LinkedIn has been in the news lately. The world’s largest professional network on the Internet, with 100 million members across 200 countries had its IPO last week and within a week it has doubled in value to US$8.5 billion. Not bad for a company with earnings of only US$15 million last year!

Obviously with this many people throwing this sort of money at LinkedIn, it must be a very useful network indeed.

LinkedIn has succeeded because in business, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. One way to make LinkedIn more useful is to make more connections. According to the network effect, social networking sites like LinkedIn become more useful as more people join them and create more connections.

The real power of LinkedIn is in having access to your connections’ connections, and as your number of direct connections grows, your overall network gets exponentially bigger.

For example, because I’m only 3 connections away from Barack Obama and Bill Gates, they are “within my network” and I could send them a message via our shared connections.

So that’s cool.

But is it a good idea to try and get as many connections as possible? Within reason, yes, but it pays to understand what is meant by a ‘connection’. You need to think of a connection as someone you know who would recommend you to other people. Just put yourself in their shoes. If they have never heard of you and they get an invitation from you out of the blue to join their network, what do you think they would do?

Successful people with a bit of a track record and public profile get bombarded with LinkedIn requests all the time, so chances are they will just delete yours, or at least challenge you with the old “Sorry. Do I know you?”. Then what are you going to say?

Believe me, I’ve tried growing my list by getting Linkedin to go through my Gmail contacts and emailing them all, and it hasn’t been that great.

So what is the best way to grow your list of connections?
Just like networking in real life, it’s about fostering relationships over the long term and (gulp) actually caring about other people. Always try to get introduced through a quality person who can position you well.

Then, once you have established a connection, nurture it by keeping in regular contact and offering help, tips, links to interesting industry news, and making introductions on behalf of other quality people.

Just like real life, really. There are no short cuts. Sorry.