LinkedIn, arguably, the premier career-building platform enables the development and nurturing of trusted business networks. These networks are comprised largely of friends and colleagues connecting digitally to help people land jobs and hire employees. These trusted networks grow as members refer people they know to other people they know. The effect can be powerful, productive, and profitable.
Conversely, users have recently elevated LinkedIn's usefulness by developing so-called LION profiles, which represent people engaged in open networking with anyone and everyone. LION stands for LinkedIn Open Networker, and an open networker is someone intent on acquiring as many connections as possible.
The motivations behind this connection-collection process are varied, ranging from the predictable business purposes, such as networking and hiring, to something more nefarious, such as information harvesting for the purpose of identity theft. In the same way that the reasons behind becoming an open networker vary, so, too, do experts' opinions on how effective or safe the practice is.
That said, for you to decide if you want to give social-media marketing a roar, you will need to know the ins and outs of what it means to be a LION.
LinkedIn works by connecting career- and business-minded people with one another and potential customers. All you have to do is create a profile, and you will have an abbreviated ability to browse profiles and connect with people you know. As your connections grow in number, you gain the ability to browse profiles separated from you at two or three degrees of separation. As with other social media platforms, you can browse someone's list of connections.
Open networking involves branding yourself as a LION by placing the word somewhere in your profile name. Doing so sends two important messages.
The first message is that it notifies prospective connections that you engage in open networking and are openly contacting them. Even if the person whom you are contacting does not know you, the modified profile informs the person that your contacts are a source for potential marketing and referral leads. The second message is more important than the first in that it notifies others looking for connections that you are safe to approach.
In terms of making a connection request, it is critical that you do not send too many to strangers. If you do, and if the person you request as a contact perceives your request as spam or does not care to connect, that person could respond to your request by indicating he or she does not know you. Such a response limits your ability to open network.
For instance, each time someone responds to a connection request, that person is faced with LinkedIn's response form. The form, obviously, allows them to opt-in as a connection. However, the person can also ignore your request. Finally, the third option, which is worse for prospective open networkers, is that the person can simply state that he or she does not know you.
When someone states he or she does not know you, the connection request is ended, and future connection requests will require you to enter an email for a prospective connection, indicating that you actually do know the requestee. Being required to enter emails for prospective connections complicates any networker's attempt to grow a network because emails are by and large private and difficult to come by.
Of course, any open networker is going to eventually request a connection and be reported as unknown. To combat this, you should also include in your profile a working email address designed specifically for LIONs. This email is important as it allows a networker to make a connection request and provide the required email address.
Growing your contact list is incredibly important if you have the ability to research the information for possible leads. For instance, if you are a business owner, you can purchase subscriptions to data mining and be able to identify the best possible leads for products you have for sale. Additionally, depending on the information you find in your network, you can target people or companies that might possibly hire you. Simply put, becoming an open networker allows you access to volumes of information at a fraction of the price other big-data companies would charge.
The reason the idea of open networking is so controversial is that the benefits are nearly equally counterbalanced by a host of harmful results and perceptions. For instance, harmful consequences include the following.
As you make connections with people you admittedly do not know, your own profile becomes readily accessible to these people. The fact of the matter is that many of these people will not be people at all. Instead, they will be bots, and these bots exist solely to scrape your profile. Once scraped, your information will become part of a catalog that information harvesters will likely sell to marketing entities. However, some bots are not designed with such a benign intent. Instead, the information can be used by identity thieves if your profile seems to match their opportunistic needs.
Prior to sending out a bunch of connection requests or approving the requests of others, you should follow a few best practices designed to keep you safe.
Confirming the identity behind each request can be as simple as browsing the person's social media presence. If the person has no presence, the request is probably being issued by a bot. As such, you can report the request as an unknown. If the LinkedIn account matches accounts on other social platforms, it is slightly more likely to be safe.
In terms of restricting your profile, allowing only first-degree connections to follow you helps prevent people removed by a matter of second or third-degree from scraping your information. Additionally, if you set your profile-browsing option to "follow," anyone wanting to view your profile must, by definition, follow you. However, they will only be able to do so if they are a first-degree connection. Consequently, spammers or bots are faced with a catch-22 of sorts and will be unable to reach your information.
In terms of accepting requests by other open networkers, there are officially six different ways to respond. The most favorable responses include accepting the request or forwarding it to an acquaintance. Two of the least favorable yet safest ways to respond include deleting or ignoring the request. If you are interested in the connection but want to develop the connection prior to accepting it, you can reply and begin a conversation. Finally, if you want to save it, you can archive it for future consideration.
If you conduct a Google search of whether or not open networking works, many people write about the benefits of open networking and how it helps grow networks. They also write about how open networkers will receive more profile views. However, does having either an increased network or more profile views actually carry any measurable results? Does it lead to increased sales? Has it gotten anyone a job? Simply put, no one is talking.
Similarly, no one is really talking about the negative benefits as actually ever having occurred. For instance, people are not claiming their identities have been stolen as a result of being an open networker. Additionally, everyone talks about how LinkedIn does not approve of open networkers, but no such person has actually been banned by the site. In fact, open networking actually increases site traffic, so it is counter-intuitive that any real policy would be directed against open networkers. Similarly, even though open networking is apparently discouraged, premium members are capable of exceeding the 30,000-connection, which would, apparently, make them alpha-male lions or pride leaders.
Consequently, the question of whether open networking works is undecided. Currently, the conversation simply covers its potential and the possible negative results that might arise from engaging in it. In other words, it is currently all speculation.
Although Twitter and LinkedIn are completely different platforms, they do experience two similar problems. Twitter, for instance, is a horrible sales tool as it targets other people who want to target other people. It is more analogous to a business-to-business social platform than it is to a business-to-consumer platform. However, instead of being an actual business-to-business platform, it is more of a mouthpiece-to-mouthpiece platform. Some have called Twitter a carny-barker-to-carny-barker platform. As a result, Twitter is a horrible sales tool because all its users are more interested in getting the word out about their own products or services. They are not interested in purchasing anything.
Similarly, at its core, LinkedIn is a career platform designed to help job seekers connect with job providers, and the job seekers far outnumber the providers. Each person is constantly looking for a rare opportunity to better his or her position. Consequently, any profile is largely seen by other competing applicants. If other applicants do not represent direct competition for a job, those applicants do represent clutter that might keep the rare job recruiter from seeing any one particular profile.
In a paradoxical manner, open networking increases the chances your profile will be seen while at the very same time, increasing the amount of clutter that obscures your profile from ever being seen.
Since very few people are talking about their open-networking success stories, it is important to recognize that LinkedIn does work. It does get people jobs. Consequently, it is important to follow some tried-and-true solutions to make your open networking a success.
Of course, you can also take a lesson from SEO and do the following.
As you might notice, in each of the above instances, it is important that you work hard at developing personal leads. Closed networking makes this easier because people typically are already connected to people they know. However, if you become an open networker, you must delve into your contacts and develop relationships with people whom you can help and might also be able to help you. Because the relationships in open networking are distant or undeveloped, you must work hard to find some middle ground of professional interest in order to create a symbiotic or mutually beneficial relationship.
Okay, the time for an answer has arrived. Should you become a LION? Frankly, the answer is this: you should. However, this recommendation comes with an extremely important qualifier.
You should become an open networker and grow your network at a manageable pace. That is to say; instead of charging in and growing your network to 30,000 connections, a volume of leads that will prove unmanageable, you should grow your network to several hundred. With this first milestone in place, you can spend a month or two sifting through the contacts while you participate in groups.
As your professional relationships deepen, you can then charge into phase two and grow your network to a couple thousand. By this time, you will know what keywords to look for in profiles, and you will have discovered a variety of people within your industry whom you should probably get to know. Because of your experience in the first phase, sifting through additional profiles for leads will be easier and quicker. Once you have exhausted your search efforts, you can then launch into another networking phase and grow your network even more.
By adopting a graduated strategy, you can take advantage of all the potential benefits open networking has to offer. By remaining careful, you can, perhaps, avoid the negative consequences. However, if you take it slowly and patiently, you can open the network successfully without becoming overwhelmed in a deluge of data.