Managing LinkedIn Connections Using Tags

I’ve been in hypernetworking mode, having met over 40 people in the past two weeks, with two more networking events this week still to go. I now have over 250 contacts in LinkedIn. Looking through my connections, some I can’t even remember meeting. Others I had a good initial connection with, but they got lost in a pile of business cards and I unintentionally let the relationship fade away.

Figuring out how to manage these connections has been a problem. Then last week I discovered the notes and tags options in the right-hand column of each of my contacts. Now I’m taking notes about each person I meet so I remember them in the future, and tagging them using a new system to help me remember and manage my relationship with them.

Why Tags?

Tags are useful for three reasons:

  • Filtering
    Tags can be used to filter your contacts in the My Connections address book so you can quickly review only contacts with a certain tag.
  • Messaging
    Messages can be sent to all your contacts with a specific tag. Or you can use the All and None selection options to create a selection of people to send a message to (e.g.: all contacts tagged “boston” and “new york” but not “vendors”).
  • Identification
    Tags appear in the right-hand column when viewing a contact, giving you a quick way to remind yourself of how you know the person.

Tag Basics

A couple things about the LinkedIn tag system. A tag is any bit of text you want to use to identify a person. Tags can be up to 100 characters and can only contain letters, numbers, spaces and periods.

Any contact can be tagged. If you have a paid membership and have access to the Profile Organizer, then anyone in LinkedIn can be tagged, whether they are a contact or not. Regardless of who you tag, your tags remain private to you, so only you can see them.

There are five default tags: classmates, friends, partners, colleagues and group members. These tags get automatically assigned if you add a contact to your network without their e-mail address, based on how you indicate you know the person. It appears you can delete these default tags if you want, though I haven’t done this.

For any connection, you can specify one or more tags to associate with that person, or remove tags previously associated with that person. This includes the automatically assigned default tags.

In My Connections, any contacts that have no tags are placed in the special untagged tag, allowing you to quickly filter and see who you haven’t tagged yet. You can delete tags using the Manage link next to the Tags heading in the leftmost column of My Connections. Right now you can’t rename tags. But see the Tag Tricks section at the end of this article for a workaround.

My System

I want to become more conscious in my networking and relationship building. To me, this means several things:

  • Build a few strong relationships
    People with similar values, smart people who challenge and sharpen my thinking, and people who align with my long-term business interests are relationships I want to develop.
  • Maintain a large set of weak relationships
    People who I may want to develop relationships with in the future, who seem generally nice or interesting or who are well-connected are useful acquaintance-level relationships to maintain.
  • Remember people
    I hate not remembering who someone is. It feels so impersonal. While I’d love to be the type of person who remembers everyone’s details by heart, that just isn’t me. So I need technological crutches to maintain that personal connection with my weak relationships.
  • Help people connect to others
    As with any good network, at any given point in time, most of my relationships are useless to me personally. I’m not a big advocate for selfish networking, nor do I think it works well. Yet I don’t like making blind introductions between people. Thus, knowing where I met someone, what I thought of them and what their needs are allows me to make better introductions.

To make it easier to tag people, I answer six questions, each with its own set of tags (in italics below the question):

  • Where did we meet?
    Met [major city | event | type of event]
    Where we met often triggers my memory of the person. It also keeps track of people who used to be in one city, but moved to another city. I’m still working this one out. If someone is connected to multiple cities, I sometimes tag them with each city, even if we didn’t meet there.
  • How did we meet?
    By [In-Person | Phone | E-mail | Web]
    Face-to-face meetings create a stronger bond than phone or e-mail conversations. “Web” means we haven’t even exchanged e-mails—only interacted on LinkedIn or some other web site.
  • How do I want to manage the relationship?
    To [Meet | Build | Maintain | Expand | Reconnect]
    Keeping track of how I want to build relationships with each person is key. My goal here is to review anyone tagged Build, Expand or Reconnect regularly to grow the relationship.
  • What type of relationship do we have?
    As [Vendor | Customer | Prospect | Colleague | Biz Friend | Personal Friend | Relative]
    The type of relationship we have. I don’t have a specific use for this yet, but imagine I might use it in the future to send out messages or ask questions of specific relationship types.
  • How strong is the relationship?
    Is [1 Casual Weak | 2 Casual Strong | 3 Established | 4 Long or Deep | 5 Long and Deep]
    To use as a prioritization when working on my relationships. I’d rather spend time expanding an established relationship than a relationship that was casually weak. Also, for my casual relationships, such as those people I meet at a single networking event, I want to remember if I had a strong connection with the person or a weak one.
  • What circumstances surrounded the meeting?
    Via [Referral | Incoming]
    Was the person referred to me from someone else? Or did the person initiate contact with me through a directed effort, like introducing themselves directly on LinkedIn?

Some examples of how I plan to use this system:

  • Someone at Business of Software who I had a great conversation with
    My tags would be: Met BOS2010, By In-Person, To Build, Is 2 Casual Strong
  • Someone I see around Boston a lot, but don’t know too well
    My tags would be: Met Boston, By In-Person, To Maintain, Is 1 Casual Weak
  • Someone interesting who introduced themselves on LinkedIn
    My tags would be: By Web, To Meet, Via Incoming
  • An old college friend
    My tags would be: As Personal Friend, By In-Person, As 4 Long or Deep

One key for me in maintaining the system will be not needing to tag everyone with everything. I just need to tag the key information about a person so I can look them over.

The added benefit of creating a tag system like this is that I’ll be able to track my networking progress over time, since LinkedIn provides summary statistics on each tag in the Filter pane. Analyzing how I build and maintain my relationships may help me improve my networking.

Tag Tricks

Two quick tricks I learned when creating tags that may be useful to use: renaming and prioritizing.

Rename Tags

If you want to rename a tag, go to My Connections and do the following. First, if you have any contacts listed in the third selection column, press the Clear link at the top of the column to clear your selection. If you have none selected, this link won’t appear.

Next, filter your connections by selecting the tag underneath the Tags filter in the first column. Press the All link at the top of the column to add all contacts with this tag to your selection. You should see these contacts listed in the third selection column.

Press the “Edit tags” link in the selection column. Create a new tag under the new name by typing the name and pressing the + button. Now, scroll through the list and find the old name of your tag and uncheck it. Press Save.

All of your connections should now be tagged under the new tag name. Press Manage next to the Tags heading to delete the old tag name.

Prioritize Tags

LinkedIn doesn’t let you specify the sort order of tags. In My Connections underneath the Tags filter, they are sorted based on the number of connections associated with each tag. When tagging a new user, the tags are sorted alphabetically.

An alphabetical sort works if you have only a few tags. But the tag editing box is small and I’m using lots of tags. I need a way to sort my higher priority tags to the top. I’ve discovered that if you prefix your tag with a period, it sorts to the top. This allows you to separate your custom tags from the default tags provided by LinkedIn, or even creating different priorities of tags by using multiple periods.

Do You Know Other Tricks?

I intend to be more conscious about the relationships I’m building and I’m hoping this system of tagging people in LinkedIn can help. How do you manage your contacts in LinkedIn or other systems? Are there any tricks or systems that have proved useful to you? Describe them in the comments below. I’m eager to learn more. Thanks for listening.




16 comments

  1. Jonathan says:

    Dude, you ARE a software developer. A relationship taxonomy!! :)

    I wish LinkedIn did tags for a cheaper price. I don’t need the massive lead-gen that LI charges for but I’d love to use tags. Ah, such is life.

    I wonder if, as you continue tagging, you might struggle between “too complex” and “too simple”.. Let us know!

  2. Mark Clark says:

    Great information….thanks.

    Do you know how to export Names and Emails by Group?

    Mark

    1. trevor says:

      Mark: I don’t know of an easy way to export names & e-mails by group.

      The long way would be to go into each of your groups, click on the Members tab, click into each member you are connected to and give them a tag for that group. Then you can go into your connections list, filter by that tag, select all the contacts that come up and export.

      Regardless, you won’t be able to export contacts who you are not directly connected to. So this only applies to 1st degree contacts within each group.

  3. Wendy Soucie says:

    Trevor,
    I really like the structure you have put to your tagging. The engineer in me loves the process.However, I am on Johnathan’s side and always considering use of social media without the paid version. I do this by work arounds such as having larger networks or using some different tools. Although I like structure and your process and taxonomy intrigue me, how does it affect your time spent per contact just to categorize them?

    The other thing is with my larger network – going back in and tagging doesn’t pay for those contacts already in my network. I have used another tool to instead gather those LI contacts and then work to build relationships without the distraction of the social site itself – Xeeme. For instance, I put all the Wisconsin people who are product managers in a group to follow on the topic of social product development. I may import them one at a time, or in lager groups, but once there, I can better see their social footprint and move towards my actual goal which is not just connecting, but doing business with they and their company.

    I appreciate your detailed post and will share within my Social Media Breakfast Madison group as I know this question has come up and yours is a great answer.

    Wendy
    xeeme.com/wendysoucie

    1. trevor says:

      On time spent per contact, it’s minimal. Whenever I send or accept an invitation, I immediately tag the person. I also use the LinkedIn notes feature to write a note with details on how I met the person, key things to remember, etc. This takes a minute or two per person.

      While I think the notes feature requires a paid LinkedIn subscription, the tags do not. And the tags do help me to filter when reviewing contacts to reach out to when I travel to a city, or to remind me of key relationships I want to build.

      I did not go back and add all the tags for old contacts when I started this system. I think I might have updated location and relationship strength, just so I can filter by those. I do update my tags when I happen across a profile for other reasons.

      Xeeme looks interesting. For now, I’m using this web site as the hub of my online networking. I’m planning to add a list of places people can connect to me to the main toolbar. For those without a dedicated web site, Xeeme might be a good solution. Though I wish they had a better web designer. Their graphic design comes off amateurish. But the concept looks great. Thanks for mentioning it.

  4. Joanne says:

    I love this system and am so very happy to have found this post. I have already been using the tagging feature but never knew about the notes feature. The biggest struggle I’ve had is keeping notes on the dialogue I’ve had with my connections and the notes tool will solve that problem. Thanks!

  5. Holly @ Carousel Consulting says:

    Thanks SO much for this valuable post! I haven’t kept up with my LinkedIn tags, and as a result I have some people in the 1 Casual Weak category that I can’t remember where I met them. I need to review my full list of contacts before it expands any more. Thanks again!

  6. jean-baptiste patoir says:

    I have reviewed the interesting exchange on the tags issue for managing the Linkedin contacts’ data. After 2 empty answers from Linkedin support team, my conclusion is that it seems strange that such established organisation [linkedin] didn’t pay attention to the basic needs of its members, keeping in mind that this profile of network has undoubtedly targeted a population of professionals very concerned by “how managing and optimising” their contacts.

    May we think seriously that their management have forgotten that point? Interesting to learn from whom linkedin gets its principal revenues: from their numerous free of charge members? or instead from the minority of paying members who have access at a minimal cost to data for their marketing strategy?

    Here again money versus ethics.

  7. Emma says:

    Hi,

    Thanks for this post it is just what I needed! Being new to Linkedin this information was great as not just a ‘how to’ but ‘why wouldn’t you’ guide. I have tested it and happily I made it work :-), thanks again

  8. Anthony says:

    I also use tags to track who I have invited for a get to know you relationship building call. I track invited, accepted, completed and declined. I then use the free crm app vestro to score my relationship.

    1. trevor says:

      Excellent idea. I’ll have to work these tags into my system. I just got back from New York where I set up three meetings via LinkedIn that’d qualify for these tags.

  9. E Reverent says:

    I am much encouraged by your post which seems to suggest LinkedIn tags can be used in combination with each other through boolean operators AND, OR, NOT.

    Your example is: all contacts tagged “boston” and “new york” but not “vendors”. You also have:
    “Someone at Business of Software who I had a great conversation with
    My tags would be: Met BOS2010, By In-Person, To Build, Is 2 Casual Strong”, which requires the AND combination of 4 tags.

    I cannot find the way to do this. Can you elaborate? thanks a lot.

    1. trevor says:

      Tags apply to individual profiles, but you can search for a group of profiles using those tags.

      At the profile level, each profile can have multiple tags. So using your boolean operators, this would always be an AND combination. I would tag someone as “Met BOS2010″ AND “By In-Person” AND “To Build” AND “Is 2 Casual Strong”.

      Within the Connection Manager (under Contacts > Connections in the current menu structure), you can select multiple profiles to either send a message to or to modify their tags. In this case, you can apply AND, OR or NOT operations using the select All and None links above the list of contacts.

      So, say you wanted to select all contacts tagged “Boston” and “New York”, but exclude “Vendors”. Open up Connection Manager, select the tag “.Met Boston” on the left-hand side. Once the contacts are visible, press the select “All” link above the list of contacts. You should see the contacts you’ve selected in the third column. Next select the tag “.Met New York” in the first column and again press the “All” link again. These new contacts should be added. Finally, select “.Vendors” and after the contacts are displayed, click the select “None” link. This will remove all vendors from your selection.

      The one caveat here is that the Connection Manager has now moved to a paged view for the second column and the “All” or “None” select links only apply to the contacts that are visible on that page. So if you have more than 10 contacts in a given category, you have to go through and press the select link for each page of contacts.

      1. E Reverent says:

        Thanks! I didn’t realize the third column is the cumulative result.

      2. Mikko says:

        This doesn’t seem to work in the current interface version (Nov’13). Have you found a workaround yet?

        1. trevor says:

          No, I haven’t found a workaround yet. I’m submitting a feature request to have this added back in. I suggest others do the same. You can contact LinkedIn support at http://help.linkedin.com/app/ask

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