The best way to increase the number of referrals you receive is to increase your worthiness of receiving them. Part of that has to do with your competence, i.e., how well do you know your stuff? All other things being equal, people prefer to work with experts, not amateurs. But that’s obviously beyond the scope of a single blog post to cover!
The other part of it is your character. Are you someone that people in your network not only know, but also like and trust? Do your friends and associates trust you to treat the people they refer to you well? Show and grow your character, and you’ll receive more referrals.
Character isn’t just what you are, it’s what you do. There is little that rings more hollow than for someone to say, in one form or another, that they are a person of “high character” — honest, a hard worker, helpful, easy-going, etc. — and then have their actions be inconsistent with that. Furthermore, one of the best ways to build stronger relationships is by helping people actually accomplish their goals.
In The Virtual Handshake, we introduced the idea of “Seven Keys to a Powerful Network”, one of which is your character:
Character: Your integrity, clarity of motives, consistency of behavior, openness, discretion, and trustworthiness. This is driven by the reality and the appearance: the real content of your Character, and what each Acquaintance thinks of your Character.
We also point out that:
As an absolute rule, credibility – your Character and your Competence – must underlie your network. A massive network will not aid you if you are selling an inferior product or trying to get a job for which you are unqualified. In fact, a big network will rapidly become a liability, as too many people will be aware of the inferior goods you are peddling. No matter how much your friends like you, they will not recommend you for a job if they see that you are consistently unethical, tardy, sloppy, or otherwise unprofessional.
There’s a line from an old church song that I remember from my childhood: “If your light’s under a bushel, it’s lost something kind of crucial.” If you are a person of character, you need to show that, and LinkedIn is a great opportunity to do that. Here are seven ways that you can actually demonstrate your character on LinkedIn, rather than just talk about it.
1. Answer questions well. Don’t just rattle off a quick opinion – put some thought into it. Provide some additional resources. Refer people to an appropriate expert from within your network. Most of the questions on LinkedIn Answers are from people actually trying to solve a problem or accomplish something, not just looking for something to talk about. What better way to be of service than to actually help someone accomplish something?
2. Add value to introduction requests. If you buy into the idea that LinkedIn is designed for “trusted referrals”, then you need to participate in that. A trusted referral isn’t just, “Joe meet Sally, Sally meet Joe.” A trusted referral adds context to the introduction which will help the two people get off to a good start. How do you know this person? How can you recommend them in the context of their request?
3. Make good recommendations. Don’t just wait for people to recommend you and then reciprocate – be proactive. Go through your network. Who among them do you feel strongly about that you could give a good recommendation to for their profile? When you add someone new, do you know them well enough to go ahead and recommend them? Also, recommendations on your own profile are a great way to show your own reputation, and the best way to ask for an endorsement is to give one. And don’t write empty, generic recommendations; write good ones.
4. Respond in a timely manner. Forward introduction requests right away. The rest, get to as quickly as you can. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m pretty slow in responding to invitations and to introduction requests for me if they are just general “I’d like to meet you” requests. It’s not that I think they aren’t important — I’m just plain busy, and I place my existing clients, business associates and family in front of new networking contacts. But forwarding requests I almost always handle within 24 hours, 2 days at the most.
5. Help your contacts learn how to use LinkedIn effectively. Most people don’t have a clue how to get beyond the basics of a simple profile with their last couple of jobs and connecting with a few colleagues they keep up with. Help them! Go through your contacts list and see which people have less than 10 connections. Drop them an e-mail asking them if there’s anything you can do to help them make better use of the system. Refer them to this blog and the LinkedIn-related Yahoo Groups. Doing so not only helps them, it also helps you and all of your network if more people become actively engaged.
6. Be proactive. One of the most important elements of networking is proactively introducing two people that you know. It’s not readily obviously how to do this with LinkedIn, but you can: from the profile of one of the people, choose “Forward this profile to a connection.” Address it to the other person, but also address it to the first person whose profile you’re sending. By default, recipients will be able to see each other’s names and email addresses, and they’ll both see the same message.
Now take it one step further and use LinkedIn to set up multiple introductions. For example, let’s say you meet somebody new and they’re looking to meet people with an interest in, say, process management. Now, even though you know your contacts fairly well, you may not be able to remember (or even know) which of them have a background in process management, and I’m betting that’s not in your contact management system either. But it is in LinkedIn. Search your network. Find the matches. Copy their profile URLs and send them to the new person you met and tell them you’d be happy to make an introduction. Or say someone you know posts on a mailing list or forum that they’re looking for someone to fill a certain position. Search your LinkedIn network and send them the list of people in your first and second degree and tell them you’d be glad to introduce the ones they’re interested in talking to. Great networking is proactive, not just reactive.
7. Use LinkedIn to enhance face-to-face networking. You can use LinkedIn to fill out a business trip, meet fellow travelers in your network, help you break the ice at a meeting or research a prospective client so you can communicate with them more effectively. Every one of these things helps show that you have a genuine interest in other people and are willing to make the time to develop those relationships.
Think of your character as being like a muscle — if it doesn’t get enough exercise, it will atrophy. So go give your character a workout at the LinkedIn gym!
Scott “Social Media” Allen is a social media strategist who’s been helping individuals and businesses transform virtual relationships into real business since 2002. He’s coauthor of The Virtual Handshake: Opening Doors and Closing Deals Online and The Emergence of The Relationship Economy, as well as a resident expert at American Express OPEN Forum and Business.com.