Growing your network

Don't forget that networking is not all about LinkedIn. You can meet some incredibly interesting individuals and learn about fascinating projects and opportunities by networking face-to-face at a wealth of local user groups and tech-related meet-ups. See the calendar links in the margin and/or browse this extensive list of groups.

However, is a LinkedIn networking group, so let us suppose that you want to grow your LinkedIn network. We'll start from zero connections and work our way up. Skim through until you find some tactic you've not yet tried.

From zero connections, start off by connecting to your family, friends, and co-workers. If there are folks in other companies with whom you regularly interact, add them as well. As you meet with new individuals, add them to your network.

Why practice open networking?

Some would say that this is the extent of one's network. The open networker says that this is the start of one's network. If everyone's networks were built in this manner, then LinkedIn would be a collection of loosely linked small networks. These small networks would be of little value to their members because they would have few connections of interesting diversity (in terms of geography, employers, or industry). The mean distance from one LinkedIn member to any other LinkedIn member (in terms of network connections) would be high.

Open networkers shorten these distances and open up new networking opportunities for everyone in their networks. Imagine a universe of hundreds of small (fifty to one hundred member) networks. Now suppose that ten percent of those small networks each have a member who decides to network openly. Imagine that a dozen of those open networkers find each other, connecting their individual small networks into a larger network of 600 to 1200 members. The members of that larger network are going to have many more opportunities (whether they themselves are open networkers or not) than the members of the small networks.

LinkedIn limits your network to yourself, your direct connections, your second level connections, your third level connections, and your groups. So, if you opt to connect with an open networker, then you will have added their connections and their connections' connections to your network. If you join an open networking group, you will have added its members to your network. So, even if you choose not to be an open networker, you have much to gain by connecting to open networkers and open networking groups.

You gain even more by being an open networker yourself as removing the level of indirection increases your network size. Also, you presumably want to grow your network for some purpose. Let us suppose that you want to increase your exposure to opportunities in the Portland tech community. You can use open networking to accomplish that goal.

How does connecting to a North Carolina philanthropist increase your exposure to opportunities in the Portland tech community? Well, that particular individual has (as of this writing) over 41,000 direct connections, the vast majority of whom are open networkers. The top-linked people serve as a hub for open networkers. Once you connect to them, your 2nd-level connections will include a high volume of open networkers who are of more direct interest to you. If you're new to open networking, then you can actually try this experiment yourself...

How to open network

  • Do a LinkedIn people search for some term. When the results show up, limit your search to Portland, OR and your tech industry focus. Then delete the search term, leaving all hits in Portland for your focus. Note the number of hits in your network. Write it down or email yourself the number for future reference.
  • Join the top-linked group. This gives you a pretext for connecting to most of the list of top-50 linked people which they will recognize and respect.
  • Run down the list of top-linked people, inviting each to join your network. If they are still members of the TopLinked group, then use that as your connection. If they are not, then just skip them. You'll get plenty of invites out regardless.
  • Don't expect that those folks are sitting on LinkedIn every hour of every day waiting for your invite. The acceptances will trickle in over days or longer. As they come in, re-run your search and notice how many more hits you have in your extended network.

Now that your extended network contains contacts of more direct value to you, you may want to add those individuals as direct connections. The easiest way to start is by connecting to the intersection of folks who are open networkers and who are in your area of interest. LinkedIn will let you limit your search results by group membership, but only for those groups you have joined. So, start by joining a large selection of open networking groups. You can find them by looking at the group memberships of your existing open networking connections. You can also search LinkedIn for groups using terms like 'LION', 'open', 'connect' and 'networking'. Not all will be open-networking groups, so double-check as you join them.

It will take time for some of those groups to add you. Once you're in a half dozen or so, start using the groups to filter your searches. Use the same search method described above to find Portlanders in your area of focus. Then restrict the search results to only those individuals who are in your open networking groups. You've now got a pool of folks who are in your area of focus and would welcome your network invitation. Invite them!

You can split your energy between growing your network's breadth (connecting to more open networkers) and growing your network's depth (connecting to individuals in your area of interest). My experience is that an hour or so of doing this on the weekend can grow your network about 100 direct connections per week. In my experience, for each direct connection added to my network, I find over twice as many Portland tech workers in my extended network. So, one hour on the weekend translates to 100 new direct connections and over 200 new Portland tech workers in my extended network. Repeat as desired.

There are also some passive steps you can take to increase your network breadth. Many (most?) of the open networking groups have a featured discussion which serves as a bulletin board for members to post open invitations to connect. If you were just starting and very eager to increase your network's breadth from the start, you could run through those discussions sending invites to everyone who posted. A more lazy approach is to simply post there. Let new members to the group find your post and invite you to their networks. You can bookmark one or one dozen of these discussions and post an open invite each week. Be sure to scan the page before you post to be sure that you are not posting too frequently. If you can still see your prior post on the first page, the group has few enough postings that you shouldn't bother re-posting yet. (Also, at least one group has a 'post only one time ever' policy. Read before you post).

Similarly, you can review the membership lists of open networking groups and invite those members to join your network. Finally, if you are willing to spend a bit of money, you can also pay to have your email address added to a list distributed by TopLinked. Their members have access to download this list along with instructions on how to invite all those users into their network. I've not done this (been on the list, nor downloaded and used the list), so I can't speak for how well that process might or might not work. You are welcome to find out for yourself.

If you want to reach non-open networkers in your area of focus, then you should keep an eye on their updates for an opportunity to be of use to them. If you can jump in with a job lead or a solution to a problem of some sort, then you'll have a connection with them and they'll likely be willing to reflect that in your LinkedIn network. Also, I'll reiterate the mention of meet-ups at the start of this page: face-to-face is a great way to network. Not only is it more fun, but the connections you make that way will be more meaningful than just clicking 'Accept' because you believe in the value of open networking.

None of this touches on how to use a large network with massive breath and serious depth. If time allows, I'll expand a bit on that topic as well as how to minimize the spam LinkedIn can generate from large networks. In the mean time, increase your network size by one and invite your host (Matthew Wickline <>) to join your network. Did you catch that? Yes, starting a LinkedIn group addressing your area of focus is another way to increase your network depth.