Thursday, September 12, 2013

Don't Strike Out with Your Lead-Off Communication when Networking

If you ask sports business professionals for advice on how one can best position himself or herself to work in the industry, to a person their advice will include something about building a network of contacts. What you know is important because it will ultimately determine your performance, but who you know is crucial for providing "foot in the door" opportunities to launch your career. A valuable tool for networking today is LinkedIn.It is a valuable networking platform for professionals. LinkedIn expands our connectivity by removing geographic barriers to interacting with other people who have shared interests. LinkedIn extends the reach of our personal brands, increasing exposure in the marketplace and potentially leading to new opportunities.

For students, practitioners, and scholars in sports business, social networking sites like LinkedIn provide opportunities to learn, share best practices, and position your personal brand to compete for jobs. Among the features of LinkedIn that activate these opportunities is LinkedIn Groups. For example, a search of the term "sports business" returned 711 results. The point is that if you want to network with others interested in some aspect of sports business, there is probably a group you can join. And, if there is not, you can start one!

All of the benefits mentioned about LinkedIn are contingent on one thing: Applying common sense networking principles. Unfortunately, not everyone uses their common sense, and they fail to realize the full potential LinkedIn holds as a connector of people.

What not to Say
How do people fail with LinkedIn? The number one mistake can be summed up in the following phrase:

I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.

Yuck! This phrase, the default networking language LinkedIn has crafted for its users, is disastrous for your personal brand when it is used as a stand-alone invitation to connect with someone. Yes, it seems innocent enough, and the statement does specify what you want. But, this "pick up line" can be interpreted in other ways:
  • You are lazy - It is too much trouble for you to write a personalized note explaining why you want to connect
  • You want something - The other person has no idea about your motives for reaching out because you have given no explanation for the invitation connection.
  • You are not really interested in adding to your contacts - Without showing some interest and effort, you seem to be going through the motions of networking.
The only thing worse than getting this impersonal LinkedIn connection request is getting it from this person:

Do you recognize him or her? Worse yet, is this you? I know you are much better looking than this silhouette. I don't want to network with graphics, I want to network with real people!

Make it Personal
When reaching out to someone with a connection request on LinkedIn, approach it as you would a face-to-face encounter. A personalized message is essential to making a positive first impression. Give the person on the other end a reason to want to connect with you. Among the critical elements of a connection request are:
  • Delete LinkedIn's connection template and replace with a message in your own words
  • Introduce yourself
  • State a common interest or common connections such as you are both members of a particular LinkedIn group
  • Briefly explain why you wish to connect
Let's face it, you would not initiate communication with someone you do not know in the following ways:
  • Hi, I'm Sharon- will you hire me?
  • This is Joe here- will you marry me?
  • My name is Steve- can you lend me $10,000?
A very simple definition of networking is "building good relationships." Commit to using LinkedIn as a channel to do just that. In order to build relationships, focus on communication quality. Make your interactions personal and show genuine interest in others. Online networking might be relatively new, but it is built on timeless principles of human relationships. Take an interest in others, make your personal brand personal, and enjoy the process of building good relationships.

Note: This post is adapted from a post on the Marketing DR Blog from September 11, 2013.