Stop the Madness! A Less Trigger-Happy Approach to LinkedIn

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Posted by The Editors on August 2, 2011

Imagine a stranger cutting through the crowd at an event—a networking happy hour or hey, even a concert—to say, “I would like to add you to my professional network.” He quietly hands over a resume and walks away, leaving you to guess the nature of his interest. Awkward, right? Downright off-putting. Creepy, even.

So why do so many people decide to approach new contacts on LinkedIn this way? 

LinkedIn, when used well, is an amazing tool for gaining valuable knowledge and professional contacts. It allows its users to reach people with whom they might otherwise never have built a relationship—people with the insight and connections needed to help them make better decisions and reach their career goals. But just as it goes with so many other online outlets (ahem, commenting sections), so many people toss aside their manners when using the network.

I’ve received several contact requests, from students and professionals, with no introduction or explanation. Man, that irks me. The guilty parties tend to be computer science students, social media marketing professionals (makes sense given my background), as well as random people who I can only assume want to spam me with promotional material. I’m not interested.

In my mind, there are three types of users who request connections with strangers without an explanation: serial connectors (“It’s all about numbers!”), desperate users (“It’s basically like handing her my resume without having to do the hard part!”), and people who just don’t know.

Don’t be like that. If you’re going to use LinkedIn, use it well. Be polite. Be smart. Be gracious.

My thoughts here aren’t revolutionary: Web etiquette, or “netiquette,” is addressed by most websites and online communities. LinkedIn, for one, clearly warns against trying to connect with strangers: “Connecting to someone on LinkedIn implies that you know them well…recipients can indicate that they don’t know you. If they do, you’ll be asked to enter an email address with each future invitation.”  Yeah, you don’t want that.

To avoid making a bad first impression on LinkedIn, damaging your professional reputation, and pissing off a potentially great contact, keep the following in mind:

  1. It’s all about quality over quantity. Don’t get trigger happy when you see that “Add to my network” button; know what you’d like to get out of the connection before you click.
  2. Try to find a mutual contact first. If someone I know and trust reaches out to me to say she recommended a family friend reach out to me, I’m going to accept that connection when requested. Simple as that.
  3. If you’re going to take a risk and try to connect with me, a total stranger, don’t just go with the default text—there’s a reason it’s editable. You’ve got 300 characters to introduce yourself and explain your reason for reaching out. Treat me like you would if we were meeting face to face.

Example: “Lindsay, I’m a programmer here in the Philly area—and also fairly new to agile product development. I thought it’d be nice to connect with you so that we can share insight, agile-related stories, and maybe even future job opportunities! I also happened to see that you used to blog about cheap things to do (incl. craft beer specials) in Philly. Awesome!”

Ah, so much better than the more robotic, “I would like to add you to my network.”

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