Recently, a friend and I were discussing LinkedIn. We discovered a shared distaste for what I call ‘empty networks’, i.e., business-focused social networks more concerned with size than substance. We agreed that having a smaller LinkedIn network of strong contacts – people you know, have done business with, or have interacted with in some way – is much more valuable than, say, having 1,000 contacts in your network but only knowing 15-20% of them personally.

Following our conversation, my friend shared with me an article on the value of ‘weak ties’, wondering if it “

[blew] our LinkedIn approach out of the water”. According to the article’s author, Forbes contributer Jacob Morgan, ‘weak ties’ are “acquaintances, or people that you don’t know that well”. Morgan contends that business-related weak ties are more valuable than strong ties – clients, partners or colleagues you have solid personal relationships with – for several reasons:

  1. They are more likely than strong ties to be ‘gateways’ to networks dissimilar to your own.
  2. It takes less work to maintain relationships with a large number of weak ties than to cultivate a handful of relationships with strong ties.

Though I agree with the article’s contention that broadening your ring of professional contacts is undoubtedly a plus, I am not sold on the idea of exponentially increasing the size of my LinkedIn network with ‘cold’ contacts. In cases where I have no connection to a contact (other than the fact that he or she sent me a templated LinkedIn invite), I don’t think the potential benefits alluded to in the article – namely being able to tap that contact for help when breaking into a new industry or network – necessarily apply.

However, that doesn’t mean we should close the door on building new relationships with previously unknown contacts. I completely support the idea of network growth; I just think it should be done a bit more personally.

For example, rather than sending a blank LinkedIn request to a potential contact who you have never met and have no tangible business connection to, take 5 minutes to pen a personal note to him explaining why you’re reaching out. Or, scrap LinkedIn as step one and begin by reaching out to a potential contact via email or phone. Request a few minutes of her time to discuss her role/business/background/etc.; then, send the LinkedIn invitation after that conversation (assuming it went well).

These more personal approaches may be better received by your potential new contacts, and help grow your base of ‘weak ties’ while still maintaining personal connections.

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