social media how toHow often do you leverage your LinkedIn network?

Do you want to strategically improve and grow your connections?

In building your LinkedIn network, the more selective you are, the more valuable your network is.

In this article I’ll explain how to build a smart LinkedIn network.

Why Build a Smart LinkedIn Network?

LinkedIn can give you exposure and access to important people, help you attract new prospects, keep you in front of existing clients and vendors, spark marketing or business partnership possibilities, generate more introductions and referrals, provide invitations to speak at events or conferences, uncover media or press inquiries and much more.

powerful network on linkedin

Find out how to build a powerful network using LinkedIn.

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A smart LinkedIn network doesn’t just occur naturally. Although LinkedIn attempts to help you build a smart network, you still must do your part to cultivate relevant and valuable connections.

#1: Invite Existing Contacts to Connect

Upload your email contacts into LinkedIn to seed your “smart” network. This is low-hanging fruit for expanding your network with highly relevant connections.

LinkedIn allows you to import your existing email contacts from Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook and others into the platform, so start by connecting with people you already trust.

Although people have expressed concerns about allowing LinkedIn to access their contacts, it’s really no different than sharing your personal information with any other social network or through your smartphone. Keep in mind that LinkedIn also gives you the ability to export your contacts at any time.

To expand your network through email, go to Connections on the top navigation and then click Add Connections. Select the email provider. LinkedIn will walk you through the rest.

import email contacts to linkedin

Import your contacts from a variety of email providers to LinkedIn through the Add Connections screen.

When you import your contacts to LinkedIn, make sure that you don’t select the option to send all of them a generic invitation to connect.

You’ll want to work through your contacts one by one. That way, you can easily decipher who you are not already connected with, filter out older contacts (Note: you may want to clean up your email contacts before you import them into LinkedIn) and write personalized invitations to the rest.

linkedin email contact report

LinkedIn will let you know which of your contacts you are not yet connected with.

Once you’re connected, review your contacts’ profiles to gather more intelligence about them. Then determine how you can add value to their professional lives and review their connections for future relationship-building.

You’ll gain significant benefits from allowing LinkedIn to “borrow” your contacts via the import process. After you’ve expanded your network to include connections you already trust, LinkedIn will better understand the types of people you have as official contacts. In turn, LinkedIn will find more relevant people to suggest to you for building your network through its People You May Know feature.

Ultimately the intelligence you gather from importing your contacts into LinkedIn can be extremely valuable in building your network.

#2: Use Discretion Accepting Invitations

As your LinkedIn network expands, you’ll likely receive new invitations to connect on a daily basis. Use discretion with these invites, so you’ll be able to better control the quality of your network. Note: If you’re new to LinkedIn, you may be tempted to accept every invitation that comes in, but down the road it can dilute the value of your network.

It’s important to balance the costs and benefits of connecting with people you may not know well or at all on LinkedIn.

linkedin connection invitation

Not all invitations to connect should be accepted.

For example, you may not want to connect with people on LinkedIn who don’t have a picture associated with their profile, unless they have a good reason or you know the person. If the latter’s the case, you may want to accept the invitation and then suggest that your friend add a profile pic. (That’s what I do.)

Additionally, you may not want to accept invitations from complete strangers, unless some sort of common thread exists. You may have mutual friends or groups or work in the same industry. (I typically will not accept new invitations from strangers unless they have customized the invitation.)

It is quite possible for people to know who you are and want to connect with you without you knowing them; especially if you’re an author, speaker or influential person. Ask your audiences to please provide where they saw or heard you speak, along with their reason for wanting to connect with you, if they reach out to you to connect on LinkedIn. Note: This is also why you should provide a reason when you connect with a stranger or acquaintance.

Set up your own discretionary rules for who you’re going to accept invitations from on LinkedIn. It’ll save you time down the road and make for a much smarter LinkedIn network.

scale icon shutterstock 142580416

Weigh any invitation to connect carefully. Image: Shutterstock.

#3: Leverage Your Unique Network

Whether you’re new to LinkedIn or have been developing your network for a while, you’ve likely noticed a variety of “clusters,” or groups of connections. Your network clusters represent your unique market opportunity on LinkedIn, and are a great place to look for new connections.

The clusters within your LinkedIn network include:

  • People in the city or town where you live and work
  • Industry connections from current and past work experience (colleagues/peers, clients, prospects, vendors, journalists, etc.)
  • People with whom you’ve attended high school or college
  • People who are members of affinity communities that you belong to (women entrepreneurs, local organizations, etc.)
  • Influencers in your community and industry

Identify your network clusters and then dig deeper within each one. View the networks of your connections to find more relevant people to invite to connect. Also, look for opportunities to introduce people you know within a network cluster or between your network clusters!

LinkedIn provides a few options for sorting your connections into logical network clusters. You can sort by company, location, title or source.

filtering linkedin connections

View your connections based on location, company, title and source. Then see the other people they know within your clusters to find potential connections to target.

To manually segment your network beyond what LinkedIn already provides, use the LinkedIn Tags feature.

Set up tags and spend a little time each week organizing your connections. Tag the new people you connect with on LinkedIn as you go. Note: You can also tag or segment your LinkedIn network members using an outside CRM program if you prefer.

Use clusters to find new connections to grow your LinkedIn network.

#4: Use LinkedIn Groups

LinkedIn groups are a great source for finding new connections.

LinkedIn groups have become tougher to wade through, since many are not managed well and are overrun by spam. However, there are still plenty of high-quality groups. You just have to do your research.

Don’t use LinkedIn groups for marketing yourself. Use them for discovering and connecting with the people who fit into your smart LinkedIn network.

If you share a group membership with someone, send an invitation to connect based on this association. First go to the desired LinkedIn group and click on Members to pull up the list of members in the group.

adding contacts to groups in linkedin

Before you send a group member a connection request, send a personalized message.

Scroll through the members until you see those who are not first-degree connections, and send a personal message saying that you would like to connect with them on LinkedIn and let them know that you’re in the group together.

Once you hear back, go ahead and send the invitation to connect. (Note: You can no longer customize a connection invitation sent to a mutual LinkedIn group member.)

Mine your LinkedIn group memberships for the gems. Utilize groups as a gateway for discovering and connecting with relevant people who fit into your network-building strategy.

#5: Use Advanced Search

The Advanced Search tool on LinkedIn is another great way to strategically expand your network.

Use LinkedIn filters to search by keyword (for example, job titles), location, company, school and more. Be aware that premium LinkedIn accounts allow more searches, search parameters and saved searches; however, you still can get some of these benefits with a free LinkedIn account.

To make the results more targeted, when conducting advanced searches on LinkedIn, zero in on more than one search parameter.

keyword search in linkedin

Identify highly relevant connections using LinkedIn’s Advanced Search tool.

For example, the image above shows where I conducted a search for the keyword “financial advisor” within 10 miles of my zip code. I specified that I wanted second-degree connections only. LinkedIn showed me over 900 potential connections in this search.

Within your search results, you’ll see how many connections you have in common with each person listed, as well as the identities of those common connections. If you wish, also click through to review their profiles.

LinkedIn makes it easy to send a quick invitation to the people listed in your search results using a simple Connect button. Keep in mind that you will NOT be able to customize this invite. Use this Connect button sparingly.

linkedin open profile message

Some LinkedIn users allow you to message them without being connected.

If the option exists, send a personalized message initially that lets the person know why you would like to connect. Then send the official invitation.

LinkedIn Advanced Search is an underutilized tool for discovering great people who logically fit into your LinkedIn network.


The stronger your LinkedIn network, the more you’ll benefit from it.

Building a smart LinkedIn network isn’t just about growing it. Occasionally you’ll want to prune your LinkedIn network to get rid of dated connections. Review, clean up and improve your LinkedIn network over time. Chances are you’ve made some connections on LinkedIn who don’t fit into your targeted network clusters. It’s okay to remove them.

The value of a “smart” LinkedIn network is truly priceless. When you connect and engage with the right people on LinkedIn, professional opportunities will emerge. Plus, you’ll naturally be in a better position to add value to your network members.

A smarter LinkedIn network will open doors for you and your business, so work on it a little each day. The results will definitely outweigh the time you spend cultivating it.

What do you think? Have you tried to build a smarter LinkedIn network? Do you see the value in doing so? Are you in favor of limiting your connections or connecting with as many people as possible on LinkedIn? I’d love to hear your opinions on this. Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Scale icon photo from Shutterstock.
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  • Hi Stephanie could we connect on linked in?

  • Thanks for the reminders!

    When I first started using LinkedIn, I accepted invites from everyone. However, I’m now more discrete. My goal is to have a well-developed network with genuine connections. I look at quality versus quantity. You may have 500+ connections, but how many people do you keep in contact with? How many people have you’ve collaborated or partnered with? How many people have you helped without strings attached? How much business did you receive from those connections?

  • Great article Stephanie! I love LinkedIn and am surprised how many people I know who don’t use it regularly or even update it.

  • Stephanie, thank you for this great comprehensive overview of an overlooked topic: selecting wisely your LinkedIn connection strategy.

    Where to start, what to avoid when importing your address book, personalizing your invitations, tagging your connections, remove connections – and much more.

    Note that when reviewing incoming invitations, you have another option: replying without accepting. In a word, use the invitation as an opportunity, and treat the act of connecting as a means, not an end.

    Have you considered what your ideal prospect might do when looking you up and noticing you share a common connection? Of course, he could reach out to that person and say “I see you’re connected with John Doe. How is he? Should we work with him?”. When your common connection mumbles “Doe? Are we connected? Can you spell his name for me?”, you are pushing your ideal prospect out of giving you business. Like Stephanie rightly writes, “The more selective you are, the more valuable your network is.”

  • Thanks Madalyn! Hope you are well!

  • Amandah, initially I did the same thing where I connected with most people. I think your plan is a good one!

  • Absolutely you can use connection opportunities to go deeper. Initially though I’d recommend building some rapport versus trying to “push” my ideal prospect. Just more of my style I guess. Regardless though once you’re connected that opens up opportunities to create a dialogue.

  • Thanks! I wish I would have done this sooner. Oh well. Better late than never.

  • Pingback: Marketing Day: Twitter Boosts TV Viewership, Disqus Partners With Xaxis & #AlexFromTarget Goes Viral()

  • Me too!!! Just tackle it 10 minutes a day and eventually you’ll get there.

  • Great suggestions here…

    But what is the drawback of connecting with someone who doesn’t have a profile pic? There must be very few of them who try to connect to us right?

  • James

    Hey Stephanie,

    The title pulled me in but good or bad I have already been doing everything you talked about. I have eliminated dated connections two or three times now. I also love sending personal messages when sending connection invites. I also send send my new connections a personal message to their inbox when I get the notification they accepted me. People actually are annoyed tha I’m messaging them and asking them questions.
    I’m still working hard to develop a network of engaged connections but I refuse to allow my network to sit still and do nothing.

  • jv

    Maybe someone here can provide a helpful insight on how to tackle my situation, I’m not sure the best course of action.

    1. How do you deal with people who you’ve already pruned who rerequest you on linkedin? (Especially people you see every now and then in your local community).

    2. Furthermore, how do you deal with the individuals who you know via a friend or community connection but have very little to do with… I have a list of over 60 pending contacts of individuals I know from my community who I deem are not quality connections for myself.

    I feel if I accept them I then reduce the quality of my connections. If I reject them, eventually they’ll notice… and possibly re-request (that’s happened).

    I don’t want to insult someone, and at the same time I really don’t want many of these people as connections.

    Not sure what to do.

  • Steven

    I’m not sure what the purpose of LinkedIn is. I have several hundred connections, most of whom are other professionals in my field. Other than inviting me to connect, no one ever contacts me, I never contact anyone, and I certainly wouldn’t send business to someone I don’t know just because there’s some connection on LinkedIn. I have never received any business or leads through LinkedIn, and I’ve been a member for several years. I receive no benefit from being on Linked In, nor frankly, does anyone I know.

  • Hi Stephanie,

    Thanks for following me back on Disqus. Your article enlightened me on a few places where I was doing things absolutely wrong. I never realized that LinkedIn is about quality and not quantity.

    I represent a social media management tool and we are looking for right people who can help us promote things in an efficient manner, not only on LinkedIn but also on other networks and Google in general.

    Anyway, I would love to connect with you and see if we can find common areas and work on a few things. Please get in touch.


  • Denise

    Great article. I will use these suggestions to build my LinkedIn network.

  • Helen

    Hi everyone,

    I’d like to ask you one thing.

    I was made an offer to purchase “friendship connection” on linkedin with possibility to reach my targeted audience (people in Sweden, Finance inductry). The connection will open 500 2-level targeted connections (500 Swedish Financial professionals).

    Which means I can contact them directly without InMail options. On the one hand it looks like saving my time doing this network building routine, on the other hand it costs 20 USD, and looks suspicious to me.

    This guy plays against the rules by creating many accounts with pure targeted network. And then sells connection to the accounts people need.

    I d like to have your opinion, would you use his service for this money?



  • Malini

    Hey Stephanie, great refresher reading. I have a question…a lot of companies I’ve worked with or currently working with do not wish to be named in my LinkedIn profile. What’s the best way to respect this?