LinkedIn is Best Viewed as a Cocktail Party

The last time you were at a cocktail party, who did you want to hang around? Sure if the CEO was in the room or a big-named celebrity, that is the person you wanted to see. But everyone is around those people and MAYBE you just get to shake their hand and say, “I loved you in Sharknado 3.” When you hang out with real people at that party, what are they like? Don’t they tell the most interesting stories? Aren’t they laughing just a little bit more than the rest of the room – usually at themselves? Don’t they have interesting comments to add to the conversation? And – when you are talking – aren’t they the most engaged listeners?

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a conference in Chicago listening to a social media expert say once again that activity on LinkedIn was all about “building relationships.” Now all of us have heard that before, but this time it hit me: LinkedIn is not best looked at as an online CV or virtual rolodex. LinkedIn is best as a perpetual cocktail party – the place where you can meet someone for the first or second time, and get to know them enough in a relaxed but still professional setting that you both agree it’s a good idea to have coffee and discuss more.

Who is the person you want to stand and have a drink with at a cocktail party – 1) the guy/gal who walks up and hits you with “Just closed the biggest deal of 2017-18 for the state of Montana. So proud to have received the Mega-Ultra-Platinum-Mega Award!” as a steady diet, OR 2) the guy/gal who shares the hilarious story about the first time they failed in business, then an article they read on happiness at the office, and THEN you find out that they were the Mega Award recipient two years running. Don’t you want to get to know that second person? And maybe do business with them at some point? People still do business with people they like and who are talented. In that order.

So here are some steps:

  • Tell stories: We humans are hard-wired and historically conditioned to be interested by stories. It is the only way our ancestors could source and remember important news long enough to survive and to… well, be productive. And public stories are great, but personal stories about experiences and lessons learned – your successes AND failures in life – are particularly interesting to us humans. When you are standing, drink in hand, after a long day of meetings it is a compelling story that keeps someone from wanting to head to bed early.
  • Appropriate humor gets extra points… and views: Let’s face it – we are all trying to move the needle in business and that can be stressful. Someone adding appropriate humor into a business environment is like a glass of cold water in a scorching Austin, Texas summer. I got to work for David Wiener who was one of the best at this cocktail-parties business, and from what I can tell from his LinkedIn profile – it is still serving him quite well.
  • Don’t do all the talking; listen: Relationships grow when humans feel heard. Just like the party, if you have been telling funny stories for a while it is only polite to pause and say, “So tell me about you.” And then really listen. LinkedIn is the same; engagement is king. When you see something that interests you, ask a question about it. And then check back to see the answer. Maybe a discussion will ensue. Maybe a coffee will follow.

Because remember – people still do business with people they like and who are talented. In that order.