News Flash: LinkedIn is for Networking

I am writing this post as a reality check.

On a lawyers’ listserv that I follow, there is a currently a discussion thread about LinkedIn. Simply stated, the topic of this discussion is focused on how to get rid of all those pesky invitations from unfamiliar LinkedIn members.

It started when someone posted this question:

“How do you handle invitations to connect on LinkedIn when you don’t know the person? I’ve tried emailing people and asking them how we know each other, sometimes without response. What do you do when the person is unfamiliar, and doesn’t respond?”

Among the responses the question elicited were these:

  • “I’ve so far resisted all of them.”
  • “I just ignore the invitation.”
  • “I either ignore the person or I check the button that says that I don’t know them.”


LinkedIn is a site for professional networking. Wiktionary defines “networking” as “the act of meeting new people in a business or social context.”

Why, then, would you want to ignore invitations from strangers? The whole point is to broaden your network to add people you do not currently know — not to limit it.

Think of it this way: If you were at a live networking event, would you accept or reject opportunities to mingle based on whether you previously knew the person? Of course not. The purpose of networking is to create new connections that might prove useful to you as a professional.

LinkedIn is a tool for networking, and therefore for expanding your network beyond your existing circle of colleagues and friends.

When I receive an invitation from someone I don’t know, I look at it as an opportunity and evaluate it as such. And, because you never know what might come out of a relationship, I end up rejecting very few invitations. I reject invitations that appear to be purely commercial or possible solicitations and I reject ones that appear to be random or mistaken. But if there is some professional basis for connecting to someone, I accept.

By contrast, I am far more picky on Facebook. There, I try to restrict my network to people I know or have some good reason to be “friends” with. Even there, however, I err on the side of making new friends, not rejecting them.

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  • Bob, I don’t necessarily disagree with you, but far too often the invitation from someone you’ve never met comes as “I’d like to add you to my professional network,” with no additional explanation of why the person wants to connect. This is the online equivalent of walking up to someone at a networking event, shoving your business card in their hand, saying, “Here’s my card,” and then walking away. And I’m not sure much comes from that.

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  • Bob –

    If Alli won;t disagree with you, then I will. There are lots of different reasons to use networking sites and lots of different standards for establishing a connection.

    You are using LinkedIn to expand your network. personally, I use LinkedIn to memorialize my network. I only accept connection when there is an existing relationship. Then I can keep track of the person going forward, making LinkedIn a vibrant and evolving Rolodex.


    I want to keep track of my connections. The flow of information from strangers can cloud the information I really want to see about people with whom I have a real connection.

    • Others have sent me comments by e-mail or on Twitter expressing an opinion similar to yours. Since LinkedIn lets you tag contacts, maybe you could do both. Use tags to organize your known contacts and still expand your network of “unknown” contacts.

  • We think a simple but structured process is helpful for lawyers. We recommend to our LinkedIn users clicking through to a profile on an invite and deciding affirmatively whether this is a connection that will be valuable to communicate with. This way, it is more like getting that buisiness card that Alli refers to and asking the question, “What do you do?” The inviter isn’t running away, just politely waiting.

    • Good points all around. I agree with Alli that invitations to connect should not be generic but should explain themselves in some way, or at least personalize themselves.

      And when I said in my post, “I look at it as an opportunity and evaluate it as such,” I meant to indicate that I do evaluate the invitation and don’t blindly accept it. As you suggest, at a minimum, I click through to the profile before deciding. Sometimes, I go even farther, Googling the person or checking out the links they provide and the connections they’ve already made.