LinkedIn is a very useful tool....
...but probably not in the way you're thinking. Networking, well maybe, though many people seem to think it's facebook for grown-ups and that it's a glorified popularity contest. Never mind the quality of the connections, just have a lot!
...No. More interesting and useful I think is the way people behave on LinkedIn. In the last few weeks I've received a number of Recommendation requests from former co-workers. I'm always happy to write people a (truthful) recommendation but am often surprised by how I'm asked and how things go after I have recommended them.
Firstly, I know LinkedIn makes it easy to blanket-request a whole bunch of people for recommendations but don't use this feature, really. You're approaching someone to say (hopefully) nice things about you, why would you send them the equivalent of a form letter? Are you crazy? This requires at least some personal touch. This recommendation is something you will want on your LinkedIn profile for life so why not take a few minutes to craft an individual request?
Secondly, if you're smart you want to use a recommendation to help you in some way. Random "Joe is a really great guy" recommendations are not going to help you unless what you're looking for is a boost to the ego (back to the Facebook thing again). Usually people want a recommendation because they are looking to change jobs or perhaps careers. If that's the case why not say as much in your request? "Hi Bob, XYZ Corp is going fine but I'm thinking of moving into project management, I'd really appreciate it if you could write a recommendation for me. - Joe."
Already I'm thinking that I should write about Joe's attention to detail and people skills. I'm not going to lie but I'm going to paint him in the best light I reasonably can.
Third, and most interesting of all is what happens AFTER you write people a recommendation. Will they write and thank you for it? Amazingly, unbelievably, inconceivably many people just don't. If I walked up to you in the street and said "Hi, I'd like you to know that I think you're a smart dresser and very good looking" you'd at least have the decency to say "Thank you" before you ran off at top speed.
How dumb are these people? One of the things you learn in life is that if you ask someone to help you and they deliver then they are actually more likely to help you again in the future. If Richard Branson is in a position to help you - ask him, you have nothing to lose and if he helps you he's likely to do it again. People like people that they can help, it makes them feel good.
But you can be pretty sure that if you ask me for help, I help you and you don't show some gratitude then I'm unlikely to be motivated to do so again. In LinkedIn, as in life, this is something that actually weakens your social network. I had the good will to write a recommendation, your lack of acknowledgment is destructive to that good will.
So just remember what your mother told you.
Say thank you.