On balance, most people would agree that the LinkedIn social media platform has been a positive development in the field of business. Until LinkedIn came along, often it was quite challenging to make and nurture connections with like-minded industry or professional colleagues, or to find relevant contacts deep within corporations or other organizations.
I’m old enough to remember the “bad old days” of fruitless searches through the Corporate Yellow Book, Hoover’s and Dun & Bradstreet mercantile listings to try to find good company contacts. Often the information was far too “upper-level,” out-of-date, or simply wrong. Industry, state and regional directory listings were even worse.
Invariably, any data ferreted out needed to be vetted through phone calls made to beleaguered front-office receptionists who were understandably disinclined to spend much time being helpful.
Of course, as with Wikipedia all LinkedIn “data” is submitted information, and subject to varying degrees of accuracy. As well, the data are comprehensive and accurate only to the degree that each LinkedIn member keeps his or her employment and related information current and complete.
But as a crowd-sourcing database of information – and often with “deep-dive” data on members available to view – LinkedIn is miles ahead of where we were before.
That being said, there is one negative aspect about LinkedIn that seems to have become more pronounced over time — and that’s the burgeoning volume of LinkedIn connection requests that are happening.
Speaking for myself, I’ve spent an entire career nurturing my business relationships. That this has resulted in being one of the LinkedIn members who are in the “500+ connections” club speaks to a lifetime of establishing “real” connections with “real” people – not mindlessly sending out connection solicitations to just anyone.
But that’s what’s happening with many of the incoming requests-to-connect on LinkedIn. These days, I’m receiving requests daily from people I do not know personally and have never even heard of before.
These are the folks who take advantage of LinkedIn’s higher cost”premium membership” programs to gain access to the more detailed information contained in member profiles that is normally off-limits to all except first-degree connections.
In what ways are these people actually interested in connecting with me? Are they simply sending out a rash of “spray-and-pray” requests in the hopes of getting a nibble … or perhaps making an effort to build their own network and look more like an “authority” in their line of work?
When I click through to view the profiles of those people requesting to connect, it turns out that most them are in fields that relate to my line of work, however tangentially. Likely they’ve identified my name based on shared professional organizations and vocational interests.
But their reasons for requesting to connect — if they even bother to give one — are so generic (or so lame) as to be laughable.
Early on, I did a bit of “empirical” research to see how a few of these connections might actually evolve after I accepted their request to connect. Big mistake, that was. Recently, freelance copywriter extraordinaire Ed Gandia described something very similar about his own personal LinkedIn experience, characterizing the typical follow-up communiqué from a new LinkedIn connection as “the business equivalent of a marriage proposal” – to wit:
“I’d like to get on the phone with you about [marrying me/having kids/opening a joint bank account]. Here are three times I’m available to talk. I’m so excited to hear what you can offer me as [my new husband].”
If ever we needed reminding about how not to engage in business development solicitations, these sorry LinkedIn communications are it.
The bright promise of LinkedIn is the ability to identify people with whom we can potentially work or collaborate. In that regard, the platform can be very valuable. It’s just too bad that so many people are now using it for ill-conceived (or perhaps desperate?) shotgun attempts to sell themselves, their products or their services.
It won’t work. Communications technology may have evolved but some fundamental things never change. At the top of the list: No one wants to be pestered by unsolicited pitches for products, consulting services, employment opportunities and the like. Not then, not now, not ever.
Hopefully, LinkedIn can calibrate its business practices to ensure that the benefits of interacting with the social platform always outweigh the detriments. We all recognize that this is one way LinkedIn can monetize the data that’s valuable housed on its platform. But LinkedIn needs to get this just right, lest they turn off their most consequential members – or worse, drive them away.