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People often ask me how much energy they should be putting into LinkedIn. How wide a network is useful?

Here are the four stages of LinkedIn engagement. Recognize that each stage corresponds to a real-world networking status of how you are interacting with your professional community.

Minimal. Connecting to co-workers and friends, with little cultivation of new contacts. Implicit in this mind-set is a moribund attitude toward networking. These are generally individuals who keep their head down and only try to network when they need a new one. When they do, they find themselves uncomfortable reaching out to contacts from the past because they haven’t stayed in touch.

Curated. This approach cultivates more contacts, but is predicated on most LinkedIn relationships being close ones who you have met in person at some point. The contacts are carefully maintained and can be relied on to respond to messages and return phone calls, for the most part.

A curated network is a powerful tool for an executive or professional — the work put into maintaining it will pay off well when you are job hunting or seeking to help associates network.

Aggressive. An aggressive LinkedIn strategy accepts that not all contacts are going to be close ones and that LinkedIn can be used, selectively, as a business-development tool. Recruiters, for example, are going to reach out to people they don’t know and cultivate them as candidates.

What distinguishes the “aggressive” approach from “undiscriminating” is that you have a specific reason for anyone you are reaching out to, even if you are cold-calling them.

Undiscriminating. These are the people on LinkedIn who connect with anyone and boast of having 10,000 contacts.

Unfortunately, LinkedIn is ultimately a mechanism for managing reputational capital. If your contacts don’t have a relationship with you, how are all those connections useful?

It seems obvious that the curated and aggressive categories are the right ones for nearly everybody. A curated network will work well for most people outside of business development, and an aggressively cultivated network is the way to go for sales and recruiting.

Twin Cities executive recruiter Isaac Cheifetz can be reached through catalytic1.com.