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Career Tips

Linking up on LinkedIn: Follow or friend?

by Brought to you by ACS Career Navigator
April 1, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 11


Hands typing on a keyboard, holding a phone, or holding a tablet surround avatars connected by lines.
Credit: C&EN/Shutterstock

With the plethora of social media platforms in use today, it can be difficult to decide how to best spend your limited time and attention. Social media is a great way to keep up with what is going on in your field and with your colleagues. But it can also consume a huge amount of time. To make the most of your time online, how do you increase the signal and decrease the noise? Knowing how to control the amount of information that comes into your social media news feeds can help prevent information overload.

Find. There are numerous social media platforms, but LinkedIn is a good place to start when you’re searching for career opportunities. Read the news feeds regularly, and pay attention to the people and groups that appear often and which posts you find informative. Conduct searches to identify recognized experts on topics of interest—both in areas you are currently working and in new skills you are keen to explore.

In addition to individuals, organizations have social media presences. Seek organizations for which you might like to work. Hiring managers may notice how long you have followed a company and use that as an indication of how much you really want to work there.

Follow. Follow entities that publish useful information. On LinkedIn, when you follow a person or organization, you see their posts, but they do not see yours. Following is useful when you want to acquire information but not engage in dialogue.

If you are trying to build a following for yourself but don’t want to field a lot of connection requests, you can change the settings on your account so others see “Follow” instead of “Connect” as the default option.

Friend. For people you know and trust, you can move up a level and connect with them on LinkedIn. This is a two-way relationship, in which you each have value to share with the other. Once you connect, you should put in the time and effort to maintain the relationship—build up a conversation (and trust). The best long-term relationships are mutually beneficial and are developed before you actually need something from the other person. This means you can’t add too many people too fast or it will be challenging to keep up with all of them.

The good thing about online connections is that everything is tracked and archived, so you can go back and look at exchanges. The bad news is that everything is tracked and archived, including all your mistakes. Pay attention to spelling, grammar, and the use of slang and abbreviations. Remember that sarcasm and humor can be difficult to achieve online, especially with people you don’t know well. Always carefully read and review what you write before you post or send it.

Like most areas of life, different things work for different people. If a particular social media site or network-building strategy is not working for you, consider moving to a different one that might have a better return on investment. Other social media platforms have similar functionalities to LinkedIn. Once you have found the right platform and people, continue to develop relationships. Focus on what you can give, not what you can get, and your career, and your life, will be better for it.

Get involved in the discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published monthly in C&EN. Send your comments and ideas for topics for future columns to


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