I joined LinkedIn on 23rd August 2004, so tomorrow marks my 7th anniversary. As an early adopter, I’ve seen tremendous benefits from their approach to what is probably now best described as “business social networking”. I’ve recruited staff, given references, secured introductions and found new business. But I’ve become concerned that the network may be encouraging bad practices amongst its more recent recruits…
As an active member, I regularly receive requests to connect. Some are old acquaintances - others are people I’ve recently made a business connection with. Others are people I’ve never connected with, but who have bothered to write a relevant personal note explaining their interest in making a connection on LinkedIn. I’m happy to accept all these requests.
But recently, I’ve been receiving a growing stream of requests to connect from people I have never heard of, and who I have no obvious relationship with, and they have all started with exactly the same form of words: “Since you are a person I trust, I wanted to invite you to join my network on LinkedIn”.
Trust and respect go hand-in-hand
Hold on a minute. Isn’t trust supposed to be a two-way street? And does anybody really think that the best first step in building this two-way trust is to write a note like this out-of-the-blue to someone you have never met and who (more importantly) has never heard of you? This is obviously a standard form of words, offered by LinkedIn to their members as an option in the invitation process. And I’d like to respectfully suggest that they withdraw it.
At best, it is a lazy practice, indicating how little the sender values the potential relationship. But it’s also somewhat disrespectful. It indicates that the sender prioritises quantity over quality in their networking - and you’ve got to wonder how useful such a contact is going to be.
Open vs Closed Networking
Since social networking first evolved, there have been people who advocate open networking (being open to connections from people you’ve never met) and others who prefer closed networking (only connecting online with people they have already know). I’m not against open networking per se.
But I would like to make a plea for respectful, discriminating open networking. Let’s not declare or imply that a relationship of trust already exists when it clearly doesn’t. How long does it take to do a bit of research? To look up the other person’s profile? And to find a reason why a connection might be mutually beneficial (and if you can’t find one, why are you bothering to connect?)
Make it personal
Your common interest might be in membership of the same group. Or in a topic that’s of mutual interest. Or an article the other person has published or commented on. Or some other aspect of the individual or the company they work for. But if you can’t find any common ground whatsoever, how can you reasonably expect them to want to connect with you (unless, of course, they are just as indiscriminate as you are, in which case you probably deserve each other).
I’ve rejected every “Since you are a person I trust…” request to connect. But I’ve accepted every request that’s taken the time to personalise the invitation and has identified some element of mutual interest. I’m pretty sure those connections are going to prove to be far more valuable to all concerned.
I guess you could describe my approach as “selectively open networking”. It’s enabled me to build up a decent sized network that has proved invaluable to me in growing my business. And I like to think that it’s allowed me to rationally exclude connection requests from people who would have nothing to contribute in return.
What’s your approach to business networking? Are you open, closed or somewhere in between? And how do you feel when someone you’ve never heard of approaches you as a person they trust right from the get go? Please share your experiences…
By the way, if we’re not yet connected, and you think that there might be a good reason to do so, please send a short personalised invitation to http://uk.linkedin.com/in/bobapollo via firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’d be happy to accept. And, of course, you can always follow me indiscriminately on twitter at http://twitter.com/bobapollo. I’ll be pleased to follow back as long as your twitter feed looks like it might be interesting…