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My Lessons for Cultivating a Meaningful Network

About a year ago I started to use LinkedIn a little bit differently. I realised that LinkedIn wasn’t working for me and became inspired by an article written by Australian entrepreneurial legend, Alan Jones .¹

I’ve spent the last few years travelling the world building a network of international space experts — from scientists to policymakers and investors. It takes a village to raise a child, and my company Moonshot² relies heavily on this network. For it to be valuable I need to turn my network into Moonshot’s network and continue to make it as accessible to great people across the globe as possible, who need the resources it can provide to enable great things. At the same time, the network needs to remain valuable to those who are a part of it, so balancing growth without dilution is critical.

This became a huge challenge given most of my connection requests on LinkedIn are from people I’ve never met and haven’t tried to engage beyond an empty request.³ To ignore them is against my ethos, but to blindly accept them would ruin the whole exercise — when people looked at my connections they couldn’t tell who I actually knew and could introduce them to, and who I don’t know at all.

So I changed how I used LinkedIn and it works really well for my needs now. I’ve distilled it down to a few lessons:

Lesson 1: Always send connection requests with a meaningful message

LinkedIn makes it far too easy to get a small hit of dopamine by sending hundreds of connection requests without glancing anything more than a name and a picture. It might feel good, but it’s not a building you any actual relationships.

I don’t see much point in a connection unless you’re establishing a real relationship with the person on the other end. Yes it takes effort, but that makes it much more rewarding.

I suggest that everyone always send a personalised message with any connection request. This should be the bare minimum you do when asking for an ongoing relationship with someone.

By the way, it doesn’t count if it’s all a transactional pitch. e.g. “I’m looking for investment”, “You need my product”, or “We have mutual connections so we should connect too”.

Build a relationship, don't fish for outcomes.

Lesson 2: First, use the follow button

LinkedIn encouraging connection requests first has an unfortunate consequence of signaling that your connection with John Smith, who you’ve never met online or offline before, is just as valuable as the people closest to you in your life.

This is purely a personal preference, but I’ve been working to limit my connections to people I’d feel comfortable introducing someone else to; so if you look at my list, you can trust I have a real relationship with everyone there. There should be no strangers.

If you follow me, I’ll follow you back. It gives us a chance to get to know each other through our posts online, and to keep in touch if we get a chance to meet in person one day.

This doesn’t mean that I can always immediately recall the name of a person you’ve spotted on my list. We haven’t evolved to connect with thousands of people across the globe, but assuming Lesson 1 was followed, then we have a reference to help us recall how we know each other.

Lesson 3: Send nice messages to unsolicited requests

Based on Alan’s template¹, I’ve created my own:

Every response I get in return, I tweak it a little bit more. This message achieves a few things:

  1. It reasonably explains why I won’t accept a request today.
  2. It establishes the start of a real relationship and encourages a more meaningful engagement by leading by example.
  3. It’s viral — like smiling at people you walk past on the street — it costs nothing and introduces a touch of humanity to the cold and sterile culture that LinkedIn is known for.

It takes a bit of time, but I don’t mind as I have seen the investment pay off. The responses have been overwhelmingly positive, stirring up small talk and new conversations where there was nothing but notifications before. It breaks the ice and encourages new people to chime in on discussions or meet me in person where they wouldn’t have before.

I don’t think it should be the way everyone uses LinkedIn, but it’s how I’ve found it to work for me and I hope you’ll find something in this to make it work better for you.

As astra!
🚀

[1] The Template LinkedIn Reply 2018 Edition, is now available at all good stores and one URL.

[2]Here’s the Moonshot Blog.

[3] For years I did the same thing, so don’t take this to mean I think anyone is doing anything wrong, I’ve just chosen to use LinkedIn a little differently.

[4] Last month I was at the Australian Space Research Conference in Adelaide, Australia. I was introduced to the head of a division of the European Space Agency. We shook hands and exchanged cards. I thought he looked familiar and he thought my company name was familiar, but he had never visited Australia before. We later discovered we were connected on LinkedIn, and our initial messages clarified that we’d not only met before, we had a great conversation about space on the main stage of a robotics conference 10 months earlier in Tallinn, Estonia. With an empty connection, we’d never have solved the mystery.

[5]Yes, it takes some time, but you’re already procrastinating on LinkedIn anyway.

🚀 Got a reply? Join the discussion at Moonshot Nexus.

About the Author:

Troy McCann (LinkedIn, Twitter, Nexus) is the founder of Moonshot. An electrical engineer with experience commercialising deep tech, he has mentored dozens of space researchers and startups both in Australia and internationally. Troy has extensive networks in the space sector globally and regularly presents at international conferences on the future of space tech and the space economy.

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Troy McCann

Troy McCann

I build space tech startups while investing in remarkable founders and operators alongside space pioneers from across the globe as founder of Moonshot. 🚀