Personal branding guru Dan Schawbel recently posted this on LinkedIn:

In almost all circumstances you should accept everyone as a contact on LinkedIn because it increases your network size, the amount of profiles you will see in a search and the people you can reach out to. The larger your network on LinkedIn, the more you will be able to exponentially grow it.

Once again, I’m going to revisit a position that I took back in 2008.  I fundamentally disagree with Dan. Here’s why.

LinkedIn is a platform that enables people to leverage their professional networks.  That network is best grown through quality, not quantity. For example, say we connect even though I don’t know you, as Schwabel suggests. But you then ask me to introduce you to one of my colleagues or friends. I can tell you right now that I’m not going to do it. I’m much more interested in maintaining my relationship with the person I know versus you. Remember, I don’t know you. For that reason, two strangers connecting on LinkedIn is a complete waste of time.

I suppose Schwabel’s advice is great if LinkedIn is your only social network. But for me, it’s not. People can feel free to follow me on twitter. I like that it’s an open platform. You can interact with me on that open platform, and we can get to know each other. Granted, you’ll get a lot of non-business tweets, but you will get a sense of who I am.  Perhaps I’ll be able to do the same when it comes to you.

For LinkedIn introductions to be really valuable, somebody has to know both people. That way the person being introduced is getting vouched for. Essentially, when we connect two people, we’re putting our credibility on the line with our friend or colleague. We’re saying I respect you and I think you’ll really appreciate and benefit from getting to know this other person.

There’s no way to say that about a complete stranger.

So what to do?

  1. LinkedIn is not Facebook. People are there for business and for their careers.  But it’s important to remember that business is built on relationships, and there won’t be any business without first developing a relationship.
  2. Be open. But guarded.  It’s true that you have to stay open because you never know why the universe if putting someone in your path.  But I feel strongly that strangers should earn trust before they’re allowed access to your network.  If there were no such thing as the internet and social media, this would be a no-brainer.  Respect the people in your network enough to have some sort of filter in place.
  3. Don’t be afraid to use the “Ignore” button. It’s there for a reason.  Your network should only be populated with people with whom you have a relationship.  Believe me, you’re not racking up bad karma by not accepting strangers.  Which leads to my next point.
  4. Use linked in AFTER you’ve made a connection with someone. Maybe you’ve met them in real life and had a conversation with them. For example, I went to a law firm’s dinner the other night while at a conference earlier this week. The next day, I stopped to chat with a person I’d met there.  As she headed to her next session, she suggested we connect on LinkedIn. Done!
  5. Always include a cover note. Even if you know the person, I guarantee you that no one like to get the email: “Rob, I’d like to add you to my professional network.” coming from a complete stranger, that gets a middle finger and the ignore button.  More to the point: If you can’t articulate why you, a complete stranger is reaching out to me, do I really want you in my network?  Um, no. Besides, I have to believe your mom taught you better etiquette than that.
  6. Keep it all in perspective.  It’s probably more important to be active in your real life community, not just the one on LinkedIn. You can have a rich life professionally and personally I you’re involved in the life that’s happening all around you. Working to gain connections and improve your personal SEO doesn’t amount to much, if it’s not being put to good use. And that means helping other people and communities that exist in the real world, not the one that exists behind the screen on your desk or in your hand.

I know plenty of people. That’s not bragging. It’s just a fact of being active in a number of communities for the past 20+ years.  I don’t need numbers just for the sake of numbers.  What I stay open to is the opportunity to connect with great people. But those relationships need to start in a way that feels right.  Sorry, even in our digitally empowered age, I don’t see any shortcuts around that.

That’s my two cents.  What’s yours?

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Posted by Rob Fields