Usually, I am pretty savvy when it comes to social networks. Heck, I was using Twitter before Ashton Kutcher became the first person to gain one million Twitter followers in 2009.

I have always tried to live by the unwritten rules of social networks. For example, I’ve never tweeted a picture of the omelet I ate for breakfast or spammed my Facebook friends with Candy Crush game requests. I never want to be the annoying guy on social networks that makes others want to roll their eyes.

But I never understood LinkedIn.  I set up an account several years ago only because it was another “cool” social network. I didn’t think about the true purpose or how to effectively use it.

I will admit it: I royally screwed up on LinkedIn.

Just going by appearances, LinkedIn looks like Facebook. Profile pictures: Check. Status updates: Check. Friending people: Check. I thought, “I know how to use Facebook. LinkedIn is the same but for stuffy business people.”

Boy was I wrong. Like all social networks, LinkedIn has unwritten rules that you must learn and follow to use it effectively. While I am far from a guru, let me share with you the lessons I learned so you don’t make the same mistakes.

LinkedIn logo

The purpose of LinkedIn

Think of social networks as events you attend: Twitter is like a crazy night at the bar with people you may (or may not) know while Facebook is like a family or high school reunion.

LinkedIn is different. It is like a cocktail hour with colleagues you met through work.

It is NOT a place to sell people your product or service. It is NOT a place to talk about your personal life. It is NOT a place to show off pictures of your kids.

Those are all mistakes I made early on. People have their work hats on and are only interested in doing business there. I realized I was now the spammer that people were rolling their eyes at! I course corrected and now only focus on the business aspect of my life.


Connecting made simple

One of the biggest mistakes I made on LinkedIn was connecting with anyone and everyone I could.

Every social network offers suggestions of people to connect with. The suggestions on my Facebook and Twitter accounts are usually people I know or recognize, even though I may not want to actually follow them.

LinkedIn also offered me tons of suggestions. Except, they were mostly complete strangers. Thinking I needed to connect with lots of people, I started hitting “connect” over and over for everyone LinkedIn suggested.

People accepted my connections, and I started receiving requests from others. Before I knew it, I had a couple of hundred connections. Score!

One day I received a message from someone asking me how I knew one of my connections. My response? “Ummmm, well I don’t ACTUALLY know him.” That was when I realized I needed to clean house of my connections.

Now, I ask myself a simple question before ever sending or accepting a connection request: Would I ask that person for a favor, even a small one? If the answer is no, then I don’t let them into my LinkedIn circle of friends.

I went through my entire list of connections, asking myself that question for each person. I immediately whittled my list way down. It may not LOOK impressive, but at least I now have a solid core of people I actually know, rather than several hundred complete strangers I would never do business with.

Epic Fail

Don’t screw up like me

All social networks have unique rules and purposes. LinkedIn is no different. While other networks like Twitter or Facebook are places to talk about anything and everything, LinkedIn has a different purpose.

Used correctly, I learned that LinkedIn is a powerful place to network and do business. I just needed to learn the unwritten rules first.