My friend John posed this question via Twitter, “Say you don’t know someone and they send you a LinkedIn invite. I usually summarily reject. Are there cases where I shouldn’t?”
It’s a good question, and I know that people have differing opinions on this one. There are two schools of thought, as in most things, one is “white hat” the other a more “black hat” or not-so-ethical approach. I am steadfastly white hat; that’s what you get from someone with a background in professional communications, public relations and reputation management.
That being said, I believe in preserving the sanctity of what LinkedIn has set out to do; create business networks of people who actually know one another. I will extend this to fairly loose connections and relationships — I don’t have to know you in person or have worked directly with you to connect with you on LinkedIn. I do, however, need to have context that indicates our commonality — where we met, a common group or community to which we belong. I speak to large audiences frequently and sometimes am invited to connect to someone who I met during that speaking engagement. I often accept these, if I’m given that context and made a personal connection with that person at that event.
This leads to how we send those invitations to connect with others. Several years ago I received an invitation to connect that was so well-written, I have cleaned it up, generalized it, and used it as a best practice example ever since. A good invitation to connect looks something like this:
As you may know, I resigned my position as [TITLE & COMPANY]. It was a rich experience and I value the privilege of access to a very high level of thought leadership during my years there.
Recently, I have begun to work with the [COMPANY] to [DETAILS OF JOB AND INDUSTRY] We are [MORE DETAILS OF THE WORK BEING DONE, RELATIONSHIPS BEING BUILT].
As I value our relationship and appreciate the depth of experience you bring to your profession, please join my network so we can stay in touch on this and more.
It’s helpful, when you reach out to someone to connect, to give them context — the when and where of your meeting or interaction. Some of us meet and work with many people and our memories are not as clear as we’d like. I may have simply forgotten your name, and if your note says only “I’d like to add you to my network on LinkedIn” that doesn’t do anything to differentiate you from the guy who is just trying to build his numbers.
That brings me back to the concept of the black hat social networker — occasionally you will get invitations from people who are so far outside your network you can’t even figure out why the invitation has arrived. There are people simply playing a numbers game; don’t be tempted to join this tribe or contribute to it by accepting. It devalues the network and the strength of the relationships in it.