I'm sure you've seen--or rather, skimmed past--the Terms of Service that govern services like Facebook, LinkedIn and the like. Similar to End User License Agreements, these are the things you skim over so you can quickly click Accept and move on.
Well I've decided to change my terms of service, at least when it comes to LinkedIn networking. More accurately, I've decided to revert to something closer to my original terms.
When I started on LinkedIn, I took seriously their advice to "only connect with people you know." I even remember an email exchange with a (somewhat distant) co-worker who wanted to make sure he really new me before he accepted my connection request.
This advice from LinkedIn was in contrast to the "LION" (LinkedIn Open Networker) approach, which was much more promiscuous about connecting. Their argument was that you never know who you're going to want to know or be able to help. OK, that's a valid point.
Maybe a year ago, things at LinkedIn seemed to change, in two important ways
- LinkedIn made it much easier (a one-click experience) to request a connection. Click the button and someone receives your connection request, with a stock "I'd like to connect with you on LinkedIn" message.
- LinkedIn seems to have changed its stance on curating connection requests. It seemed (and seems now) that anyone who's a member of a group with me can send me a connection request. There doesn't seem to be any more of the LinkedIn "show me you know this person" hurdles to jump over.
In a fit of pique, I decided to go ahead and accept these connection requests. Hey, if LinkedIn was going to make it that easy, then I was going to oblige them. Often I would notice that the requester would show up on my "who's viewed your profile" list, making me realize they were mass-mailing these connection requests and really weren't even aware that they'd sent me a request. So for a while I would write to them, explain that I wasn't sure if they intended to connect but I was happy to accept. Sometimes people would write back and say that, indeed, they wanted to connect. And I've built some good relationships out of these kinds of blind-date connections.
More and more, however, things have been getting a bit spammy.
- Susan sends me a connection request
- I accept
- Susan sends me a message, pitching me on her/her company's services (lead generation and outsourced software development being the leading examples)
- I explain that I'm not in the market for these services (something they could have surmised had they bothered to check), but hey, good luck with it
- Susan never contacts me again
After a while, people like Susan (and their associates) show up in my news feed, and I have to work to remember: is this someone I have a professional relationship with? As with other social forces, the noise starts to overcome the signal (what?)
So as of today, I've started purging my connection lists of people that seemed to want to treat networking like a one-night-stand. And I'm turning back people that have no connection to me, and haven't included a personal note with their connection request.
I've had some great conversations with people I didn't previously know, so I'm certainly still open to requests from out of the blue. But if it looks like you're just following the LinkedIn Path of Least Resistance, and it looks like you want to sell first and help later, then I can say "it's not you--it's me."
As in, "I have this strange desire to know first and sell later. So find a way to connect with me, show me that your interest is more than transactional, and we'll talk."