Last week I shared with you eight things to consider before sending a connection request on LinkedIn. But what do you do when you receive requests, particularly from people you don’t know and who haven’t personalised their invitation?
Most people I come across favour one of two approaches, neither of which I advocate. The first is to ignore or delete all connection requests from strangers, the other is to accept them.
Whether you click ‘delete’ or ‘accept’ you are running a strong chance of missing out. Delete requests without exploring further and you will never know why they wanted to connect. Sure, there’s a fair chance that they are clicking blindly on LinkedIn suggestions or connections of their existing network but there is the possibility that they have a reason for reaching out and LinkedIn is the simplest way for them to do so.
OK, they should at least personalise their request but it doesn’t always make it intuitive for you to do so.
I believe that there are a number of issues with accepting requests blindly. You may build a nice big network with a huge reach…in theory. But how can you manage relationships with all of those people or be responsible for the quality of the people now in your network? The larger and more distant your network is, the less ability you have to control its quality.
Another challenge is increasingly important. I have been the victim of having my profile on Facebook cloned twice to be used in ‘Catfishing‘ scams and a number of my friends have suffered the same fate. There’s nothing to make LinkedIn immune to identity theft or fraud and I don’t believe in unnecessarily making it easier for people to lift our information and that of our connections. There’s something that strikes me as naive and dangerous in adopting a mass connection approach in the modern world.
I am not suggesting slamming the doors until you have verified at least three forms of identity for each connection but you can use a little bit of common sense!
So, what should you do when you receive a connection request? Here are 7 things to consider which will make your use of LinkedIn far more effective and valuable.
Set clear criteria for your network
To whom do you want to be connected? There are no black and white answers to this question, some people like to connect to friends, family and colleagues while others don’t. Some want to ensure that all of their clients are in their LinkedIn network, others want to be more discreet.
For me, if I know and trust you then I’m happy to connect. If you have attended my courses or talks, work for a regular client organisation or have read my books and write to me about them, I’m often happy to connect.
I don’t connect just because we’re members of the same association or are/have been connected on another social network. If I am already connected to you there and still don’t know you, what difference will connecting on LinkedIn make?
These are (in very broad terms) my criteria, you should come up with your own. I have to dilute my preferred criteria (know, like and trust) because of what I do for a living and the amount of international travel I do. Your needs may be different. But if you have clear criteria then your decision-making will be much easier.
Food for thought, you may want to connect with the following people even if you don’t know them personally: potential clients, influential people in client organisations, influential people in supplier organisations, influential people in your industry or your clients’ industries.
Check to see if you’ve interacted with them before
If you have a searchable email client (like Gmail), search for their name. I often don’t recognise names when I see them but the history falls into place when I see our correspondence from the past. Sometimes people reach out several years after we interacted but if I remember them when I see that previous conversation, I become more comfortable connecting.
Your CRM system will be another place to check. I’d also search LinkedIn messages for previous connection requests you have declined.
Have they looked at your profile?
On LinkedIn you can see who has looked at your profile (a limited selection on the free membership). If the person who has sent the connection request has looked at your profile before sending it, they are likely to be more serious about connecting and less likely to just be clicking on LinkedIn suggestions.
Read their profile
Look for clues as to why they may want to connect, as well as whether or not they meet your criteria for connection (see above). Where did they work before? Have you dealt with that firm before? Who do you know in common? What groups are they in, what influencers and companies do they follow? You may also want to check their external website to validate their identity if you have any concerns.
Their profile will offer you a lot of clues as to where synergies may lie and whether this is someone who you would be comfortable adding to your network.
Start a conversation
If you don’t know them and have no obvious reasons to accept at this stage, send them a message inviting them to expand upon their reasons for wanting to connect. I explain that I predominantly connect with people with whom I have an established relationship but don’t like to ignore anyone. I then ask them what led them to connect.
Word of warning – I used to say ‘tell me about yourself’ and I simply received paragraph after paragraph of biography and product information! I don’t want that at this stage, I should be able to get it from their profile anyway. I want to see if they are interested in me or just in ‘broadcast mode’, so I shouldn’t invite them to broadcast in the first place!
At least 50% of people (probably more) won’t reply. That makes your decision much easier, after about a month I delete their request to connect. For the ones who do bother, you now can make a more informed decision on whether to connect or not.
Offer an alternative
For those who I don’t feel meet the criteria to connect with me, I offer them an alternative. In the past this was an alternative social network, like Xing or Twitter. Now, however, you have an alternative within LinkedIn. As long as people are posting content you can ‘Follow’ them (and they you). This means thay you can start to build some awareness of each other and a platform on which to engage (likes, comments, shares) without opening up your network to each other.
Most people appreciate this offer and are happy to go down this route. If for any reason they take offence, please feel free to share this blog with them!
Remember that connecting is not enough!
If you decide to connect, this is just the start. An exchange of clicks does not make a network, you need to build a relationship. So reply to their invitation with a personalised message, ideally with an opening question to develop a conversation. If practical, arrange to Skype or meet in person.
A LinkedIn network has limited value if it’s too restricted or too wide. It offers you nothing if it contains connections rather than relationships. But with a more strategic approach it can be very powerful indeed.