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 make and nurture connections with like-minded industry or professional colleagues, as well as to seek out 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 contacts within organizations. Often the information was far too “upper-level,” out-of-date, or simply wrong.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 be helpful.
Of course, as with Wikipedia all LinkedIn “data” is submitted information, and subject to varying degrees of (in)accuracy. As well, the data is 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.
However, 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’s in the “500+ connections” club speaks to a lifetime of establishing “real” connections with “real” people – not mindlessly sending out relationship solicitations.
But that’s what’s happening with many of the incoming requests-to-connect on LinkedIn. These days, I’m receiving daily requests from people I do not know personally and indeed have never heard of.
These are the folks who are taking advantage of LinkedIn “premium membership” plans to gain access to the more detailed information contained in member profiles that is normally off-limits to all except first-degree connections.
Are these people interested in connecting with me all that much? Or are they just sending out a rash of “spray-and-pray” requests in the hopes of getting a nibble … or perhaps 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 requesting to connect, it turns out that most them are people who are in fields related to my line of work, however tangentially. They’ve likely 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 some 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. Fundamental Rule #1: 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 housed on the platform. But LinkedIn needs to get this just right, lest they turn off their most valuable members – or worse, drive them away.