The Value in Being Your Authentic Self, and Not a Robot

by Tom Nixon

Is LinkedIn a business-development platform?I think it should be.

But I don’t think it should be used as a glorified version of Salesforce. By that, I mean that I don’t think it’s wise to approach LinkedIn as prospecting “CRM” software, wherein you go trawling for leads, playing the spray-and-pray numbers game. 

Instead, I think there’s a more genuine, human approach you can take to the world’s largest business-to-business social network in a way that will almost assuredly result in business-development wins, but will not have you pounding the proverbial pavement, cold calling and knocking on doors.

Don’t Do This

We’ve all been on the receiving end of the blind poke—the LinkedIn version of the cold call. You receive a LinkedIn invitation from someone you’ve never met in the real world, who appears to be a service provider to your industry, rather than a colleague, peer or associate. Sometimes, you ignore the inner voice warning you to ignore the invitation, and you connect with this prospector.

Within minutes, you receive a three-paragraph pitch, offering a “proven system” to generate leads, optimize your website, or a thinly veiled plea to “explore synergies.” Likely, an automated, anonymous pitch triggered by the connection you just agreed to.

How do you respond to such an unsolicited overture from a stranger? Or do you even reply at all? For me, I take no joy in conversing with a robot. Ignore. Or, worse, I immediately undo the connection.

Yes, LinkedIn (Premium) allows you to send unsolicited InMails to people who might want to hire you, but should you? I’d rather you take another, more authentic, and much more effective approach.

Do This Instead

If you're the type of person who walks into a networking event handing out business cards to strangers and peddling your wares to anyone who gives you a moment of their time, I guess using an online social networking venue to do the same will suit you just fine.

But if you're like most people, and you prefer to be asked for opinions and opportunities, rather than foist them upon strangers just looking to join a casual conversation, you'll be able to convert and transfer your typical behaviors and tactics from the real world into the digital realm.

There are better ways to generate conversation, foster engagement and convert connections into relationships...and relationships into opportunities. Consider these alternate, authentic approaches:

  • Connect with people you know in real life as a starting point. And send each connection request with a short note contextualizing how you know the invitee and why you’d like to connect with him or her.

  • Participate in conversations already happening on other people’s posts—either professionals you know personally or the more popular “influencers” in your industry. As you’re replying, commenting and engaging with real people on the other end of the conversation, extend a connection request with these erstwhile strangers. Now there’s a reason for the invite!

  • Spend some time in your timeline, as opposed to only going to LinkedIn to post an article or status update. A few likes, comments and shares on other people’s posts in your feed go a long way toward generating authentic discussion and camaraderie, but they also send signals to the algorithms baked into LinkedIn that make suggestions as to whom you should connect with, what types of content will appear in your feed, but most importantly, who’s streams LinkedIn will serve your content into!

  • Be generous with your content-sharing strategy. Offer help, solutions and expertise—with no expectation of return or benefit. Just like in “the real world," people will notice. They will bank the impressions you're consistently making as a resource, an expert, and a thought leader. At some future (appropriate) point, they come looking to make a withdrawal!

  • Be yourself. And not an automaton. 

Yes, technology like LinkedIn does make it much easier to prospect at scale, using automation and other shortcuts to make mass-market prospecting seem easier. But just because you can doesn’t always mean you should.

I’m of the belief that real people like connecting with real people. And that by offering value, rather than asking for business, you will genuinely attract people who want to engage with you, as opposed to ignoring your solicitations or deleting you from their connections. 

Without ever having to "sell," opportunities will find if, by magic.


About the Author

Tom Nixon serves as subject matter expert with the Southeast Michigan chapter of SCORE. He has spent his nearly 30-year career advising startups and established businesses in all areas of marketing, including advertising, public relations, corporate communications, digital marketing, social media and more.

How (Not) to Use LinkedIn as a Business Development Platform