linked in pen
Credit: By Sheila Scarborough on Flickr. Some rights reserved
Using LinkedIn to keep in contact with other professional journalists can help you stay up to date with the industry, connect with contacts and build up an invaluable directory of sources for future use. However, connecting with people you don't know can actually have a detrimental effect on the quality of your LinkedIn experience – one which is designed to be personal to you and your professional work.

LinkedIn itself recommends users shouldn't "invite people you do not know to join your network" but why shouldn't we connect with unfamiliar faces? Surely they will be helpful in the future, right?

Well, unless your usual networking technique is to walk up to a stranger, slip your business card in their pocket, walk away without so much as a hello and hope they call, this tactic isn't going to work online. Follow that line and your LinkedIn network will be full of people that you don't know and more importantly, won't want to help you.

"It's not difficult to cultivate a large number of connections on LinkedIn, but it takes real effort and strategy to build a network of trusted contacts that help to empower your professional life and position you for success," says Darain Faraz, a senior manager at LinkedIn.

By having a smaller group [of contacts] you can filter your feeds and ensure you only see relevant information and postsJosh Saunders, Caters News Agency
"LinkedIn's impact really is as strong as the network you build, so it pays to use the site with a healthy mix of caution and focus. Put simply, LinkedIn is not a numbers game. It's about quality rather than quantity of connections."

By limiting connection requests from strangers and focusing on building a strong peer network, you can develop a personal directory of good quality connections who are valuable to your professional life.

Getting in touch and asking for help

Of course, as journalists we are always searching for sources, contributors and experts who will be able to help in our work – and not always ones we know or are connected to online.

With 380 million members and 97 million people using the site each month, LinkedIn is a fantastic tool to find and contact professionals all over the world. By maintaining a network of trusted sources who know you and your work well, LinkedIn can help you build up a professional reputation online – useful before approaching unknown sources.

Josh Saunders, a features writer at the Caters News Agency, said he uses LinkedIn mainly to check out future employers, employees and people he finds inspirational "to see how they progressed to their specific position".

"A smaller group of LinkedIn contacts ensures quality connections with others and the ability to read targeted posts for people within your professional niche," he told, "as well as bonding through groups that are of importance.

"Additionally, by having a smaller group [of contacts] you can filter your feeds and ensure you only see relevant information and posts. Occasionally I will accept requests from people I don't know to broaden my reach through connections and out of curiosity of others."

I feel it's like having an online CV so it's important to have actually met or know the people you connect withGemma Mullin, Mail Online
When searching for sources on the site, you may have noticed a small '2nd' next to many of the top results. This shows you have at least one shared connection with that individual.

However, it doesn't mean that they have heard of you or your work. The online equivalent of a cold call is unlikely to get a warm response, so ask your mutual contact for an introduction and establish trust.

Your personalised interests are catered for

Your LinkedIn connections have a direct influence on the benefits you get from the site because the people you choose to connect with can have a substantial impact on the content you see on your news feed.

Gemma Mullin, a news reporter at Mail Online, uses LinkedIn to keep connected with the work of her current and past colleagues as well as self-promotion.

Although Gemma sometimes accepts people she hasn't met, she will only connect with them if they share a close connection and are relevant to her specific career interests.

"I feel it's like having an online CV so it's important to have actually met or know the people you connect with," she told, "in much the same way that you wouldn't accept strangers on Facebook. Having people you don't know in your network just undermines the integrity of LinkedIn and the purpose it's supposed to serve."

Clearing up and de-cluttering your connections

We've all been guilty of accepting an invitation from someone we don't know or who is irrelevant to our professional life. The good news is we can remove those people who spam up our news feeds and post irrelevant content.

Simply open up the 'Connections' tab at the top of your LinkedIn profile to reveal your connections directory and use the drop-down menus to filter through your contacts. You can delete them from your account one by one by hovering over the contacts and clicking More > Remove connection, or check multiple left-hand boxes if you are having a big clear out.

It can be tempting to accept every invitation sent your way and grow a large community of contacts, but in order to get the most from LinkedIn and boost your career, it is wise to invest in your personal relationships which will ultimately prove more useful in the long run.

Check out our other tips on how journalists can use LinkedIn and some of the options for publishers looking to reach audiences on the social network. And please do connect to our managing director on LinkedIn.

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