One of the discussions I’ve been watching with great interest in the greater LinkedIn community and with professional networking sites in general is whether it’s a better strategy to have a small number of quality connections, or a large number of relevant but varied connections.
This discussion is so common, in fact, that some people have started to abbreviate it as QvQ.
But what are the pros and cons of each strategy? Let’s have a look…
First off, like much else in life, the connect / don’t connect decision is one that you have to consider anew for each potential professional connection, regardless of your individual connection criteria. Specifically, even if you decided that you’d only link to very high quality people (that is, people who you have know for at least X years, or worked with on at least Y projects) you’re still placing yourself on a continuum of networking connection restrictions where one extreme is that you won’t connect to anyone and the diametric opposite extreme is that you’ll connect to everyone, their Mom and their dog.
Clearly both of those are pointless strategies, the former because you quite literally don’t have a network at all if you only have a single node, you. It’s the “no man is an island” revisited for the digital age. The latter strategy doesn’t work either because if you have no method of screening potential contacts then you might as well pick up a phone book or randomly dial your telephone hoping to make a good connection.
To understand the relative value of different points on the continuum, then, I think it’s important to understand why you’re networking in the first place. For consultants, it’s typically to find peers with whom to partner and clients to pitch. For a recruiter, it’s to find candidates for positions (and a surprising number of people on sites like LinkedIn are professional recruiters, an important realization if you’re looking for a job right now). For an employee of a typical medium company, it’s most likely peers and possible outsource candidates. Different people, different quality criteria for their connection screen. That makes sense.
And then there are what I call the super-connectors, people who view their Rolodex, their Address Book, their contact list as a veritable jewel unto itself. For those people, more is always merrier and they’ll only very rarely – if ever – reject a connection request, even if from someone in a completely different industry, profession or country.
On most networking sites, however, there are alternatives to either being out of touch or being connected or “linked” directly.
On LinkedIn, you can contact someone through your shared network of colleagues without requesting a specific link between the two of you, for example. LinkedIn’s Konstantin Guericke explains it this way: “The intent is definitely to use contact requests to meet new people and for invitations [to connect permanently] to be reserved for people who know you well.”
So there’s a third dimension here: if you can network effectively with others and, of course, they can find you and communicate with you about possible opportunities without a direct connection, then screening your possible direct links more stringently doesn’t have the same penalty or cost that some super-connectors suggest.
One question worth considering in this regard is “Have you met everyone on your direct connections list?” Well, this is the digital age, so let’s amend that slightly:
Have you either met or personally corresponded with everyone on your direct connections list?
Note that I’m not saying what your answer should be. If you’re someone who believes in quantity over quality of connections, then your answer is more likely to be that I’m asking the wrong question! The question I think they’d ask is:
Might I in the future want to meet or personally correspond with everyone on my list?
My personal opinion is that being somewhere in the middle of this continuum is the optimal place to be for almost all networking professionals. I only connect with people I know, people I’ve communicated with professionally on more than one occasion, people I’ve worked with, or, on occasion, someone who I don’t yet know, but can see from their profile that we share a core professional interest.
I have a fine example of this from just a few days ago. I need to get some back issues of Internet World Magazine from the mid-90′s and had exhausted my regular network. I went on to LinkedIn, searched for the magazine name as a keyword, found a dozen or so matches, then used our shared networks to email contact requests, with the exact details of what I sought.
Within 24 hours, I was in direct communication with someone who worked at the magazine during the years in question and has generously offered to send me the issues I need for my research. I didn’t try to connect to him, nor him to me, however, because there’s no logic to it: I needed help, I used the networking tool to communicate with someone who could help me, he contacted me back, and now the transaction is complete.
I know others who are much more strict about their professional online networking too, where they only link to colleagues that they’ve worked with on specific jobs. Their networks are small and most of these networkers tend not to tap their network anyway.
What’s your take? If you use any professional networking sites like LinkedIn, are you a “quality” or “quantity” linker, and why?