This post originally appeared on The Daily Muse.
Imagine you were at a networking event, and you spot someone you don’t know but would love to. Maybe she has your dream job, or maybe he runs a great business that you’d like to model yours after.
Would you ever walk up to this person and blurt out a question or request for his or her time, sans context, gratitude, and even introductions?
Probably not—but it happens all the time on LinkedIn.
The amazing thing about LinkedIn is that it allows you to connect one-on-one with nearly anyone in the world. But I can’t tell you how many people I see squandering this opportunity by sending brief or automated messages that don’t give people any meaningful reason to connect—à la “Can you help me?” or “I’d like to connect with you on LinkedIn.” It’s lazy, it’s unprofessional, and it’s highly unlikely to get a response.
Spend a few more minutes crafting a personalized note, and you’re much more likely to make the connections you’re looking for. Try these four steps to writing a LinkedIn message that will get opened.
Step 1: Start with a Specific Title
Before you write the message, ask yourself: How do I know this person, and why am I reaching out to him or her? Is this someone you know and need advice from? Someone you share a contact with and want to know more about? A stranger with whom you’re hoping to connect for the first time?
Use that information, then, to craft as specific a subject line as possible: “Following Up from Last Night’s Event” is more likely to be read than “Following Up.” “Fellow Teacher Interested in Urban Education Reform” is better than “Loved Your Speech.” “Mutual Contact?” Don’t even think about it.
Earlier this year, I used LinkedIn InMail to ask a total stranger for professional advice. I knew that titling my message “Hello” would be a waste of a first impression, so I went with “Fellow Daily Muse Contributor Seeking Advice.”
Step 2: Introduce Yourself
When you see someone you don’t know well but are hoping to speak with, you usually give him or her a one sentence background: “I’m Sara—we met at the 10th anniversary event” or “I’m Sara, and I loved your latest blog on climate change.”
Don’t skip this step on LinkedIn! You should never assume your contact will just click on over to your profile to learn about you or see how you’re connected—be proactive (and respectful of the other person’s time) and write a quick intro.
The first paragraph of my InMail, for example, read, “My name is Sara McCord and I am a fellow contributing writer for The Daily Muse. I very much enjoyed [the latest piece she had written].”
Whether you use this sentence to include your mutual contact, where you’ve met, or your shared background, tailoring your intro for the specific contact shows that you’re serious about connecting with him or her.
Step 3: Get to Why You’re Writing—and Fast
When it comes to emails, the shorter the better. People are time-crunched, and you can lose their interest just as quickly as you got it if you segue from a pithy intro into a drawn-out monologue of why you should be connected or a lengthy recitation of your resume.
Keep this in mind as you craft your second paragraph, the meat of your message. Quickly dive in to why you’re writing—and “just to be connected” doesn’t count. Why do you want to be connected? Do you love this person’s updates or products? Do you want to book him to speak at an event or invite her to guest post on your site? Do you want to ask this person questions about her company or background?
Let that topic sentence guide a paragraph (only one!) where you get into a few details: e.g., “I’m reaching out because I need advice. I’m in the midst of _______ and have some questions about ______.”
An important note, though: Make sure your ask is commensurate with your relationship. There’s a big difference between asking someone you don’t know if she’d be willing to spend 10 minutes on the phone with you talking about the interview process at her company and asking her to put in a good word for you with the CEO.
Step 4: Wrap it Up and Say Thank You
The last two lines of the message are your closing moment—think the “I look forward to hearing from you” at the end of the interview. You want to be gracious, but also make sure it’s clear what you’re asking for.
Try this: “All this to say, might you have time to [provide feedback, write a recommendation, make an introduction, whatever]? I greatly appreciate your time and expertise.” Remember, you’re asking a favor of someone you presumably don’t know well enough to call or email, so this thank-you is crucial.
These same strategies work if you’re requesting to add someone on LinkedIn—just shorten up the wording in each step. It takes just a couple minutes more than sending that automatic message, and it’s much more likely to get results.