LinkedIn: how to alienate and annoy people

Posted February 8, 2011 in Career Management, Latest News & Insights, Networking

79% of senior execs are hoping to improve their career this year, which could include jumping to another employer.  So reports a survey by the Association of Executive Search Consultants (whoever they are).  The head of the association suggests that, in order to get a shot a new opportunities, execs need to develop their personal brand, nurture a vibrant network and focus on a well thought out career plan.  Today’s blog is my personal pet peeve around how I’m seeing people try to “nurture a vibrant network” by flogging themselves on LinkedIn.  Continue reading only if you’re ready for a bit of a rant.

Let me start by saying that I understand different people have different strategies for using networking tools like LinkedIn.  Here’s mine: if you’re on my LinkedIn network it’s because:

  • I know you (we’ve worked together, went to school together, etc.)
  • We’ve met in a professional capacity and I want to get to know you better
  • You follow our blog, are a member of The Executive Roundtable community and/or we have a mutual connection who I highly respect and we’ve had a chat on the phone so there’s a connection of some kind.

That’s it… that’s who’s on my LinkedIn.  Social media people will tell you to be an “open” networker.  That’s fine.  That’s just not what I’ve chosen to do.

So, here’s the thing that’s making me crazy about LinkedIn right now… people who identify themselves as my “friends” to bypass having to put in my email address in an attempt to connect to me or (in more likelihood) my network and then send me some generic line that says “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn”.  I’m now fielding about 10 of these requests a day and I want to go on record by saying…

This is NOT the way to “nurture a vibrant network”.  This is the way to annoy and irritate people who have to read your request and spend time guessing if they do actually know you.

I polled a few of our members to see if they were having the same issue and everyone rolled their eyes and groaned.  When I asked people what they did with the requests (I tend to send a polite note back asking people how exactly I know them…), they overwhelming said that they just throw these types of requests in the trash.

I absolutely believe that LinkedIn can be a powerful tool to help leaders stay top-of-mind (to use some ad lingo) with their networks and help you communicate your personal brand.  I’ve personally found it hugely helpful when I’m stumped and need advice or referrals.  But that’s because my network is actually real… not filled with people who are accumulating network connections like notches on the bedpost.

There is no short-cut to building and maintaining a healthy external network.  It takes time and attention.  LinkedIn can enable it, but it definitely can’t replace it.  And, please don’t be a LinkedIn SPAMmer.  If you do try to connect with someone you don’t know, at least give them a couple of good reasons why they should add you to their network.  Sincerity and authenticity still goes a long way in the online world.

Happy leading!

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  1. Glain, you hit the nail on the head when you talked about some people’s needs to rack up numbers of connections or followers on twitter rather than build relationships. Although I do connect with people who request a connection (most of the time) I find it more helpful if they at least let me know why they want to connect. I know when I personally reach out to people I don’t know, I do so because I have read or followed their postings in groups we share in common and believe that by connecting first on LinkedIn I can then take the relationship to the next level, offline. It is a way for them to become aware of my existence and what I do and how I can contribute to a relationship. But, first I tell them in the “ask” why I am connecting and the value they provide for me. The beauty of connecting with those you don’t know is the knowledge that you can gain by extending your community. This is using social media to gain knowledge, stay current, develop new relationships, and form collaborations that can help everyone involved.

    • LeaderTalker says:

      Hi Mary… thanks for the comment and completely agree with you. As one of our members Karen SD says “social media is like a warm handshake”. I’ve had great experiences connecting with likeminded people via Twitter and LinkedIn and am always interested in sharing ideas with other leaders. Done well, it’s an amazing tool. Thanks for reading and contributing to the discussion. 🙂

      Glain Glain Roberts-McCabe | President The Executive Roundtable Inc. O – 416 915.3152 C – 416 723.8573 W – B – Exchange | Engage | Excel Become a member… extend your network, connect with leaders…share your experience. Join today.

  2. Roshni Patel says:

    Hi Glain. With the world becoming a virtual one, it’s sad how easy it is for the younger generation to forget that social media is not the sole answer to our networking problems. What is the one tactic that you have used to “maintain” your network, that has been the most successful for you?

    • LeaderTalker says:

      Hi Roshni… interestingly, I find the worst offenders of LinkedIn SPAM are the plus 40 crowd… maybe that’s because we’re all digital neophytes vs. natives. I’ve been impressed with most of the “younger” generations that reach out to me… they’re usually more savvy. That being said, I do think maintaining a network can be challenging for anyone (especially when it can grow to be fairly large like mine). Years ago my friend Carolyn told me that she and her friends had come up with inside joke lingo describing people as Tier 1, Tier 2 or Tier 3 friends. Tier 1’s were the people you’d drop everything to help/hang with, etc. Tier 2’s were peeps who you’d hang out with from time to time (or people you’d just met and liked, but didn’t know well). Tier 3’s were more like “bump into” buddies. When I started in sales, I was taught to think about A, B and C prospects and clients (with A’s being the best and C’s being an unfortunate part of the game). In leadership, they apply similar labels to talent. So, I’ve taken those principles and done the same with my network. I have my “hot” inner circle (people who are great friends, colleagues, champions, supporters, influencers, etc.), then my “warmer plates” (this group tends to fall into two categories: people who I would love to get into the inner circle and/or people who are good to know for certain – more specific – circumstances) and then my “devil I know” circle (these are people in my network who are very influential but can be challenging to work with and/or not really the people that I enjoy being with but that – because of work – I need to have a connection with… the relationships tend to be very transactional and definitely “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”). With all three groups, I have different “strategies” for staying in touch and use the 80/20 rule by expending most of my energy on the inner circle and “warmer plate” peeps that I want to move to the inner circle. I guess the key is, once you know who you want to stay in touch with, it’s all about executing that plan. My observation is that most people make the initial connection and then fail to follow through on following up consistently, which is such a waste of the initial effort. My bottomline is that your professional network is a powerful business tool but it’s only going to be as useful as the effort you put into it. Time is always limited for everyone, so think strategically about how you build and maintain it. Think quality, not quantity and recognize that not every contact you meet will be (or wants to be) in your inner professional circle. Hope that helps!

      Glain Glain Roberts-McCabe | President The Executive Roundtable Inc. O – 416 915.3152 C – 416 723.8573 W – B – Exchange | Engage | Excel Become a member… extend your network, connect with leaders…share your experience. Join today.

  3. I’m commenting on this post late because I just had a situation that I thought I would share re: connecting on LinkedIn. I was recently at the TEDxWaterloo event (and it was incredible) and there was a local organizer that I really wanted to connect with. I searched her twitter page, her blog etc. and did not find an email I could connect via, so I went through LinkedIn as a “friend” but I called myself out on that telling her that I really didn’t like it when people connected with me that way (when they’re clearly not) but that our paths were crossing in a variety of places and would she like to connect on LinkedIn. She responded very well to my approach and maybe that’s an indicator that LinkedIn needs to open up its channels for introduction/engagement….

    • LeaderTalker says:

      Hey Karen… Great point. I agree that LinkedIn needs to find another category to help people make connections. And, for the record, I don’t mind people approaching me if they don’t know me but PLEASE make it a specific/custom request as you did. I find it somewhat rude to get a generic Linkedin request from a stranger saying they’re a “friend” and double the annoyance points if they don’t reply back to me when I ask them how we know each other. I also feel that, as my friend David says, by connecting with someone on Linkedin, you are partially offering an endorsement of them. Like anything, I think just as there are people you wouldn’t want your reputation tied to offline, you may not want to be connected to certain individuals online either. 😉