Online networking etiquette
November 18, 2012 8:10 AM   Subscribe

Acceptable to send requests to strangers on Linkedin for networking?

Is it acceptable to send requests to strangers on Linkedin for networking? (even though they may be in your area of work) but you have never met them personally?
posted by synapse2512 to Work & Money (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What do you mean by "acceptable?" I always decline such requests, and I tend to think the people sending them may have made a mistake or may be a little overzealous. However, I wouldn't consider it "unacceptable" to have different social networking policies than I do. I have my personal policy, which is to decline, to the extent possible, to give identifying information about myself to total strangers, but other people are entitled to feel differently about it.
posted by decathecting at 8:15 AM on November 18, 2012 [8 favorites]

You may want to join some groups pertinent to your line of work, and add people that you interact with from those groups. A lot of people may be wary of recruiters poaching their contact lists when adding someone that they have never interacted with.
posted by kellyblah at 8:17 AM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's not acceptable to send them out of the blue with the default LinkedIn "hey, join my network" message. But it could be acceptable if you wrote a personal message explaining why you would like to make a connection.

"Hi Rita, We haven't met, but we both work in widget manufacturing and I'm always looking to network with others in the field. Hope to see you at the upcoming Widget Conference 2012!"

Without that personalization or explanation, you're likely to be declined. (And you still may be anyway.)
posted by dayintoday at 8:19 AM on November 18, 2012 [8 favorites]

I agree with dayintoday. I mostly use Linkedin only for people I genuinely know IRL - even if it's only "know" because I comment on their blog, or something like that. There needs to be a relationship. Occasionally a stranger in my field will seek to connect, and I'm happy to do so if they explain our shared interest.

I actually think it's important to the functioning of LinkedIn that it mostly reflects real relationships. Otherwise its value as a networking tool declines.
posted by Miko at 8:21 AM on November 18, 2012 [6 favorites]

It's bad etiquette. People who are open to link requests from strangers have "LION" in their name. There is a specific etiquette surrounding this.

More on LIONs:

As a professional in my field, I tend to avoid LIONs and unknown requestors because I believe that it reflects poorly on me to be connected with people I don't know. One bad apple could spoil the bag, and when you're not choosy with your connections, you're bound to get a bad apple (e.g. MLM, con-artist, pushy recruiter, etc.) in there somewhere.
posted by juniperesque at 8:21 AM on November 18, 2012 [6 favorites]

I also don't accept requests from people I don't know, but then I barely use the service as it is so I can't speak to the broader culture.
posted by danb at 8:29 AM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, please don't do this unless the person has indicated they are receptive to that. I work for kind of a "name" place, though I'm mid level there (i.e. I have no power to get you a job where I work). When I get stranger requests, I assume they hope to network for job purposes, but I'm really not in the position to do anything for the person, so I have a policy of declining these requests (makes me feel bad to do it, though; so if you don't do that you have my eternal gratitude for not putting me in that position!).
posted by gudrun at 8:31 AM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, don't do this. I get about three of these a week and decline them. The value of the network gets diluted if you can't sincerely say you know these people.
posted by arcticseal at 8:40 AM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm going to reply to your question, but I'm going to state for what purposes that I use LinkedIn because networking is not really my goal though that tool. The actual goal for me is landing freelance projects (I've also had people contact me and ask if I would consider employment, but I'm not looking for that - but it would mean the same suggestions would apply).

Is your goal to network and in turn, obtain job offers/interviews? If this is your goal, don't worry at all about the links. Instead, do things such as:

• Have a detailed, detailed profile (list previous projects, jobs, etc. or think of it like a CV or resume - someone will search for your skill set if they want it).

• Provide contact info or a way to find you (I actually put my email contact up and a link to a business web page, which includes phone contact, etc.) - depends how you want to do it, but if they need to contact you for a job, put the info there.

• Consider using a title or announcement (looking for job in X).

• Join the specific groups for your industry.

I'm going to stress again that I get approached for projects this way (at this point, it is the only way I find new projects with the exception of already established clients), and the majority find me by searching through LinkedIn, not through contacts.There could be no contacts at all, even.

As to sending requests to people that you don't know...

I sometimes accept contacts from people that I don't know, but I evaluate 1) Is the profile linked to a business in my industry (a few potential clients come in this way) and/or 2) they send a personalized, brief email as to the connection and why.

I don't accept contacts from generic emails/invitations, and recruiters/headhunters, 99% are a no unless I have worked with them or know the person in some other way.

As an FYI, I have networked with complete strangers by emailing them, but again, explaining why I want to talk to them (i.e. for an info interview, etc) and what the connection/relationship is (i.e. also work in industry X, also trained in Y).
posted by Wolfster at 8:45 AM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, dayintoday has it. If I get a random "please add me" request from someone I don't know personally, it goes into the round file. A request from someone I don't know personally who takes the time to add a note explaining why they're adding me? Those I will accept almost every time.
posted by deadmessenger at 9:33 AM on November 18, 2012

I think it kind of depends on where you are. The Washington DC area is a really networky place - for better or for worse - if somebody from a really interesting organization sends me an invite, I'll accept it. So if you already work someplace that's important in your field or particularly cool/prestigious, I don't see why not. I think it's also acceptable if you have an common connection to a specific thing in your field, for instance if you both went to the same small, specialized conference but didn't actually meet in person. Like if I went to the web design/development An Event Apart conference, I would accept others who attended if it was clear on the invite.
posted by citron at 9:39 AM on November 18, 2012

I get these requests, mainly from people in my line of work, and I do accept them--I'm a freelancer and I often need to have a contact in some company, city, country, etc.. I usually send requests out for people who are in the same groups as I am. LinkedIn is about business, not my social life, and I never think twice about accepting a request from a videographer in Nepal.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:39 AM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

There was an interesting article on this topic in TechCrunch about a month ago. The writer polled all of her twitter followers asking them how they handled Linked-In invitation requests: "A) accept every request they get; B) only accept requests from people they know personally/can vouch for their work; or C) accept requests on a case-by-case basis." Her findings were that most people operated using "C" -- case by case basis. There are some pretty good comments under that article that run the same way; commenters try to articulate when they'll accept an invitation and always end up with exceptions and caveats. Which seems to match up with how this thread is going currently: almost everyone is saying that they will accept Linked-In invites from people they don't know under certain circumstances. I'm getting more and more invites to connect with people that I don't personally know, which makes me agree with the TechCrunch author, that the lines are really blurring around whether this is bad etiquette.

If you are going to send invites to people you don't know, besides accepting, they can respond with Accept, Ignore, or Report Spam. Under Ignore, you can also choose "I don't know x". Too many "Report Spam" or "I don't know" responses will get your account restricted. I would agree with dayintoday and deadmessenger -- a note explaining why you are inviting them to connect will at least keep you out of the spam and "I don't know" buckets.
posted by kovacs at 9:57 AM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I always assume (and their profiles tend to support this) that people who send random, especially generic, requests are MBA sleaze-types. I decline them.
posted by cmoj at 10:34 AM on November 18, 2012

Friend requests to people you don't know aren't offensive, but are clueless. LinkedIn has a messaging feature for non-connections and that is what you are supposed to use.
posted by MattD at 10:43 AM on November 18, 2012

I've got a strict policy of not accepting invites from anyone I don't know.

A couple of very savvy recruiters have gotten around this by first sending me an InMail message introducing themselves BRIEFLY and asking a question that's easy to quickly answer. It's not their whole schpiel, and it doesn't mention an open position. You know, like meeting someone in person: it would be weird to jump into a monologue about you and your needs right off the bat. They're instead starting off with a pretty casual conversation. After a few InMails have been exchanged I've accepted an invite, because I feel like I actually do know them a little bit.

I really hope I don't regret sharing this technique on the internet....
posted by nadise at 12:00 PM on November 18, 2012

I accidentally used their contact import tool when I joined to spam my entire gmail contact list of thousands of people with requests. Nobody has really complained to me about it but very few people accepted it. Given how confusing that tool is, I imagine it happens all the time. I don't think you really gain much by doing it, though.
posted by empath at 1:29 PM on November 18, 2012

Lots of people don't like this. However

Tip: If you really want to do this, start with Twitter. Following people you've never met on on Twitter is considered fine by most and encouraged by many. After a while, maybe you "know" them well enough for LinkedIn.

Think of it like chatting to someone in the cafeteria for a while rather than inviting yourself into their house. You start in public spaces and work yourself towards more private ones. Pretty much the same as most human interaction really.
posted by Winnemac at 3:15 AM on November 19, 2012

I've done it a couple times as dayintoday wrote: customize the message so they know why you are interested in connecting with them. Being in the same group or being a 3rd degree connection is a bonus. (Like everyone else, I delete without prejudice the people I do not know and have no connection to me and seem to have no common interest.)

The question will have to be revisited because recently LinkedIn is changing profile visibility. if I am not in your network, I cannot see your profile without being a paid member (and vice versa). This is insanely irritating, and will cause me to rethink how I use LinkedIn or if I look for the next thing to move on to.
posted by whatzit at 3:29 AM on November 19, 2012

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