One of the challenges with using social media for business is that it’s so new. LinkedIn has over 175 million professionals on it, but it’s not even 10 years old yet. It makes perfect sense that we’re still grappling with how to actually use the platform in our day to day business lives, because in business, there’s a lot on the line. We know that if we post an embarrassing picture on Facebook, a few of our work friends might see it, but if we make a mistake on LinkedIn, all of our professional connections will see it and it could hurt our career.
I was recently talking about how to ask LinkedIn connections for help with a job search. How does the etiquette change when you might not know the person very well and you don’t see them often? Mark Granovetter found that weak connections (any one you see less than once month) are the best source of job leads when we are looking for work. It could be a college friend, a colleague from a past job, or your sister’s friend. Since we don’t know these people well, though, it’s common to feel uncomfortable reaching out to them for help.
The most important thing to realize is that although LinkedIn is a new communication medium, you’ve been communicating your whole life. So whatever approach you’d take in the real life is one you can take online. There are 4 pieces of the puzzle to keep in mind when reaching out for help on LinkedIn:
- Timing – How long should you wait before you ask for help? If you haven’t seen someone in 5 years, and then you reconnect with them on LinkedIn, can you ask them for an introduction the next day? That’s a very real scenario and the answer is: sometimes. There are no hard and fast rules to this, but keep in mind how you would act in the real world if you weren’t using LinkedIn. If you ran into the person at a class reunion, and would feel comfortable giving them a call the next day – go for it. If not, maybe spend a little time building the relationship with them through LinkedIn before you ask for help.
- Giving a “Because” – People love to know why something is happening. It may sound strange, but when you reach out on LinkedIn, tell them why you are doing it. It helps give some context for your request. It can be as simple as saying, “I wanted to see if you’d introduce me to the person at your company who is responsible for ______ because I would feel a lot more comfortable than if I had to cold call them.”
- Leaving an Out – No one likes to be backed into a corner, and you always want to leave your connection the opportunity to say “no” without feeling bad. Maybe they’d love to introduce you to their boss who’s hiring, but they just came back from a staff meeting where the boss said how sick she was of interviewing people right now. The challenge when interacting with your weak connections is you don’t know the back story. Give them an out so they can refuse your request gracefully if they’d like to.
- Expressing Gratitude – We’re all busy, so the fact that they even read your message and considered your request is great. Let them know you appreciate it, and let them know you appreciate their effort no matter the result. From the very first message, be very clear with your gratitude. And if they do help with an introduction or some information, take a few minutes to compose a nice thank-you note. You can even send it through LinkedIn.
These four steps are great for asking for help from all of your contacts, whether they are someone you see every day or once a year. But remember that much of the value of LinkedIn lies in your ability to build relationships with the people in your network on a consistent basis. One of the best ways to use it is to invest some time and attention on your network When you do this, you’ll find that when you need to ask for help, it’s an easy and natural process.