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Cultivating Your Brand: A Conversation with Colleen McKenna, Principal of Intero Advisory

By Newt Fowler

January 17, 2013

How many of us view the success of our LinkedIn activity as measured by the number of connections? That on line networking revolves around accepting essentially all connection requests? And if we do reach out to the network we have assembled on line, is our only action to ambush a connection on rare occasion for an introduction to make a sale? Why is our on line networking behavior so different from how we behave in person? Why do we ignore the social rules that apply when we’re meeting the carbon based version of the same people? I recently sat down with Colleen McKenna, Principal of Intero Advisory to figure out whether we should even care.

Who Cares?

I viewed LinkedIn as an afterthought that I rarely get to. I didn’t realize that there is a fundamentally better way to design our networks no matter what our objectives. The irony is that we may be able to network to better result than relying entirely on the rubber chicken circuit. Should I continue to go to events, hoping to have a promising conversation and collect the right card, or should I design my on line network to accomplish a better result with less effort and more direction?



To spend our professional lives building our reputations, to hope in any initial conversation to have imparted some sense of who we are, yet to struggle in the moment of first encounter to get that message across, there’s a better path, one we can control and shape. Others gain insight on who we are – our brand – increasingly on line. We use our networks to guide us to someone who can help meet a need and if you’re unknown within that network, it’s as if you don’t exist. Irrespective of whether we embrace networks like LinkedIn, the reality is that it’s up to us to design not only our brand but how we cultivate our professional networks to extend who we are to the people we want to know.


Glengarry Glen Ross Not.

Colleen started with what LinkedIn isn’t. “One should never sell on LinkedIn.” She continued, “it’s a point of entry, a place to begin a conversation.” What Colleen got me thinking about is how on line professional networks differ little from our carbon based world. If one views their effort at networking as developing one’s professional “brand”, then the focus of our activity on LinkedIn isn’t any different. It isn’t about the sale; it’s about defining who we are as professionals and making a meaningful connection. But here’s what LinkedIn can be:


  • The Holy Grail – is “inbound lead generating” activity – “can you create unique enough content and insight that your network sends prospects to you?” All else builds off that goal
  • Fencing – You have to think differently about your network, is it proprietary – fenced in – or is it designed to guide you to people you don’t know but need your products/services?
  • Man, Am I Connected – LinkedIn is not a race to reach 500+ connections – Colleen cautioned that just as you would not have coffee with everyone you happen to meet at an event, so should you think through what connections you “accept” within your network – you want “a highly engaged network” – “a collaborative one” – where you’re “as likely to get help as to give it.”
  • Here’s a pop quiz: for each request to connect with you, what’s the answer to the question “why do they want to connect with me?” If you would try to escape that person at an event, why would you add them to your network on line?
  • “I’d Like to Add You to my Professional Network” – One click and you’re connected! So when you meet someone at an event, how many times do you start with – “I want you to have my business card” – doesn’t the “card exchange” after a connection? So why should our on line behavior be any different? LinkedIn makes it easy to be lazy by allowing us one click to connect – Colleen suggests that an on line connection is no different, “the connection should be personal” and not designed by some bot.
  • Habit Forming – One of my complaints (excuses) is to ignore the repetitive updates on LinkedIn. Colleen suggests that you learn how to quickly run down the activities of those in your network, see who is connecting with who (and reach out if a new connection might be valuable to you), and when you see something of interest, “respond, touch base, comment on a post or update.” The simple reality is that “we all like to be affirmed, to be acknowledged” and from those simple connections you remain top of mind within their network
  • Content – part of our network, of who we are, revolves around our brand. So the challenge for many is the sense that we don’t have content we can post to build our brand – but we do – we see posts that interest us, we think about issues/ideas, we receive from others some insight that might be valuable to our network – Colleen suggests that by sharing this material, we are revealing who we are – we are building our brand.


CRM on Steroids.

We all sense the sea change as people increasingly check us out on line – but beyond the Google search lies how they use their network to gain a qualitative element to their understanding of us. In many ways our network guides us to our initial sense of who we should use to meet a need. No website, business card or ad has the same impact. Colleen suspects that LinkedIn has a greater end game – to help us organize our lives so our networks are central. The battle over who owns our networks was fought within outlook and our corporate in box, but the reality is that we’re moving our professional world outside of our company’s control. Whether any company wants to admit it, there is a new reality – LinkedIn is heading to a CRM that is not fenced inside a company based on their rules, but is designed by each of us based on relationships our employers no longer can control. The battle over the rolodex is over. The opportunity for employers is to realize that the value they offer to an employee is not based on fighting over control of their network, but to enable employees to develop a powerful and engaged network for that employee to put to use for their organization.


To learn more about Colleen’s work at Intero Advisory:

For comments about this column or thoughts on future conversations, let me know at:

With more than 28 years experience in law and business, Newt Fowler loves advising many of the Greater Baltimore region’s entrepreneurs and technology companies, guiding them through all aspects of business planning, technology commercialization, and M&A and financing transactions. He serves on the Boards of the Innovation Alliance and TEDCO.