When it comes to referrals, LinkedIn is NOT Facebook!

Social media is brilliant – however, many people don’t get it. Even on social media, we must still earn the right to ask for and receive referrals – just because you are linked – does not mean I know you well enough to recommend you, like or trust you or am prepared to open my valued network to you. Yes I choose to have an open profile, and I encourage all LinkedIn connections to have open profiles. However, for you to maximise trawling through my connections list, before you connect or send an invitation to connect to someone you don’t really know, it will pay you to put in the time reading the person’s profiles, groups they belong to and review the number of people you have in common. Networking takes time and maximising your opportunities on LinkedIn takes time too yet the results and potential rewards are worth it.

Please don’t be offended by this. Here are the facts (as I see the world). And I know that some readers will disagree and that’s okay. I believe if you don’t stand for something, you may fall for anything.:

* every time I give a referral to someone in my network, I risk losing my own credibility. So my policy when it comes to recommending speakers or industry experts is to only refer people who I have seen speak professionally. This sounds logical enough. Yet a week does not go past, without someone somewhere asking me to open up my client list to them – because they happen to know me or know someone who knows me. And I know I risk losing them as a connection when I explain that I only refer speakers, who I have seen speak. You see, I would rather lose one connection, who disapproved of my recommendations policy, rather than my reputation with someone whom I know well. and have built a bridge of trust of a period of time. And I will often say to the speaker wanting the introduction, invite me to an event you are speaking at, so I can see you present. I can count on one hand, those invitations I have received over the last twenty years.

* And in saying that, if someone asked me for a specific topic and I didn’t personally know that speaker, I would definitely mention them to the third party, but explain that they should do their homework on the speaker’s suitability for their project. And LinkedIn makes checking recommendations very easy – by just looking at the person’s profile and checking out their recommendations you will be able to check their suitability for yourself.

Of course, this principal does not just apply for professional speakers, it applies across the board with all professions. Every time you give a referral you risk losing some of your own credibility if the referee does not meet the third parties expectations.

* what I am also noticing on LinkedIn, is that once you connect, some people send you an “offer” – 50% off, 80% off – a “deal” – and a request to recommend me to your friends. Why would I do that? I may not even be interested in your unrequested offer, so why would I fill up my valued networks inbox with offers that they don’t want either. Well there might be a handful that would be interested – but I will let them find you through their various search methods, rather than risk alienating my network. Or if you become active on LinkedIn – you too will build a strong and broad network. LinkedIn is NOT Facebook.

* Once you understand the law of reciprocity – what you give out comes back ten fold – you will realise that if you want recommendations for your LinkedIn profile – all you have to do is recommend others. In my networking presentations, I suggest to people that as a minimum they give away one referral a week to their network, whether it’s a referral for business, a restaurant, event or film you have experienced and enjoyed  – a recommendation.  And if that is not possible, then talk something up, have something good to say about another.

How long should your LinkedIn recommendation be for a service provider, supplier or one of your network? Sometimes one line is enough, sometimes it may be a paragraph or two. I will give LinkedIn full credit – it is continually improving its systems and makes it so easy for you to recommend people in your network. And you have to make the effort to do it.

Again I know I risk alienating even more people when I say no to a request for a recommendation or an easy introduction – but I know that business and relationships are built on clear communication, building trust and valuing your network.

Let me share with you the difference between a tip, a lead and a referral. I know I have blogged about this before, but it is one of the keys to your business or career growth.

A tip – is almost gossip – e.g. there is a hotel in the CBD doing a refurbishment. this is almost useless information and not very helpful at all if you are in the refurbishing business.

A lead, the Central Plaza Hotel is doing a large refurbishing project this year.  Yes I have more information and at least have identified the location.

A referral, I have been speaking to John Smith from the Central Plaza Hotel in the CBD, they are doing a large refurbishing project this year. I mentioned you would be perfect for that project and I gave him your details. Here is his number, he is expecting to hear from you in the next 24 hours. That is a referral!

Will you get the contract? Possibly something like this might be a tender situation, but talking to the key player will certainly give you heads up on the brief, time frame etc. And if it’s not a tender situation, well at least you throw your hat into the ring with that third party endorsement.

Over time, you will build a network of suppliers and service providers that you will trust almost with your life – certainly with your reputation. And sometimes they too may let you down. Let me share a recent experience with you. Without hesitation, I recommended a graphic designer to an author I was working with and gave them a huge wrap. The author paid a 50% deposit, we briefed the designer and waited for the proofs. What came through was nothing like what the author or I had requested – not the right colours, image, it was a disaster.

I spoke to the author immediately and explained I did not know why the graphic designer had not met the brief and recommended that we not proceed with the designs. The client was very disappointed and suggested they would use their regular graphic designer and that was that.

I knew that the graphic designer had a death in the family 6 weeks previously, and although they appeared to be on top of things, grief, as many of us know takes time to recover from. I was delighted when I saw the email from the original graphic designer to the author, admitting their error in not following the brief, apologising profusely and advising that they would refund the deposit that day. I was delighted they had taken that action, the author was pleased and commented on the graphic designer’s professionalism. Will I continue to refer work to the graphic designer? Yes, I have already. I believe we can always forgive an OOPS (a mistake) – when it is managed well and no one is disadvantaged.

Isn’t it an exciting world we live in today? This is just my personal opinion, you may agree with part or all of it or none of it – and thats okay too.

The master networkers, whom I respect have systems, proceedures and ways of operating – and they stick to them – even though at times their decisions are not popular. Similar to leadership, networking is not a popularity contest – and not everyone is going to like you. However, when they understand the reasons behind your decisions, maybe they accept you to not – and that’s okay too.

An action step you may consider for today, is to look at your LinkedIn connections list and select 5 people you would recommend and send them a recommendation. Don’t be surprised if you received some very appreciative response.

Happy networking until next time.

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