1. DON'T START WITH THE INVITATION. When I get a cold invite I will usually leave it on hold and initiate a dialog with the requester but not everyone is so patient. You will get better results if you first establish contact with someone and engage with them so that you are not such a stranger when you eventually invite them.
2. ENGAGE WITH THE PERSON THROUGH STATUS UPDATES, GROUP DISCUSSIONS, OTHER SITES. If you don't know a person already then you should engage with them first to get to know them and build up some trust. The best place today to engage on LinkedIn today is the groups space, but watch out also for status updates they have posted and like or comment if appropriate. Consider also other sites the person uses, including their own blog, other networking sites and other forums where they are active. Your goal is to get your name recognized and build trust.
3. SHOW INTEREST: READ THEIR PROFILE, FOLLOW THEM. One litmus test I often apply to see if a connection request is serious is to see if they have looked at my profile. When someone has not looked at my profile I assume that they are just trying to amass a large number of connections and have no interest in me. It also makes your interest more credible if you have been following me for some time.
4. CONSIDER CONNECTING THROUGH OTHER SITES FIRST. Of all the popular networking sites, LinkedIn has probably the highest barrier to connecting. People will engage more easily on sites like Twitter, Facebook and Google+, probably because you have the option of a one-way connection first. On Twitter you can follow people, on Facebook you can "subscribe" and on Google+ you can "circle" someone. This allows you to both learn more about the person and also to respond or comment on the things they say.
5. PERSONALIZE THE INVITATION. Probably the surest way to get your invitation ignored is to send the standard LinkedIn message. Always send a personalized message saying who you are, how you know the person and why you think that connecting would be a good idea. The only case where the standard message is acceptable is when you know the person so well that they will just click accept regardless of what you wrote. Before you send any invitations make sure that your profile is reasonably complete and with a photo. Most people don't like to connect to someone with no face.
For more about networking check out also Three Keys to Networking about the basic principles, Five Networking Sites You Should Be Using for Your Career and How to Use Twitter for Professional Networking.
This post is based on content from Professional Networking; How to Plan, Build and Maintain your Network, available as a 60-90' lecture or half-day hands-on workshop. Visit http://andrewhennigan.com/workshops.htm . Personal coaching is also available to help people develop their network or improve their online reputation. See http://andrewhennigan.com/coaching.htm contact Andrew Hennigan at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0033 6 79 61 42 81 for more details.
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LinkedIn Etiquette: How to Approach People You Don't Know
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Professional Networking: Five Sites You Should be Using
How to Use Twitter for Professional Networking
Sign Up Now: Joining New Networking Sites Boosts Your Reputation
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Three Keys to Networking