This article was contributed by Viveka von Rosen: Author, Speaker, LinkedIn Consultant and owner of Linked Into Business.
LinkedIn has established itself as a reliable source for sharing knowledge and provides countless opportunities for friendly managers to make new contacts. It’s a two-way street, though.
When you receive an invitation to connect on LinkedIn, it’s relatively easy to click on the name and check out the other party’s profile.
Accepting an invitation from a customer, co-worker or known source to connect on LinkedIn usually is a snap decision. Savvy managers know immediately they’ll use their new contact to build or extend a sturdy business structure and look ahead to situations where the friendship will pay off down the road.
The other direction on that street has potholes: Unsolicited invitations to connect on LinkedIn from unknown people, or contacts that could have no bearing on your career or business strategy. When this happens, how to refuse the contact request from someone without leaving a sour taste?
Managers who decline an invite want to do it tactfully -- without burning bridges – and perhaps even leave the door open a crack for future business contact. Sample wording for managers who want to respectfully say no:
“I really appreciate your invitation to connect on LinkedIn, but I make it a practice to only connect to people I know well. If you have a reason for wanting to connect, please let me know. And always feel free to follow my company page at this link: www.LinkedIn.com/company/companyname"
When someone sends you an invitation to connect on LinkedIn, you can always look at their profile to determine if they’re someone you want to connect to or not just by clicking on their name.
If you are still unsure whether you want to connect, click on the drop down to the right of the big blue Accept button and click “Reply (don’t accept yet). As the link implies, you can, without connecting, ask the person why they want to connect. I find most spammers don’t reply and then I delete them. But occasionally I will get a very thoughtful response and add that person to my profile.
To accept? Or not to accept
LinkedIn itself contributes to this haziness: Businesses are cautioned on one hand to accept and approve invitations to join networks only from familiar and trusted people. (LinkedIn feels strongly enough about this to make it part of LinkedIn’s end user agreement, which advises people not to connect to anyone they don’t know.)
At the same time, the LinkedIn site posts pages that nudge members to connect with “people you may know" – encouraging them to reach out to once- or twice-removed potential connections.
All Invitations Accepted
Some people sidestep the issue altogether and accept every invitation that lands in their lap.
Workplace expert Dan Schawbel explains the rationale behind sifting through the whole stack of blind bids for connections:
- Referrals. More first-degree contacts equals more access to out-of-network managers
- Research. A professional research directory -- white pages for professionals
- Branding. A business network can show other businesses it has up to 500 contacts.
A standard reason to accept invitations from unfamiliar sources is that it improves search success. Visibility in LinkedIn increases with the relative size of that company’s network.
Bigger is better, in other words, and this prompts businesses to welcome unfamiliar invites. It helps businesses beef up and boost visibility. At the same time, the source of the unexpected invitation comes with the potential to become a prospect or help a business grow its network in the long run.
Another reason not to throw the baby out with the bathwater: Surprise invitations commonly come from someone already familiar with the business.
That can mean the source asking to join your LinkedIn network could be either:
- A friend of a friend
- A fellow member of a shared group typically joined by managers, or
- Someone who has a tangential relationship with company/locations/industry/visitors in common
If a LinkedIn invitation is offensive or if a contact sours, a business can block the source, or block and report the source. LinkedIn’s restrictions bar most people (with the exception of those shelling out for a premium account) from making random solicitations for connections.
What if managers accept an invitation, but have second thoughts and don’t want to connect with someone after all? There’s a painless way out. Businesses can block the source as a connection by clicking on the drop down to the right of the blue Message button and then clicking on the Remove link.
LinkedIn is only as useful as the size of your network (so don't be afraid to connect to some people you don't know, as long as you have good reason) and it's perfectly okay not to accept invitations as well. In the end, as with all things social media, only do what you are comfortable doing! And happy linking!
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