The ROI of personal networks (especially LinkedIn)

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Image: An email from LinkedIn prompting me to tell my network what I’m up to…

Yesterday I had a conversation with someone who told me that over the past year that had learned how to use LinkedIn and that they reckoned that they could directly attribute several hundred thousand pounds of profit to it. Not vaguely, not hypothetically – they knew exactly which items on their balance sheet were the result of doing things because of and through that social network tool.

They were a fiftysomething avowedly non-techie businessperson in a service industry and I found their account of their experience very useful, as it had the fresh perspective of someone outside of the connected world I most live in.

They were of course highly successful in their field already, and implicitly understood the importance of personal networks in business.

Their nightmare scenario in business was missing out on an opportunity because they weren’t in the right place at the right time, that they weren’t front of mind when someone in their sector was pulling together a short-list for a contract or similar. What Twitter was doing was helping them to increase both their presence and profile in their personal network and their ability to listen to the needs of their connections and contacts.

These were some of the points they related which stuck with me…

  • Paying attention to what is happening: They weren’t a compulsive checker of what was happening on their LinkedIn account, they used a weekly email update to see who was doing new things, connecting with someone else, saying interesting things or asking for help on status updates.

  • Light-touch presence: They update their status every now and again, but had grasped that in LinkedIn less can often be more. I agree with this, which is why I don’t connect Linkedin to Twitter. In Twitter I am much more chatty, and when the mood takes me update several times a day or even hour. In LinkedIn that’s not useful – I leave status updates there only when something significant has happened, or I am travelling somewhere that I think I might meet others from my network or I am looking for input on a particular project or issue. They also mentioned that changing their photograph or updating their profile details every few months was a useful way of keeping (sociologists would call that a phatic expression – the online equivalent of waving as you pass or saying “hi” briefly).
  • Being useful to their network: As well as answering obvious business opportunities, they stressed the importance of connecting others who would be useful to one another, when they spotted an opportunity. This connecting behaviour is a classic networking approach, and one that leaves everyone feeling positive toward one another. Often it can also result in direct or indirect commercial benefits for the connector.

LinkedIn is a productivity, networking super-charger: It’s not just about LinkedIn, of course – it is about understanding your personal networks and how to behave, to be useful in them. Tools like Linkedin accelerate and augment our ability to successfully work with our networks, in them, through them. But the real, underlying superskill as I’m calling it at the moment, is all about networks.

  • Charlie Peverett

    Very useful Antony – I use LinkedIn in fits and starts, and hadn’t checked in on how my own activity appears for a while.

    Had forgotten that I’d tied in my Twitter stream, and it was looking a tad spammy. No longer! Good call.

  • http://www.orcare.com Paul Marden

    I think this formula works for physical networking as well. Networking, both physically and virtually is about relationship not the hard sell. At a presentation by @BradBurton this morning about face to face networking he talked about creating the conditions for buying, as opposed to selling. This is just as true online as it is off.

  • Antony Mayfield

    @Charlie – glad you found it useful!

    @ Paul – Absolutely, the ability to work with and in networks is the same online as it is off-line, but we seem to find it difficult at first to port our offline skills into the digital spaces we now live in.

  • Jason Ball

    Very good summary and I second the comment that this works for in person networking also. I go further and say that if 90% of people on Social Media took this view of LinkedIn and other platforms – that it is almost exactly like face-to-face networking – their success with what they want to achieve through business networking (online or off) would increase exponentially.

    I realize some people have a B2C business which they just can’t get past the concept of ‘driving people to the website’, for SEO for broadcasting.

    For the rest of us, business owner, sales person or job seeker, treating online networking as close to physical networking as possible will result in more success.

    I think then the challenge that remains, is that so many people don’t feel comfortable with networking period, and wouldn’t know much more than the very stereotypical basics to begin…