Not Everyone Is A Prospect

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The problem and the peril of LinkedIn (and other social media networks).

Let’s get this out of the way: I’m a massive fan of LinkedIn. That’s not just post-multi-billion-dollar Microsoft acquisition talk. I’m one of the earlier users/adopters, and thought that out of all of the emerging social media channels in the early 2000s, that the LinkedIn business model was sound, and that their focus on business professionals was a distinct path. Case in point, here’s an article I wrote in 2007: Personal Brand Audit – How To Maximize Your Ego Surf“I think LinkedIn is the dark horse of online social networks for professionals. It is amazing, and with some simple tweaks, I think it could easily become the leader.” 

It’s not LinkedIn… it’s you.

The problem with LinkedIn (and this happens on Facebook as well), is that people (you and me) feel that if someone is a connection that we have permission to put in front of them whatever we want. The bigger problem with LinkedIn (and this happens on Facebook as well), is that people (you and me) feel that even if we’re not connected, that we have permission to put in front of others whatever we want. We don’t. Well, that’s not true. You can, but it’s a waste. The catchall for this activity is “spam,” but it runs deeper and its more insidious (but let’s call them “spammers” for the sake of clarity between them and us). Spammers don’t just waste our time, they steal our attention… and if all you have is time… then all you have is attention. Your time and attention is not a renewable resource, but spammers don’t care. They need as many people as possible seeing their message, because the small percentage of those who fall for it (or, legitimately need what they’re selling – be it promotional items, ink toner, lead generation, coaching, HR recruitment services, etc…) makes it worth it to just spray that massage and pray. What if these people realized the reality is that not everyone is their prospect?

That’s a big concept to think on: not everyone is a prospect.

What if, like in any real-life networking situation, you have to adjust every introduction for every person that you meet?. What if, like in any real-life networking situation, you realize that not everyone you meet is a potential customer? In fact, most people that you meet are not prospects. LinkedIn, Facebook and the myriad of other ways that we can connect (and email is included in this list) is a privilege. This concept really hit home while reading Seth Godin’s latest book, This Is Marketing:

“Real permission is different from presumed or legalistic permission. Just because you somehow get my email address doesn’t mean you have permission to use it. Just because I don’t complain doesn’t mean you have permission. Just because it’s in the fine print of your privacy policy doesn’t mean it’s permission either. Real permission works like this: If you stop showing up, people are concerned. They ask where you went… (it’s) the privilege of talking to who would miss you if you were gone.”

The nay-sayers (spammers) will laugh at this.

To them, their system works. They can sell their platform or service to automate the prospecting promise. They can book you 200%!!! more meetings… every week! It’s enticing. But all they’re really doing is spamming everyone and anyone. What would happen if everyone were not perceived by these spammers as a prospect? Quick guess: LinkedIn (and other social media networks) would be so much more valuable, interesting and engaging. Instead, when I get an email request from someone on LinkedIn, I’m leery to even open it up (I’m sure you are as well). Can LinkedIn change things up? Sure, but I fret that the spammers will just find another loophole to do their annoying bidding. What we can all do is approach things as Seth Godin describes: “delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who want them.” That approach may be too optimistic, but we can definitely aim for people who we have, at least, been vetted and may be interested in our work. We can also approach these real prospects with some humility, empathy and – most importantly – value (for them… not for you).

Not everyone is your prospect. Not everyone wants your message. Don’t ruin the entire system by thinking otherwise.