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Almost every professional today, at least those younger than 55,  grasps the importance of professional networking in terms of career enhancement and career advancement.  Not everyone realizes that the secret of building beneficial relationships is not just how big your network is  but how you treat the people you come into contact with day in andnetworkingshutterstock_323856479 day out.

The absorbed CEO who passes peers and other colleagues at an association meeting without even acknowledging their existence, or the in-demand candidate who is reveling in the attention from a flock of search consultants with lucrative offers and who doesn’t think he needs to treat everyone with respect, will, believe it or not, rue the day.

Whether the networking is on-line or in person, how you treat people is critical  Another critical issues is who you connect with.

The secret to having a beneficial network is not the size of your network — the number of contacts you have —  but the quality of your relationships.

Those executives and hucksters on LinkedIn who are open networkers (LION) with thousands of contacts, are not in it for the quality and the benefits of a relationship.  The majority are simply name/contact information collectors, just more inventory for their email marketing lists to sell self-help videos, books, or to peddle other advice.  They are sellers.  They do not care that you lost your job or that you need help in identifying contacts within a targeted company.  No, it is all about them.

That is why LinkedIn is rapidly becoming a Monster.Com with connections and an email system and a steady flood of applicants that are even remotely qualified.   If you are waiting for the networking Gods at LinkedIn to begin regulating the space, to enhance the professional networking experience, then drag up a chair and make yourself comfortable. It will not happen any time soon.  LinkedIn does not care that the quality of the networking experience is beginning to diminish.  It is all about the money.  Theirs, not yours.

The only way you can make LinkedIn work for you is to have a social media strategy. Build your network around strategic career goals, and invest the time to see your contact network focused, that is to say targeted to your career advancement strategy.

Large corporate customers who spend thousands upon thousands of dollars with LinkedIn use the service to find candidates.  The LinkedIn sales representatives, whose turnover is enormous, love the big customers and focus their energies on helping them buy more.   But if you are a small firm, or worse, a candidate who is looking for a job, without a well thought out plan, you do not stand a chance.  LinkedIn will be just another waste of time.

Here are five tips to guide you across what is rapidly becoming a LinkedIn quick sand sink in. 

  1. Avoid connecting with anyone who promote LION status.  That stands for LinkedIn Open Networker.  LIONs will connect with anyone.   The more the merrier. The truth is they offer no value.   Their approach is contrary to LinkedIn rules which stipulate that you should not connect with anyone you do not know.  That is why LinkedIn offers an introduction feature — where a contact can introduce you to someone they know. 
  2. Develop a  career strategy.  Without a career goal plan, you cannot build a beneficial network.  Connect with those  colleagues who can help you, and ignore the requests from India or other foreign locations unless you already do business there or your career objective involves wondering  through the Subcontinent. 
  3. In the spirit of connecting with those who can help you, remember that one of the foundational principles of networking from one of the early experts, Harvey McKay, author of Dig Your Well Before You Are Thirsty, is that networking is dig-your-well-bookreally about helping people.  When you offer help it should never be predicated on what you will get in return.  Do not connect with someone with a one-way view of potential benefits.  Over time, if a contact is not meaningful or beneficial, prune them for your list.
  4. A connection is not a relationship.  Connections take seconds, relationships take an investment of time and the sharing of intellectual property — a willingness to share ideas, best practices, etc.
  5. Building a respected and valued social media brand takes so much more that a profile page and a nice picture.  You have to share content.  That includes interesting news stories or other articles and original content. Hitting a downturn in your career is not the time to begin developing your on-line presence.

Networking is what you make of it.  It is all about paying attention to interpersonal relationships, connecting with the right people, and then being willing invest your time to build a brand by helping others.

To those who share and help, much is to be gained.