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LinkedIn dating

After receiving yet another LinkedIn contact request from a complete stranger (with the accompanying over-eager email from LinkedIn a few days later, saying "hey, this connection request is still waiting!!), I asked friends on Twitter:

Why do people ask to connect on LinkedIn when they don't know you, and have never met you?

There was a variety of responses from people about their reaction to these requests, but the majority response was definitely one of annoyance. In the end, I came to the conclusion that interactions on LinkedIn are a lot like dating.

Now, having had my fair share of dates and dating-related interactions both online and in person, I thought I'd help out by giving a couple of etiquette tips for LinkedIn, and also for life generally (and dating).

  • If you want to get to know me, spend some time on it
So many times on LinkedIn, I get a generic "X wants to connect" request. No information about why they think they'd like to connect with me, and no clue about what it is that they think we should connect for. Now, on a dating site, that generic contact (in that case, usually a message that just says "hey", "hi" or hello") is a big red flag. It means you've looked at something superficial, and decided you want to have it. On dating sites, it's only my photo you've looked at. On LinkedIn, it's my job title. In either place, that type of no-content contact just gets immediately deleted rather than acted on, because you've given me no reason to pay you any more attention on first look at your request than you paid me when you looked at my profile...if you even went as far as looking at my full profile, rather than just the eye-catching bit of the photos/title. 

Moral: If you want to connect with me, tell me why.

  • Nobody wants to be part of a cult
One of the commonalities with these LinkedIn invites is that the person asking to connect with me usually seems to be just gathering numbers of connections in an attempt to look well-connected and important, often because they're job hunting, or "seeking new opportunities". The other people who like to gather lots of people to look important are...cult leaders. And I ain't willing to go live in a bunker. Or connect with people who just want to gather a lot of meaningless connections in an attempt to look import. Those connections don't actually translate into useful professional relationships, and are therefore pretty damn meaningless.

Moral: Develop some sort of relationship with your contacts, don't just gather them as if they were possessions.


Tenuous dating analogies aside, there is a point to this post. Honest!. 

The point is that if you're going to be using it, you really do need to be aware of what you're doing on LinkedIn, and understand what you want to get from it. Do you want to develop a network of proper, meaningful professional connections who're happy to be linked to you, or a sprawling and meaningless guddle of strangers and semi-strangers who won't ever assist you because they don't actually know you? LinkedIn itself says this about connection requests:

We strongly recommend that you only accept invitations to connect from people you know.

So by extension, if you shouldn't accept invitations from people you don't know, you shouldn't be sending them to people you don't know either!

In the Twitter discussions about our feelings about  LinkedIn requests received from complete strangers, one friend was an exception, and said that she was quite happy to be invited by random people to connect on LinkedIn. There's a good reason for this though - this friend manages an events venue and professional society, so she's happy to be able to expand her pool of contacts in this way, as each new contact could be for the potential benefit of her employer. However, myself and another librarian find these contacts from totally unknown people to be intrusive and timewasting - we have to spend time to try and figure out if we know the requester in real life, on social media (perhaps under a different name/username), or through other personal or professional contacts (both in real life, and checking by looking at the LinkedIn 1st and 2nd level connections visualisations), in order to make a decision on whether this is someone we're happy to connect with. As we work for a public sector body and a private commercial law firm, connecting with complete strangers is of no real benefit to us or our employer, and doing this checking just wastes our time. And timewasting means we get annoyed, refuse the request, and remember that the person asking to connect had been acting inappropriately. Making people annoyed with you, and remembering your name as someone who acts inappropriately online is not really a good thing!

Part of the problem here is the design of LinkedIn itself, which despite saying you should only connect with people if you know them, makes sure you can ask to connect with people that you don't know. It's unfortunately set up to make requesting connections with people to quick, easy and impersonal from certain parts of the site, e.g. at the point when you've just accepted a connection request, it loads a page that only requires you to click on a person's image when they're displayed as part of a "you might want to connect with these people" option in order to ask to connect with them. This means those people get a non-personalised, random email saying you want to connect. The only situation where it's ok to do this is when you do actually have some sort of connection to those people, at a level where they won't need you to explain who you are, and why you want to connect with them. You could justifiably use this option when connecting with a past or current work colleague, or other people you may know, if you already have some sort of contact or relationship with them.

Otherwise, if you want to use LinkedIn in an real, professional manner to develop your professional network, I'd suggest you avoid using that quick-and-easy-and-annoying connection request option to mass spam strangers, and restrict your connection requests to people you've already met in some form, whether in person or online. If nothing else, by doing that you'll at least avoid aggravating a lot of people you don't even know!


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