I belong to several social networks.  Overall, I enjoy the experience and they’re all useful for different reasons.  Clearly, we’ve all been given unprecedented access to one another.  But because the barriers to contact are so much lower, manners and discretion become paramount.  I mean, just because you can connect, should you?  More to the point, how should you?

What I really can’t stand is when complete strangers want to connect with me, but just let the system send out the standard note.  From LinkedIn, I get stuff like this:

I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.

Okay.  Who are you?

More importantly, why do I want to connect with you?  What’s the value to me of being added to your network?  I’m not asking this out of arrogance.  Rather, my goal is to keep my network valuable and useful to me and to those in it.  Part of that is predicated on trust and, in the case of LinkedIn, a familiarity with a person’s expertise.  When it comes time to connect people, I want to be able to say without hesitation that here are two smart and good people who can really benefit from knowing each other.

Fair questions, I think.

Now, here’s a good example of a note that I got from somebody who wanted to connect on LinkedIn. 

Greetings. Trust all is well your way.
How would you like to join my professional network?
Kindly consider my invitation.


I got to know him through having him speak at one of my conferences.  We’ve talked a couple of time after that.  However, he’s smart enough not to assume, even though he’s got a big title and runs a big piece of business for his agency.

All I’m asking for here is some context.  ‘Cause I can tell you this: If I don’t know you and you haven’t included a note with your request, I’m going to decline. And there’s the issue of network meaningfulness that Max Kalehoff addressed in a post on Twitter.

So here are some things to keep in mind when you reach out to me (or anyone you don’t really know):

  1. Provide some context.  Introduce yourself, what you do and why you’re reaching out.  Something prompted you to press that "connect," "add to network," or "add as a friend" button.  Tell me what that it was.
  2. Don’t be lazy.  And that’s exactly what you’re saying when you use system boilerplate copy or, worse, send no note at all.  Laziness says you’re not really interested in me and that you may have more interest in who I know.
  3. Understand that you’re a stranger to me: Mutual friends, school affiliations and memberships in LinkedIn groups don’t matter to me.  Unless we’ve met offline, done business or someone I already know has recommended you YOU’RE STILL A STRANGER, and you’ll need to give me some more information.  See #1.
  4. It’s about relationships.  Quality, not quantity, rules.  I don’t want my networks–particularly LinkedIn–to turn into the digital version of collecting a lot of useless business cards.  I want to connect with other people who are interested in developing mutually beneficial relationships.  If you haven’t done so yet, this would be a great time to read Keith Ferrazzi’s "Never Eat Alone".  Then get at me. 

Bottom line: If you’re beginning a new relationship digitally, think what first impression you want to leave.

Posted by Rob Fields

  • Rob, great post, without context, it’s like everyone is still 8 or something and busy building their collection. Still, sometimes I can’t think what to say. Thanks for the suggestions. Best, Grant