Let me say straight up that I am a big fan of LinkedIn and its power to help professional people manage and grow their networks. I’ve gained a much wider circle of connections I value highly, through my membership of LinkedIn and groups of LinkedIn people.

And when I co-authored with Bill Vick the book Happy About LinkedIn for Recruiting, I learnt a lot more, both about the potential of LinkedIn and how it was actually being used by others and contributing to business success for many people.

So there’s a but?

Well yes, and it is not raised as a criticism of LinkedIn but more as an airing of some thoughts I am dealing with, about responding to invitations to connect on LinkedIn.

People who have sought to understand how LinkedIn works and have used it to a reasonable degree will generally understand what follows here as my personal take on the ‘quality vs quantity’ debate about connecting on LinkedIn. I would understand if they then choose to not read on – been there, done that, got the t-shirt. But I am actually concerned more with the issue of how to reply courteously and productively to people whose invitations to ‘connect on LinkedIn’ I find problematic.

For the benefit of anyone unfamiliar with the way LinkedIn works, the word ‘connect’ has a particular meaning here which is that, considering ‘degrees of separation’ and ‘first degree’ meaning that someone is directly connected,  if I agree to ‘connect’ with someone, she or he becomes a direct contact with no intermediary required.

The view some people have about networking leads them to seek to have as many of these first degree contacts as possible, and some boast of over 5,000 such contacts. This is sometimes characterised as the ‘dig the well before you need to drink’ approach to networking. Others, of whom I am one, hold out for a more selective approach, whereby we want to have some prior experience of working or associating professionally with someone, having been to university with them (and known them there), and so on.

If I were one of the people who takes the view that a huge first degree LinkedIn network is desirable,  I would no doubt relish responding, and in the affirmative, to just about all the invitations I get to connect. I’m not, and I don’t.

It’s not that I don’t want to make new contacts. Anyone who knows me well also knows that I am gregarious and love making new connections. But having people in my first degree of LinkedIn contacts means for me that I know and trust them – maybe not with my life or my wallet, yet, but that I have checked them out enough to have a fair degree of confidence that if I introduce them to another of my contacts or ‘connections’ I am unlikely to be embarrassed.

Which is why I have only 220 people in my first level of contacts on LinkedIn.

And lest I be thought a bit precious about all this, here’s LinkedIn’s view of whom it is appropriate to invite to connect (test is from the box that appears on the page from which I can send invitations):

Be sure to invite the people you already know and trust.

    * Ex-bosses
    * Colleagues
    * Friends
    * Business Partners

What then am I to do with the invitations that come to me from the four corners of the globe and the message, cast in the words of one of the boilerplate invites which LinkedIn kindly provides, announces:

Since you are a person I trust, I wanted to invite you to join my network on LinkedIn.

I know nothing of many of these no doubt well meaning people when their message arrives, and am not always the wiser when I have looked at what is available on their LinkedIn profile. They went to this university, they had this job and that job and they are now heading up their own professional services firm. But who are they, really? What makes this exercise even more irritating than it needs to be is that most of them give no indication that they have read my profile or tried to see where there might be some common interest.

Is there a button I can press to decline the invitation? Yes.

Why don’t I just press it?

Well, part of the reason is that I don’t want to needlessly and thougthlessly offend someone who may know a bit about me from a group of which we are both members and I have just not recognised their name at this point.

So what I’ve done, recognising that I might well have something in common with some of these good people, something that we could mutually build upon, is that I have sent a lot of responses with an explanation of my views on connecting and an invitation to have some other contact initially, short of ‘connecting’. In some instances people have responded positively and we have gone on to develop a good mutual understanding, enough in some cases to go to the stage of ‘connecting’.

Others do not respond, or just keep sending the boilerplate invitation, as if I have not already replied.

A few, and I emphasise very few, have become indignant about my response. In a network of over 7 million, that’s hardly surprising – there are some very uptight people in this world and it’s only fair that LinkedIn has its quota!

That’s not a problem.

The problem I do have is that I’ve been tending to let a bit of a backlog of invitations build up, while I figure out how to respond.  I’m about to work on clearing the backlog and have reduced my former seven paragraph ‘explanatory’ response to invitations that are not from people I recognise to two lines. The new response reads:

Hi

Happy to consider the possibility of connecting

on LinkedIn in due course.

Can I ask what you know about me and where you might see some mutuality?

Des.

I’m not expecting a lot of replies, but I expect to feel better in not letting the invitations build up  .

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