There was a time in the early days of LinkedIn when people would try to amass as many connections as they could to get to that magic "500+" noted on their profile. In this way, other people would see that and think to themselves, "Wow, this person knows a lot of people." And then they would go about trying to connect with this same person, as if they were joining some kind of exclusive club.
Today, however, it's more important that you make the RIGHT connection, as opposed to just adding someone to your vast network. Here's the thing: How many people can honestly say they know each of their 500+ connections personally? I can bet you very few know each and every one of their connections. I'll admit it--even I don't know every single person in my network personally. For those I don't know personally, I make it a point to connect with them with a quick note, even if just to say, "hi."
So what does it matter if you actually know the people in your network? Because at some point you may want to contact them, for example, for advice or suggestions for getting the name of the hiring manager for a job at their organization. Or, maybe you want to contact their marketing department and need to know the right person to call. In both of these examples, it takes the awkwardness out of the situation when you actually know someone, rather than contact your connection out of the blue, have to introduce yourself (even though you're in each other's LinkedIn network), and then broach the subject.
Allow me to share with you what I think are just a couple of quick ways to make your connections matter.
- When someone accepts your invitation to be part of your LinkedIn network, send them a brief "thank you" message, and mention something about their job or their company, wishing them well, etc. By adding something personal shows the individual that you at least looked at their profile and know what they do for a living and/or where they work. And if you do that soon after they accept the invitation, they're more likely to respond back. And boom! You've just made one connection matter.
- Most of us usually scan news highlights pretty much every day. So what if you saw something about one of your connection's company, or even an article about your connection? Write them a quick note letting them know you saw the article, and depending on the nature of the story, maybe you can offer a comment or your opinion. Believe me, people love flattery, especially when they get notes like "Hey, saw your name mentioned in a story about your company. Congrats---looks like your hard work is paying off!" or something like that. More than likely, they'll remember you.
In the end, it does matter who you know. And when you take the time to get to know your connections, especially those you've made through LinkedIn, you're creating more meaningful relationships rather than just "collecting" a bunch of connections. It really is true that it's more about the quality, rather than quantity that counts. And that goes for your professional network, too.