In this world of LIONs, and Ninjas and Gurus, it’s hard to know who is worthwhile to add to your network, versus who is out to SPAM you. Is online networking all just a game of chance or are there ways to know the right thing to do?

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I’m Team MaybeFollowBack.

LION, which stands for LinkedIn Open Networker, is a designation used by people and groups on LinkedIn, indicating their focus on interconnectivity, and broadcasting that they want to network with other LinkedIn members. The concept is entirely user-created (i.e., not endorsed by LinkedIn, which requests that you only connect to people you know and trust). To me, it’s a philosophical decision whether or not to join the LIONs.  You first need to decide why you’re on LinkedIn in the first place. And either you want to play by their ‘rules,’ or you’re willing to bend them to get what you want. And maybe you want a super-high connections count, if you believe that will benefit you in some real way.

But even if we put LinkedIn aside, you have similar situations on Twitter and Facebook and other social media sites. No matter where you are, it seems there are always people and groups whom you don’t know, that reach out to you and ask you to make a connection.

So what should you do? Follow them all back? Some? Which ones?

I’ve always said, it better to have a strategy than to go around making decisions willy-nilly, so here are my strategies for following back, connecting, and deciding when to make new ‘friends’ on social media in ways that can help you build your personal brand.

  1. Set It and Forget It – If you don’t really care, and let’s face it, a lot of people don’t, then go ahead and follow back everyone. But make sure that this strategy aligns with your personal brand. And since my brand is all about the intersection of marketing and technology,  I strive to ensure I gather as many of those kinds of connections as I can, while avoiding SPAM, because…
  2. SPAM Friends Suck – As a rule, don’t connect with obvious spammers. The best way to know a spammer is to (*sigh*) read their latest comments or posts to see what they’re all about. If the posts all scream “5,000 followers for $5!” then you know it’s a SPAMbot. I also try to avoid connecting with people that I don’t think will benefit from connection with me — so if I get an offer to connect with a profile that seems only to care about steakhouses in Idaho, and I live in Georgia, then I doubt that I will be of any service to this person (or them to me). There is a bit of work to be done here, because you may have to read a few of their posts and articles to know if a connection is going to be worthwhile for you. I try to follow only people who are in my industry or interested in it, but even I fall prey to the initially relevant-appearing people who end up wanting to sell me sunglasses or cutting boards.
  3. Lopsided Follow/Follower Ratio – If a new follower of yours has 20K followers, but only follow 90 people, then I have news for you. They are only going to follow you for about 10 minutes after you follow them back. These types of people are gunning for massive follower counts, but don’t believe in keeping in touch with their followers, just broadcasting to them. Although you may have a chance with one of these every now and then, I’d keep an eye on them. They often seem to be gaming the system in order to look important. And isn’t this supposed to be about conversation and exchange?
  4. Relevance is the New Black – Speaking of reading their posts, if they are writing and commenting on issues that involve you, then definitely follow them back. As a matter of fact, if you find someone who really has their finger on the pulse of your industry or topics that you care about, then I recommend you check out who else they are following — you might find a treasure trove of great thinkers and influencers to learn from. And maybe some of them might decide to follow you back, too!
  5. Track and Reassess – I use tools like WhoUnfollowedMe? to track when people follow and unfollow me on Twitter. Karma is a real thing, so it just makes sense to me that if I make a connection with someone and then I turn around a delete that connection, then maybe it wasn’t such a good idea in the first place.

Deciding to connect with a new friend or colleague on social media can be a crapshoot. Be sure that you’ve got the odds stacked in your favor with strategies that keep you on a winning streak!


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