Should you connect with people you don’t really know on LinkedIn?

LinkedIn says ‘no’: but I’ve recently been part of a group discussion on LinkedIn on this very topic and it seems people are divided. There appear to be three schools of thought:

 

  1. Those who only connect with people they know (i.e. have met in person) because they want to be able to introduce their connections to others in their network and vice versa, they see LinkedIn as a networking aid rather than a network per-se, or their objective is to keep in touch with existing contacts.
  2. Those (a minority group) who are happy to connect freely with others because they see LinkedIn as a giant search engine and the more people they are connected to the greater their reach. They see anyone as a potential referrer. I have seen this approach work amazingly well for some people – particularly if their product or service appeals to a broad target audience.
  3. Those (and this is where I fall) who sit somewhere in between. They will connect, selectively, with those they haven’t actually met based on their own criteria – such as ensuring people are in their industry sector, share valuable content, have been involved in the same discussions etc.

A recent poll of over 11,000 LinkedIn users supports these three schools of thought. It found that 50% of respondents know virtually all their connections, a further 41% know their connections or are selective about accepting those they don’t really know, while the remaining 9% are connected to people they don’t know, either in their field of expertise or more widely.

These findings show how different we all are. Ultimately, you have to do what’s right for you. And that will largely depend on your objectives for being on LinkedIn. There may be very good reasons why you would connect with people you have never met in person.

However, if you want to connect with someone you’ve never actually met, you need to tailor your invitation to connect and provide some context. Explain how you have come across the person and why you would like to connect with them (what’s in it for them?)…and make sure you read their profile first!

Our recommendations:

  • Do what’s right for you – if you are on LinkedIn simply to keep up with your current contacts and to introduce them to others in your network, then you probably won’t want to connect with others you don’t really know. However, if you want to grow your business/practice then there may be very good reasons why you might want to expand your network beyond those you have met in person.
  • Ensure your firm’s social media policy is flexible enough that it allows people within your organisation, who would benefit from connecting with those they haven’t met in person, to do so – there is no one size fits all approach and it’s very much a personal choice. However, do ensure your team members have a plan and know what is/isn’t acceptable in terms of their social media activities. Clear guidelines and training are great, but then you need to trust them.
  • Read peoples’ profiles before you invite them to connect. Tailor your invitation – let the person know how you have come across them and why you want to add them to your network. Think about the benefits to the other person rather than yourself – what’s in it for them?
  • If people you don’t know invite you to connect, look at their profile before accepting. Are they someone with whom you want to be associated? Use your own judgment and, if you subsequently realise you shouldn’t have connected with someone, remove them from your network.

What’s your view on connecting with people you haven’t met? For those who have done so, what benefits, if any, have you derived?

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