Once you move beyond the generic “add connections” option that LinkedIn has, you might want to specifically search for and increase your connections with people aligned with whatever connection policy you might have.
The challenge is that restrictions exist within LinkedIn that may prevent you from inviting others you don’t know personally. You are entitled to try to connect with people without knowing their email address, but once five people respond to your connection invitation by saying they don’t know you, your ability to connect will be restricted.
Once you’ve decided to connect with professionals who aren’t part of your network, chances are good that you will initially find them by doing advanced people searches. If you are already an experienced user, you’ll probably encounter people you might want to connect with everywhere on LinkedIn.
These people often appear on the “people you may know” widget that is featured prominently in the top right-hand corner of your LinkedIn home page and in group discussions. Once you find someone with whom you’d like to connect, follow these guidelines to complete the process:
Read the contact settings: There are many people on LinkedIn who aren’t engaged on the platform. They signed up and forgot about their profiles, or they just simply “checked out” for some reason. Some may indicate in their contact settings that they are not open to receiving connections, but if they include their contact details anywhere on their profile, you have implicit permission to contact them. If you want to be cautious, first contact them and let them know why you want to connect. Also mention how you can help them. Then ask if you can connect on LinkedIn for a mutually beneficial—and connected—relationship.
Really read the profile: A LinkedIn profile says a thousand things about someone’s attitude toward online professional networking, and by thoroughly reading the profile, you can determine how active a particular user is on the website. In general, the more active people are on LinkedIn, the more they will understand the value of business networking and thus the more willing they will be to connect if you send a personalized invitation.
Find a “warm” lead: As in real life, a “warm” lead—someone your target connection actually knows and who can make a personal introduction on your behalf—often leads to the greatest success. Rather than relying on a cold call or email, get in touch with the person who connects the two of you and ask him or her for a formal introduction. If your targeted user is a third-degree connection, find someone who could facilitate an introduction between you and a person who is actually connected to your targeted user. Your eventual goal is to be introduced to your second-degree connection, who can then facilitate the introduction with your third-degree connection.
Join the same LinkedIn group: A simple tactic you can use to contact someone is to join one of his or her LinkedIn groups. Of course, this works only if your desired contact has the default settings on, which allows group members to send messages to each other.
At present, the option to send a message to a group member does not appear as an option when you find a common group member on an advanced people search result; instead, you will be prompted to send an InMail. No worries: Simply navigate to the same group that you are a member of, do a member search, and you will have the option to send a message from that interface.
Send the “Hail Mary” InMail: InMail is a paid LinkedIn service for contacting people who are not first-degree connections, which I consider to be the equivalent of throwing a “Hail Mary” pass in a football game. LinkedIn promotes the use of InMail as being a very effective way to communicate. Currently, nonpaying members have the option to purchase InMails for $10 apiece. Though some people might balk at paying for such a service, consider it a business investment that could have lucrative potential. Everyone’s experience will be different, so you should experiment with InMail and determine your own ROI.
One final note before reaching out: Don’t forget your manners. Just as you should continue to foster warm leads in the “real” world, you need to do the same online. Don’t forget that, behind every online persona, there is a real person.
Whenever you communicate with someone online, you should personalize your communication and give him or her a reason to connect to you. Always remember that manners apply online just as they do offline, and LinkedIn (as well as all social media) is simply an example of new tools, old rules.
What have your experiences been in reaching out to new people on LinkedIn?
Neal Schaffer is senior vice president of social strategies at Social 5150 and Green Dream Social. He blogs at WindmillNetworking.com, where a version of this article originally ran.