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The networking dynamics on LinkedIn are governed by the different levels or degrees of relationship, from the first to the third level and beyond, with special statuses for followers and members who belong to the same group, for example.

Understanding the different levels of relationships and the communication possibilities associated with them will allow you to better enrich your network and avoid some of the pitfalls that can cause you to lose great business opportunities.

LeadIn, the expert in automated prospecting on LinkedIn, offers a practical guide to mastering relationship levels on LinkedIn, special statuses and the place of third-level relationships in your networking and prospecting efforts. We will conclude this paper with a FAQ on your direct and indirect relationship circle on LinkedIn.

What is a LinkedIn contact?

In so-called “generalist” social networks, all users are generally divided between acquaintances (the term differs according to the vocabulary of each network) and others, sometimes with the possibility of creating a list of close friends, which is mostly similar to a personalized mailing list.

Since LinkedIn is a professional social network, the segmentation of users and their relationships to each other are organized differently.

Objective To reflect the levels of real networking on the social network, and to ensure that the LinkedIn user’s professional circle quickly aligns with the evolutions of their real professional network.

On LinkedIn, the basis of connection is the “contact”. As Microsoft’s social network explains, the contact is ” a professional you know personally and trust on a professional level “.

In short, all the LinkedIn users you know in real life are your contacts.

Depending on the type of your LinkedIn subscription and the contact’s relationship level, you can send “InMails” and/or connection invitations to contacts who are not part of your top-level relationships.

So much for “contact” in the LinkedIn sense. But what’s the difference with a LinkedIn “relationship”?

What is a LinkedIn relationship?

On LinkedIn, the term “contact” is generic, in that it does not specifically indicate the degree of connection. Instead, social dynamics on LinkedIn are organized on the basis of a three-level system of professional relationship circles.

You may have already noticed that a number (1st,2nd,3rd) is annotated next to the name of the profiles you visit on LinkedIn. This is a reference to the degree or level of your relationship with that person.

A large part of the functionalities and actions of prospecting (commercial and recruitment), networking and social selling is based on this system. It is therefore crucial to understand the differences between the levels of this circle of professional relationships.

Let’s start by defining the term “relationship” on LinkedIn. This is simply your extended network, i.e. the people you are directly connected to, the people who are connected to them (but not to you), and finally the people who are connected to them (but not to you).

The definition becomes much clearer when you segment the three relational levels of LinkedIn:

  • The first level relationship (mention “1st” next to the name of the visited profile). This first circle of contacts includes all the people you are directly connected to on LinkedIn. Remember that unlike Instagram, for example, LinkedIn systematically applies reciprocity. By accepting an invitation, the user becomes a member of the professional network of the person who requested the connection, and the latter automatically becomes a member of the professional network of the user who is the subject of the invitation. Each LinkedIn member can have up to 30,000 top-level connections.
  • The second level relationship (mention “2nd” next to the name of the visited profile). This second relationship circle includes all the people connected to your direct, or first-level, relationships, but who are not connected to you. If we make an analogy with Facebook (which also applies the concept of systematic reciprocity), we are talking about “friends of friends”. Making second-level relationships become first-level relationships will be a matter of sending an invitation or accepting one, as appropriate. Please note: LinkedIn allows you to communicate with your second-level connections without going through the “invitation” box via InMail, provided you are a premium member.
  • The third level relationship (“3rd” next to the name of the visited profile). This is the last professional relationship circle on LinkedIn. These are the users connected to your second-level relationships. If we use our Facebook analogy, we are talking about “friends of friends of friends”. How do you deal with third-level relationships in your prospecting and networking efforts? We will answer this question in the next section.
  • Followers. These are LinkedIn members who follow you but are not necessarily part of your first-degree connections. They can see your posts and articles, but you will not see their content. Note: you are automatically a follower of your first degree relations. The follower concept allows opinion leaders and professionals who wish to practice Thought Leadership to expand their audience without necessarily “polluting” their network with professionals they don’t know.
  • Users who are members of a common group. Users who follow the same LinkedIn groups as you are part of your network. You can send them a message directly on the common groups (without going through the InMail). This is an excellent opportunity to enrich your first-level relationships with quality contacts, as long as you are sure to share at least one common interest.
  • LinkedIn members outside the network. These are LinkedIn members who do not fall into any of the categories listed above. Some profile fields of members who are not part of your network will not be visible to you, such as name, position, etc. You cannot contact members who are not on your network, even via InMail. LinkedIn believes that these people are too far from your network, so you have no valid reason to interact with them.

Your presence on LinkedIn is therefore governed by this organization into professional relationship circles, in a logic similar to that of the funnel or Funnel Marketing. You must therefore:

  • Densify quality exchanges with your first-level relationships to create business opportunities;
  • Explore your second-level relationships to identify those who can become part of your first professional circle;
  • Maximize the number of your followers to maintain your notoriety and spread your expertise, while boosting the organic visibility of your publications;

What about your third-level relationships and members who are not part of your network? Answer in the following.

3rd level relationships on LinkedIn: what opportunities?

The first rule of thumb to keep in mind is that the size of your professional network on LinkedIn is not necessarily a relevant performance indicator.

In fact, you can very well reach the maximum limit with 30,000 first-level contacts without your network being a source of business or professional opportunities.

The size of your network only makes sense if your networking efforts are guided by consistent, personalized targeting that is in line with your business.

Mathematically, it is logical to prospect for3rd level relationships

Many professionals are on a frantic quest to connect directly with their3rd level relationships. This is what we call “burning the bridges”!

Of course, we understand the mathematical logic. Going after a third-level relationship to transform it into a first-level relationship means gaining a contact in your first circle, but it also and above all means feeding your network with all of its relations, “the friends of this new friend”.

On a strictly mathematical level, the strategy is legitimate. It is even the shortest way to build up your network in the short term. Now, this networking approach has several drawbacks when confronted with the reality of the field.

The disadvantages of prospecting for3rd level relationships

Before you start prospecting all over your third-level relationships, ask yourself if this approach is appropriate. Here are some things to think about to make an informed choice;

  • The likelihood of a third-level relationship accepting your invitation is low, especially if they are a busy decision-maker, and therefore a prospect with high sales potential.
  • A third-level relationship that declines your invitation will have had a negative first experience with your profile. Even if this member eventually becomes a second-level relationship, they may remember that you tried to skip steps by prospecting them a little too frontally.
  • Taking an offensive approach that ignores second-level relationships can cause you to lose high-potential members. An analogy can be made here with Account-Based Marketing (ABM), the approach that consists of launching ultra-personalized prospecting programs for a handful of accounts with very high sales potential. Every email, every appointment and every piece of content sent must be flawless so as not to ruin these strategic accounts over time. This problem is even more serious if you are in a niche industry where large accounts are rare.
  • The approach of allocating time, resources and energy to prospecting for third-level relationships is neither optimal nor logical. In effect, you have a pool of second-level relationships with whom you share more knowledge, interests and therefore collaboration opportunities.
  • When prospecting for second-level relationships, it is customary to mention the person you have in common on your respective networks in the introduction message. This technique avoids the coldness of the approach and avoids a possible outcry from the recipient, with an inevitable better response rate. This argument is not valid when we are trying to reach a third level relationship.

When should you prospect your third-level relationships?

Sometimes your LinkedIn network may not be in line with your “real” network.

This is especially true for professionals who travel a lot, who participate in many events around the world or who evolve in sectors that are not necessarily very inclined towards digital, such as industry, mining, agriculture, etc.

Here are some examples of when it is perfectly acceptable to send an invitation or message to a third-level relationship:

  • You participated in an event that was not attended by the professionals in your network, and you met new people who are not necessarily in your usual social circle. If you have interacted with attendees in situ enough that they can recognize you by name, photo and the company you represented at the event, you can send them an invitation even if they are third degree relationships. Be sure to send them a message mentioning your meeting and the topic of your discussion.
  • You have found a person you knew during your studies, an internship, training, etc. If your “professional” paths have never crossed, there is a good chance that this person is part of your third circle of acquaintances. You can send her an invitation with a personalized message.
  • It is also possible to go for a third level relationship if you think you have a strong added value to bring to them, such as an exceptional offer, an expertise that the person is actively looking for, an interesting position, etc.
  • You can also send an invitation to a third-level relationship if you were able to interact with the person in the comments section of a post.

Outside of these scenarios, it is generally advisable to focus on your second-level relationships with scenario-based LinkedIn campaigns and automation loops.

FAQ: Relationship levels on LinkedIn

What are the different levels of relationships on LinkedIn?

LinkedIn distinguishes three levels of relationships that govern networking dynamics:

  • First level relationship: this is your first circle of relationships. It consists of the people you are directly connected to on LinkedIn;
  • Second level relationship: this second relationship circle includes people connected to your direct relationships (but not to you). They are, in a way, “your friends’ friends”, if we make the analogy with Facebook;
  • Third level relationship: this is your last relationship circle on LinkedIn. It is composed of people connected to your second level relationships.

What’s beyond third-level relationships?

LinkedIn also distinguishes special statuses among users who are not part of your direct (1st) or indirect (2nd and3rd) relationship circle:

  • Followers: these are members who follow you on LinkedIn but are not part of your first degree relations. They can view your publications.
  • Users who are members of a common group. To push its groups, LinkedIn allows people who are part of the same group to exchange. Groups are an excellent source of future first-degree relationships and therefore of business opportunities;
  • LinkedIn members outside the network. These are LinkedIn users who are not part of your connections (1st,2nd and3rd level) and who do not fall into any of the categories listed above. In fact, LinkedIn makes some of the identifying information on these profiles invisible because it believes that you have no valid reason to interact with people.

Should you prospect your third level relationships?

Keep in mind that the size of your professional network is not necessarily a relevant performance indicator. Indeed, what’s the point of reaching the 30,000 first-degree relationship limit if this audience does not generate business opportunities?

The size of your professional network only makes sense if your networking has been done in a targeted way. Overall, it is advisable to maintain your first-level relationships and to seek out your second-level relationships, since the probability of conversion is greater.

What are the drawbacks to prospecting for third-level relationships?

Allocating time and resources to third-level relationships has some drawbacks:

  • Your invitation (or message) may seem daring, inappropriate or too “pushy”;
  • A third-level relationship that ignores or rejects your invitation will have had a negative first experience with your profile, which may work against you if you come to interact with that person in the near future;
  • When prospecting for second-level relationships, it is customary to mention the relationship you have in common. This technique avoids the cold approach and reassures the recipient. You can’t rely on this argument when targeting third-level relationships.