As a B2B marketing professional, part of what I do is work with individuals on their LinkedIn presence. It’s a key element of fostering employee advocacy and helping the people in our organization look professional to the outside world.
One of the natural questions that arises is how and when to connect with other people. Beyond one’s own immediate circle of contacts it’s very common to receive invitations from people you don’t know. Some people feel completely uncomfortable with accepting unsolicited invitations. There are some good reasons to be cautious. However, you must weigh the benefits and the drawbacks when evaluating each connection request.
A recent article in CIO takes a very conservative stance when it comes to this issue. It goes so far as to quote Section 8.2 of LinkedIn’s user agreement which specifies that members agree not to “invite people you do not know to join your network.”
While this may be the “letter of the law”, it’s also unrealistic. It’s often said that LinkedIn is not meant to be your online resume. Well, it’s also not meant to be your online rolodex. If you only keep track of your current contacts on LinkedIn, you’d be better off just maintaining a list in Outlook or some other contact management program. The common analogy you’ll hear to bolster this argument is the person who walks into a networking event and refuses to shake hands with anyone they don’t know.
LinkedIn is meant to be a social networking site. The power of this site is connecting with people you don’t know to share mutually beneficial information and business opportunities. Done right, there is no better place online to build your professional presence.
This is not to say you should randomly connect with just anyone. You need to ensure there is a reasonable basis for the connection.
Here is some advice for both inviting people you don’t know to your network and accepting connections from people outside of your network.
- You can always refuse a connection request. If you feel the person asking to connect will not be beneficial to your network, then don’t do it.
- If the person knows someone you know or works in a related company or industry, consider adding them if they appear legitimate.
- If you connect with someone and they immediately send you a sales pitch or begin to message you with information of no value, then disconnect from them.
- Remember, the people you connect with affect the information you see in your newsfeed and they may be able to see other people you are connected to, depending your security setting preferences. Choose wisely.
Sending invitations to people you don’t know
- Offer context in your invitation such as a common connection, mutual business interest, etc.
- Share information that you think is valuable in the invitation such as a link to an article.
- Tell the person you are inviting what they can expect from you (i.e. relevant network updates, occasional messages with links to resources, etc. ).
- Don’t harass people with sales pitches or other solicitations. Focus on relationship building activities like sharing information of mutual interest.
If you use LinkedIn wisely and appropriately, it can be an invaluable business tool and open up new opportunities that you may otherwise never encounter.