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July 9, 2015 / Stephanie Anderson

Follow, connect or get out of the way? Navigating LinkedIn relationships

shutterstock_280607732If you’re on LinkedIn you’ve probably gotten at least one connection request from someone you’ve never met personally or professionally. The would-be buddy may not even be connected to your industry.

Do you accept the request to build your number of connections? And what about “following” others? Who should you follow and what value does following someone give you? What’s the difference between connecting and following? Are you confused yet?

Connection = Relationship

Connecting implies an actual relationship – personal or professional. The idea behind “connecting” is to provide you a means to communicate with or stay up to date on the professional happenings of people you know, with whom you have worked or maybe even someone with whom you plan to do business. Connections are not meant to be made with people whose professional lives will never mesh with yours in any way.

Some would argue that because the free version of LinkedIn only allows users to send InMails (or messages) to direct connections, connecting with someone is a way to get around that limitation. In a pinch you could do that, but it’s generally not a good idea to connect with someone just to send an InMail.

When you connect with someone you are by default following them, and they’re following you – which is why your connections need to be as valuable and relevant as possible. However, you can still follow someone with whom you have no connection.

Follow = Content

Following means you can read that person’s publicly shared LinkedIn content, including long-form posts, on your own homepage. Choosing to follow someone means you’re interested in the person’s content, but you have no relationship with him or her – nor do you intend to build one. Following industry leaders or inspirational people can help to foster your own professional growth with fresh ideas and information. While you can’t necessarily send InMails to those you only follow (unless you have a premium account), you can engage with their posts by liking or commenting on their content.

Quality not quantity

A good rule of thumb with connections is that less is more. I’m not saying don’t connect with people, but by limiting your connections to only people you know, they will remain valuable and not get diluted by strangers. LinkedIn connections can be a great way to expand your professional network, so it’s important to ensure every connection you make is relevant and valuable.

Also, follow individuals whose content is pertinent to your life, career and goals. This will keep your activity feed full of relevant stories and help focus your engagement where it’s going to matter most.

Wondering who to follow? A good start is LinkUp’s top 10 people to follow on LinkedIn. Or you could even follow me here.