Article

Aliya Zaidi
Aliya Zaidi 4 February 2020

How Valuable Are Your LinkedIn Connections?

UK LinkedIn users have said that only one-fifth (21%) of their connections are useful for career-building, according to new research from Guild, a messaging app built for business. As social media matures, now is the time to revisit best practices to get the most out of LinkedIn.

LinkedIn has traditionally been the go-to platform for professional career-building, but new research indicates that the perceptions of the platform have changed dramatically in recent years. 

There is a greater recognition that worthwhile networking is about quality, not quantity. With social media becoming ubiquitous, many users are on a quest for greater authenticity, craving more meaningful interactions within a smaller pool of valued connections. 

We are seeing this trend across social media more broadly; the rise of "always-on" media means that increasingly, users are seeking to cut through the noise to find true value. It's clear that adding many hundreds or thousands of connections on LinkedIn doesn't necessarily equate to business value.

This is a natural part of the development cycle. As social media matures, users are continuously seeking new ways to find value.

In the attention economy, value is the main driver. Users are time-poor and overwhelmed with an abundance of information, which means attention is commanded by value creation. LinkedIn is no different. There is growing awareness that a huge volume of connections may actually be less beneficial than a smaller, more intimate circle of close contacts. 

Having said that, it is paramount for LinkedIn users to follow best practices in order to derive the most value from using the platform. LinkedIn itself notes that: "To get the most out of LinkedIn and your network, we require members to connect to others who they trust enough with their personal contact information." 

In addition, LinkedIn recommend that users: 

  • Only invite people that they personally know and who know them.
  • Only invite those they would recommend to others

Furthermore, Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn states that most users of the site are not using the platform to its maximum potential. In his book, "Never Eat Alone", author Ken Ferrazi reports Hoffman told him: 

“LinkedIn is a closed network, and for a very simple reason: for the network to have value as an introduction tool, the connections need to have meaning. It’s up to you to vet each and every request so that if someone comes to you and says, ‘Would you introduce me?,’ you’re in a position to evaluate whether the connection would be of mutual benefit.”

With that in mind, social media users must double down on their efforts to adhere to best practices in order to extract the most value from LinkedIn. Looking at this latest research, over 61% of UK users have over 150 LinkedIn connections. However, over two-thirds (68%) believe that their “little black book” of professional contacts they actually value contains up to only 15 contacts. 

On the other hand, the vast number of connections on LinkedIn can prove useful for recruiters, enabling users to get headhunted and seek out jobs by marketing themselves effectively. At the same time, it's also imperative to recognise that the platform has clearly evolved, as Ashley Friedlein, CEO and founder of Guild, notes: 

"The use of LinkedIn has greatly changed since it launched nearly seventeen years ago. In the early years there was a sense of membership and belonging and the quality was higher. Due to a natural tendency to accept new contacts to grow our networks, many users now find themselves with an experience that is too noisy. Senior people, in particular, get a lot of sales approaches and few would now choose to run high value groups or networks on LinkedIn.”

Almost four in ten UK users (38%) believe that LinkedIn has become far too cluttered to be functional, with 28% citing that LinkedIn has "too much spam". Following best practices and regularly carrying out housework on cleaning up connections can help to manage this infiltration of noise. In his 2012 book, "The Startup of You", Hoffman suggests that users should make “at least one quality introduction a month”. 

Dunbar's Number

dunbar-2.pngThis brings us to Dunbar's Number. This is the theory proposed by British anthropologist, Robin Dunbar, that human beings are only capable of cognitively relating to up to 150 connections at a time. 

Friedlein also noted: “We know from the Dunbar number that humans cannot know, or maintain, more than around 150 relationships, and this is true in our professional lives as much as our personal lives. We’re realising we need to focus more on the relationships that actually matter rather than chasing connections for the sake of it.”

Best Practice Tips

Here are some tips for social media users who want to get the most value out of professional social networks.  

  • Make connections after a relationship has been firmly established. The key to forming meaningful social media interactions is to already have an existing relationship in place. 
  • Understand your goals. It is important to understand why you're on LinkedIn and what you hope to get out of professional networking. 
  • Have criteria in place for maintaining connections. Connect with contacts who meet certain benchmarks in terms of quality. It's equally important to occasionally perform housekeeping to maintain only those connections who are delivering true value.  
  • Only add users who you personally know or would recommend. If you have previous history with a contact, it is much easier to see where value can be added. 

Summary 

As social media is maturing, the nature of professional networks has evolved. With an increasing volume of noise online, smaller, more intimate groups may result in greater value creation than a larger pool of less well-known contacts.

It is essential to focus on understanding your goals from networking, as ultimately, winning in social is about establishing credibility, authenticity and trust. In addition, while LinkedIn is still useful, users must continually focus on best practices in order to get the most value out of professional online networking.  

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