Regular readers know I'm a fan of using so-called social networks for professional networking. I've used LinkedIn for some time, and two recent huge successes have made me a cheerleader, again. I admit I went through a bit of a dry spell where I did little other than accept connection requests from other people hopping on the bandwagon--in fact I think for the first six months of this year I hardly visited the LinkedIn site. But in the last several weeks the power of connections helped two important clients in really meaningful ways, and I'm hard-pressed to think of any other way I could have been helpful to my clients in the required time frame, had I not had the electronic networking capability of LinkedIn at my disposal.
In the first situation, about three weeks ago a client called with a fairly desperate request--a complicated, multi-party development effort spearheaded by a European nonprofit several years ago had hit a serious roadblock when one of the corporate partners merged with an international firm and the key contact disappeared. My client needed to reach someone at the surviving parent company to try to get the project back on track, before the whole project imploded, which would have been embarrassing to the government of the African nation involved, the nonprofit, a global political consortium, and of course the corporate partner. The client had tried everything to get the attention of the parent, to no avail after many months of effort.
I had no contacts with the parent company, and after a few false starts with contacts that came readily to mind, it occurred to me as a last resort to try LinkedIn. Amazingly, a key employee of a current client, with whom I had worked a little over the years, had a close connection to an employee of the corporate parent whose job title was right on target. Within a few days, after only a little phone tag (the key contact was on vacation) I was able to connect the client to a person high enough in the company to actually make some headway.
In the second case, on the Thursday before Labor Day weekend (a notoriously difficult week to reach ANYONE, as all sane folks are either on vacation, or, alternatively, completely unavailable as they rush around with back to school parenting duties), a client was desperately seeking a lawyer in a midwestern city to protect a family of three small children who were in an extremely precarious situation because of parental substance abuse problems. I started with the usual: any law firm connections through my firm's nationwide partnerships? Nada. Any suggestions from my undergrad and law school networks? Nope. Then a quick search on LinkedIn, focusing on the target city and legal aid for minors, led me indirectly (through another client contact) to a professor at a law school in the key city, who had a strong interest with a related specialty. So on Friday morning right before Labor Day, that professor actually called me back, in large part I think because of the connection through a mutual professional colleague, and by noon on Friday I had a phone number for an excellent lawyer in the right city for my client. She reached the lawyer that afternoon, and all though I can't say that the children lived happily ever after, I know that at least for the weekend, the kids and the client were helped in a very meaningful way.
If you haven't seriously worked on developing a marketing savvy page on LinkedIn, and also developed a list of quality connections, you really should. Your clients will be enormously grateful one day when you use that network to help them out.
So, yes, I am a fan. It's important to take note of the reason LinkedIn worked for me--I have a pretty extensive network in my field, including lawyers and nonlawyers, nearly all of whom know my work and my practice area well. When I reached out for that personal introduction that makes a huge difference in whether a stranger is willing to take the time it requires to send another person in the right direction, in both of these cases my contact jumped right on the task and made the introduction in glowing terms to the person who really could help my client.
My clients were enormously appreciative and thought my ability to solve their problems stemmed from my brilliant abilities as a lawyer--but that's really not what made the day for them. It's nothing about me or my capability as a lawyer, it's about the quality of my network. So many of the people I know and connect with professionally have the same passion for the nonprofit sector as I do, and they want to help, if given the chance. Thanks to the technology of the LinkedIn network, I was able to connect with people who wanted to help me and help my clients. That's pretty amazing.