LinkedIn can be a highly useful networking tool, if used correctly. Etiquette and manners were so much easier before electronics and social media entered the scene. Yet this level of social and professional media allows us to do more with less time and in turn gives us the work/life balance we want and need. LinkedIn provides an opportunity to stay in touch with business colleagues, connect with people in similar careers all over the world, make recommendations and referrals for colleagues that have done well in their jobs and make connections that will help grow your business.

The question is how? Should I go through LinkedIn and connect with everyone or choose to be more selective and do it well? The latter reminds me of a name dropping salesperson, “oh yeah, I met so-and-so at this tech mixer, we really hit it off and plan to do more business together” but what that really means is, you exchanged business cards and then hopped on LinkedIn and hounded them to connect with you.

When I look through the connections of my contacts, I would like to assume that they know the person, really know the person, so that when I ask to be introduced to one of their connections, it is a genuine introduction. When I ask for a recommendation for one of their connections, I want it to be genuine and know that they are truly knowledgeable on that person’s skill set.

Here are some tips to genuinely (and with proper etiquette and class) build your connections on LinkedIn:

1.) Personalize your “ask”. When you want to connect with a colleague that you have done business with, ask them through a personalized request. Avoid using any of LinkedIn’s standardized ask’s. When asking to connect, refer, or recommend, personalize your ask. It means more when it’s coming from you rather than LinkedIn.

2.) When you do connect with someone, thank them by writing a personal message back. “Thanks for connecting! If there is anything I can do to help your business through connections, let me know how I can help.”

3.) If someone wants to connect with you or sends you a message, don’t blow them off for days/weeks/months, respond quickly, even if you have to say something like, “I’m so sorry, things are a little busy right now, let me get back to you next week.”

4.) Take time to find mutually beneficial connections and introduce them. You will be in a position of business matchmaker and hopefully, someone will do the same for you along the way.

5.) Professionalism is key. Professional or business appropriate headshot is your first priority. Keep your content all business, this is not Facebook for professionals, know your social media lines and stay within them.

6.) Avoid being spammy. Ask once for a connection, LinkedIn will do their part in reminding possible connections that they have some pending. DO NOT add connections to an email list. Yes it can be done, no, do not do it. No one wants to receive emails like that, connect through LinkedIn or if they prefer, send personalized emails (see point 1 above). If you ask too many people to connect and they don’t know you, or you are recommending a ton of skills for many of your connections, you may appear spammy. Also, if you are asking too many people to connect that don’t know you, LinkedIn will lock your account and you will not be able to ask anyone to connect except through email.

7.) It’s not about you, it’s about them. Although you want it to be about you, it isn’t, people want solutions to their problems. Post content regularly that places you in a credible position. You know a lot about IT or marketing or HR. Write articles/blogs or share articles that you find to be interesting. This also keeps you top of mind for your current connections. Do not post content that is exclusively self-serving, things that are all about your company, only the amazing things you’ve done etc. It lessens your credibility and again makes you look spammy.

8.) This is a two-way relationship, nurture it. LinkedIn reminds you of your connections work anniversaries or updated photos or jobs etc. Send personalized congratulations to your contacts. Let them know that it is about them, not just your connection and what you get out of it. (See point 1 again).

9.) Avoid negativity. Don’t share political, spiritual, strongly held beliefs on LinkedIn. If you want to start a political debate, save it for Facebook or Thanksgiving; LinkedIn is not the place for it. Also, avoid criticizing other connections or negatively commenting on…well, anything. This is a business professional site (see point 5 above).

Connecting on LinkedIn isn’t a numbers game, it should be more personal than that. If you have 1,000 connections but can only speak to 40 of them on their character and give a solid referral on 20 of them, you have no business having that many connections, slow down. Make thoughtful connections, connections that will help both of your businesses and create meaningful business relationships. It’s just that simple.