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With more than 360 million professionals registered on LinkedIn, it can feel like you struck networking-gold. After just a couple keystrokes, you can find dozens of potential clients in a certain city, with the right title and at the right kind of company. As an agency owner, it sure can be tempting to connect with every single person and start making your sales pitch. After all, you’ve identified your target audience and you can send these influencers a direct message, for free. Why wouldn’t you connect with them?

Networking on LinkedIn is an art. And if you blast into the networking game too quickly, you could sabotage relationships and hurt your credibility. It is easy to click a button and invite someone to connect with you, but it’s not so easy to build fruitful, personal relationships on LinkedIn.

Here are three of the worst networking mistakes you can make on LinkedIn and what to do instead:

1. Sending the generic request to connect: How persuasive and compelling does LinkedIn’s default invitation sound? I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn. Not only is this message extremely boring, it shows that you won’t take the time to write one or two original, personalized sentences.

What you should do instead: Write a personalized message! LinkedIn is giving you the real estate to write whatever you want, so take advantage of it. If you know the person, mention how you two met (“I enjoyed meeting you at the marketing conference last week”). If you don’t know the person, say something that explains why you want to connect on a personal level, even if your reasons are purely business-related. You could say, “I’ve enjoyed reading your posts on the X company blog” or “I’ve enjoyed getting to know you on Twitter.”

2. Making it all about you: Let’s say you have your eyes on a certain company and are trying to get a meeting with the CMO to talk about a possible agency relationship. And, lo and behold, you find this CMO on LinkedIn. Here’s the worst things you can say to him in your request to connect: “I’d love to take you out to coffee to talk about how my agency can help your content efforts.” Why is this so bad? It’s all about you.

What you should do instead: In networking, it’s all about “give first, then take.” You need to provide value before you can ask for something. In our previous example, taking the CMO out to coffee is completely self-serving — you just want the chance to pitch your agency to him. Instead, you need to make it clear what’s in it for the CMO. When you request to connect, you could say, “I’ve been following your blog for a couple months and especially like this post. I also have some ideas for how to maximize reach and get more eyeballs on great content like this. Could I take you to coffee and share my ideas with you?”

3. Updating your status too often: LinkedIn is not Facebook or Twitter. If you clog up people’s feeds with constant updates or posts that aren’t valuable, you may lose important connections entirely. How do you know if something would be “valuable” to your network? Think about what you would want to read. Sharing articles that are relevant to your industry would be helpful to others in the same industry. But, constantly posting about your agency’s news is not interesting to someone who is not familiar with your work (and, that’s a little too much of a sales pitch).

What you should do instead: Develop a plan for posting on LinkedIn. You’ve worked hard to connect with the right people, and you want to make sure you’re sending them the right message. You could post thought leadership articles in LinkedIn Pulse to share trends and happenings in your field. Or, ask questions to engage your audience. For example, if you work in SEO, you could ask your connections what they think about Google’s latest algorithm or ask them what their biggest challenge is.

Because it’s so easy to connect with anyone on LinkedIn, people have become more sensitive to the generic invitations from strangers. This is precisely why you must plan out your LinkedIn strategy for networking. Connecting with someone on LinkedIn is about so much more than sending an invitation and growing your network. You have the potential to start a conversation with anyone you want — you just have to do it in the right way.

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