I wrote a personal note to all my LinkedIn connections. Again.
Eight years ago, at the beginning of 2015, I made a New Year’s resolution to write a personal note to every one of my LinkedIn contacts.
Fast forward to one year ago, January 2022. I realized it had been seven years since the original experiment and I thought, “You know, John, you’ve made a lot of new professional connections since then…maybe you should do it again?”
So I did! Over the past 12 months, I wrote a note to each person that I’d “Linked-in” with over the previous seven years, since the original resolution.
Here are the details and what I learned this time around:
How many people did you write?
For the original resolution back in 2015, I wrote to 1,109 people. In 2022, I decided to write everybody that I’d connected with SINCE then — 591 new connections.
(I still love you long-time-connections! But the full list of everybody would have killed me.)
Whereas I tackled the list alphabetically in the original, this time I went in chronological order from the date of connection, from 2015 to 2022. I’m glad I did; it was like walking through “strata” of my career over the past seven ears. (“These are all the people I met during that Facebook gig!” “These are all my colleagues from my Duncan Channon run!”)
How long did it take?
Longer than I thought.
Clearly, I’d given myself selective amnesia from the last go-around because I’d forgotten how diligent one needs to be with a 12-month resolution.
And even though it was fewer names than the original, I’m busier than I was seven years ago as I work to establish and grow Agency SOS. I have less time for “side projects” so it was harder to carve out the dedicated time each week.
Based on my back-of-the-envelope math, I knew I had to write 11 emails a week and I pretty much stuck to that schedule. I wrote my first one on January 7…and my last one on December 30, just under the wire!
You just copied and pasted the same message over and over again, right?
I really tried not to.
There was definitely a structure to the note and some common language got re-used. EARLY on — last January, in one of my earliest emails — I did a copy-and-paste thing and included the wrong person’s name in an email and the recipient BUSTED ME. 😂 As he should have! So it was a good early lesson not to take shortcuts.
I legit tried to craft each one for the person I was writing to.
It came down to remembering WHY I made the resolution in the first place. If it was just a gimmick to check everybody off the list so that I could write THIS recap, then copy-and-paste away and get through it as fast as possible, right?
But the intent was to re-capture something I’d discovered during the original experiment: the real value was spending time THINKING about the person I was writing to. Remembering the connection. Reflecting on the time we spent working together. Piecing together the last time we spoke and writing a letter that filled in the gaps.
That required a more personalized approach.
What about all the randos that you’re connected to?
I am a LinkedIn purist and only “Link-in” with people with whom I’ve actually worked. It makes my LI network infinitely more valuable to me as I have a personal connection to everybody in it.
(OK…over the years, I also accepted connection requests from recruiters, some of which I’ve never actually spoken to. But they’re the rare exception. A fella has to feed his family, y’all…you never know!)
For those of you who are “followers” of my LinkedIn account but not connections, I do appreciate you! But the practice of only connecting with folks with whom I’ve had an actual work experience is such a long-established thing, I can’t break it now!
What was in your note? Was it just a sales pitch for your new agency?
Ew. Yuck. No.
Again, I know these people. That’s the other benefit of only connecting with people you’ve actually worked with; it makes you think twice about adopting the creepier, spammier LinkedIn moves.
If I hadn’t spoken to them since I opened the agency, I mentioned what I’ve been up to and shared some behind-the-scenes tidbits. But I tried to tread lightly on that stuff.
The objective was to reach out and reconnect. Find out what THEY have been up to. Reminisce a bit about our time together. Share a personal update beyond the professional.
How many people replied?
I got asked this question a lot back in 2016, so I kept track this time! 44% of people replied. And the replies were LOVELY. Kind memories of our work together, updates about their career and life and families, and a chance to rekindle the connection.
Some people told me, “this is the best LinkedIn DM I’ve ever gotten.” But that bar is pretty LOW, people. 😀
If you didn’t write back, that’s A-OK, too! There was no obligation. And if you did write back…and I didn’t reply to your reply…well, there’s a rabbit-hole quality to the resolution and if I reply to the replies and then YOU reply to my reply to the reply…I’d spend every waking hour on LinkedIn.
What was different this time?
As I mentioned above, my life is different in 2022 than it was in 2015. Full-time-freelancer John had a bit more time and space to write than small-business-owner John.
And WORK itself is pretty different now, too, isn’t it? Back in 2015, we still had these things called “offices” and “in-person meetings” and “daily commutes.”
In post-pandemic work land, I pretty much spend all day, every day in front of my computer. You would think it would make it easier to pop over to another tab and write, but in a lot of ways it was more difficult. Because it all just blurs together into a soup of computer-to-dos.
The character of our working relationships has changed a lot in the last three years, too.
My shared history with professional connections used to include things like late-night pitch-prep sessions and business travel and on-location productions and days in the edit room and social gatherings. We shared real-life experiences that I could recall and recount in my emails.
For the connections from recent years, I’ve met some great people, but it was a lot more, “It’s been good getting to know you on Zoom” and “think of all those Google decks we’ve made together.” It ain’t quite the same, is it?
What kind of a LinkedIn post would this be if it didn’t get boiled down to a click-bait-y “3 lessons??!” 😉
First, all the lessons from the original still apply: Real connection trumps “the project.” People are much more than their professional title. Spending time with someone matters. And careers are a constantly evolving thing.
But here are three more that I felt more acutely over the last 12 months:
1. Say it.
I’m a little older now, so I have a probably have a little less time left on the clock. My advice? If there’s something you want to say to somebody, you should probably say it. Why wait?
One of the best things about this resolution is to be able to pop into somebody’s inbox and tell them what they meant to me, even if it was years ago. Lots of these people had a profound impact on my career and my life. Expressing gratitude to the people who helped you along the way feels great, for both you and the recipient.
2. From professional to personal.
The workplace has gone through an interesting change over the last few years. There has been a push for employees to “bring their whole selves to work” AND, simultaneously, a demand for greater work-life balance. You are NOT your job and your co-workers are NOT family; but that doesn’t mean they’re not important people in your life.
The act of writing to my connections, most of whom I no longer with with, makes the communication less about a job-related relationship and more about our personal connection. I can share things that are happening beyond my professional life and many of the replies did the same.
People shared their personal stories about their career and families and current passions. Some sad, some joyful, some hopeful. It was touching and inspiring to get a glimpse into so many rich, complicated lives.
3. Ritual matters.
Did I WANT to write every week? Not always. But there are rewards to making a commitment and sticking with it, even when it’s a pain in the rear. Relationships take work and the ritual of prioritizing this effort paid off in the end.
Writing all your LinkedIn connections may sound like an insane ritual to you. (Honestly, even though I’ve done it twice now, it still sounds a little nutty to me, too.) But I highly recommend committing to SOMETHING this year and working the weekly habit into your routine. You’ll be glad you did.
Happy New Year!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Illustration Credit: I commissioned the art above from the same illustrator on Fiverr who did the original illustration seven years ago.