LinkedIn is a social networking tool for professionals to expand their network of trusted colleagues and suppliers. Rather than the free for all approach of Facebook et al — where anyone can contact anyone — LinkedIn works on the idea that a person should invite to connect only persons that they personally know.
To prevent unsolicited invitations, the LinkedIn user agreement states that you shouldn’t be using the service to connect to people you don’t already know.
But hold on a minute here — a professional networking site that discourages networking? Isn’t that a little crazy?
In the last few months I’ve had a few invitations to join the networks of people that I don’t already know. I don’t indiscriminately accept the invites: I’ll do a little research, look at their profile, see if we’re in a similar sector (and can thus benefit from the connection) and if I’m still unsure I’ll write them an email discussing how we can help each other through connecting. After that, I’ll only accept the invite if I’m happy that the connection will be mutually beneficial. In fact, two of the invites were offers of work, so I think that’s very beneficial.
It just discovered today that LinkedIn actually frowns upon users inviting people they don’t know, so until now I never thought I was doing anything ‘wrong’. This restriction does make sense when you consider that the original point of LinkedIn was to make new connections through personal recommendations; the idea being that a personal recommendation is much more valuable than simply expanding your network with unknowns for the sake of it.
LIONs (LinkedIn Open Networkers) disregard this aspect of the LinkedIn philosophy. LIONs want to expand their network as quickly as possible and seem unconcerned with the quality and value of each individual connection. I personally don’t understand this view: you can’t possibly have meaningful connections with thousands of people. And if you don’t know all those people, you can’t possibly value them or recommend them.
So is it wrong to accept any unsolicited invite? Have I become a LION without realising it? Some might consider that accepting an invite from a stranger on LinkedIn is going against the whole philosophy of the site. But if you are making an effort to determine if unsolicited invites might actually be worthwhile, what is the problem? Assuming you nurture that new connection, how do you know it won’t prove valuable in the future?
There’s a very big difference between genuine speculative networking and LIONs aiming to have the ‘biggest’ network because it looks good, or allows subversion of web searches, or they need a large pool for “recruitment purposes”.
How do you use LinkedIn? Do you only stick to recommendations and invites through existing contacts? Have you accepted unsolicited invites? I’m very interested to hear about your experiences, so please comment below.