Regular readers of my blogs will know that I’m not an ‘open networker’. That doesn’t mean that I’m not open to new connections, of course I am, but I don’t just connect with people on social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook without a purpose and I’m not into list building. For me the depth of my network is more important than its breadth.
Not everyone shares my approach and I can respect that. I recognise that my chosen approach means that I might miss an opportunity to connect with the person who might have provided the key introduction I’ve been seeking or even become a big client. But by the same logic I’d network at every chance I get, morning, noon and night, in the knowledge that I might miss out on that all important connection if I stay away.
Somewhere you have to draw the line.
In my opinion there are still far too many people who buy into the philosophy that large networks are the key to successful networking and follow every recommendation LinkedIn throws their way and try to connect with everyone else who comments on the same discussion as them. For them the simple question is ‘Why not connect? What’s the harm?’
Here are seven reasons they might want to reconsider:
1. More noise in your network
Do you get frustrated when you go onto your LinkedIn timeline and see lots of updates from people you don’t know and whose expertise you don’t consider relevant to you? Would you like to stay more connected to people with whom you have a genuine relationship by engaging with their updates?
The larger your network, the harder that becomes. Your timeline is populated by both the updates of the people to whom you are connected and those that they have liked and commented upon. The more random your network, the more random your timeline.
2. It is harder to find a genuine introduction
LinkedIn is at its most powerful when used as a referral tool. It allows you to identify mutual contacts between you and the people you most want to meet and then to ask those contacts if they would recommend and refer you.
Of course that approach becomes much harder if you have no real relationship with the majority of people in your network. Why would they recommend you if they don’t know you and what could they genuinely say of value? And, if they are Open Networkers, what relationship do they actually have with the person you want to meet?
3. Increased numbers of random connection requests
As soon as you accept a connection request you are then touted by LinkedIn as a possible connection to that person’s network. If their network is made up of Open Networkers, the more you connect, the more requests you’ll receive. Even if you simply click ‘accept’ each time without engaging in conversation, that becomes time consuming, even more so if you try to engage in some level of conversation. And, of course, it becomes self-perpetuating with more and more requests coming in the more you connect.
4. An increased risk of phishing
It’s not nice to find out that someone has used your images and details in order to defraud someone else. This has happened to me and to colleagues of mine. The more you open up your profiles to random connections, the easier it becomes for criminals to take your identity and use it illegally. Don’t feed this activity, you need to take some responsibility.
5. Giving a stranger a trusted status with your network
Many people will accept a connection request because of mutual connections the other person shares with them. They assume that this new connection is to be trusted because they know the same people. Yet it’s easy to see how one person accepting a request from a stranger can lead to their whole network assuming trust as one by one people connect based on this associated trust. Don’t be that first connection that opens up your whole network to a stranger whose honesty and integrity you can’t vouch for.
6. Opening the door to spam messages on LinkedIn
It’s bad enough when people we know mass message their whole network on LinkedIn, it’s even more annoying when those spam messages come from people who we don’t know but whose connection request we accepted in a moment of weakness.
7. The spam just gets worse
Once you are in someone’s LinkedIn network they can export your data into external programs and do what they like with it. You’re opening the door to your data being sold for mass mail lists and more.
So it’s not as harmless or straightforward as it seems to accept a connection request. That doesn’t mean that you should ignore everyone you don’t know personally either. But apply a bit of thought and strategy to your approach. Ask yourself what your criteria are by which you will accept. Is it people you have worked with? Potential clients? Influencers in your industry or your clients’? People in markets you want to penetrate?
There are a number of justifiable reasons to connect with strangers but at the heart of the connection should lie engagement and conversation. A simply reply to a request, asking people why they want to connect with you, sorts out a lot of the time wasters. Over 70% disqualify themselves immediately by not replying and many others do so when they reply by simply talking about themselves.
Take a strategic approach to how you build your network. You can still be open to new connections but just be a little bit more thoughtful about how you do so.