LinkedIn is the “killer app” of professional networking. Used correctly, it is an invaluable tool that can help you manage and expand your professional network. If you follow the conventional wisdom regarding LinkedIn usage, you’ll hear that you should connect pretty liberally with people. I disagree.
First, I believe that the quality of your professional network is far more important than it’s size. A giant list of 1st degree connections that you don’t really have a relationship with is not helping you do much. I don’t see the point of having a 1st degree connection that would scratch their head and wonder “who is this?” if you tried to contact them.
Second, and similar to the first reason, a smaller network is much easier to manage. Having a smaller list of 1st degree connections that are known to you is a lot easier to stay on top of with meaningful and personalized correspondence. Again, if you have a bunch of contacts that you never engage with, or send generic emails to periodically, you run the risk of being forgotten or ignored.
Third, high quality networking contacts that engage with you are better information and referral sources. As a headhunter with 20 years of experience, I know for sure that strong connections are your best source of referrals. One of the key ways I use LinkedIn to expand my network and add meaningful connections leverages good 1st degree connections. Say I’m doing a search for a client — I search LinkedIn and find a bunch of 2nd degree connections. I look at whom we share in common as a connection, then I reach out to the 1st degree connection for an introduction, or I reference the actual relationship I have with 1st degree connection when trying to engage with the new contact. This dramatically increases the likelihood of that person responding.