve reached my goal of 400, but I think that in the process I’ve seen greater value in LinkedIn than I had before. Want to connect on LinkedIn? I’d like to get to know you better.