The other day I received an invitation to join someone's LinkedIn network. This was a person I worked with at a previous company a few years back. I declined the invitation because I didn't really know the guy. He worked in a different department and I don't even recall a one-on-one conversation we ever had. Before proceeding, let me just say that I love LinkedIn. I think its a terrific service and one of the most important networks I have. It has loads of great features, is easy to use and is very polished as an application. If you're not on LinkedIn, I highly recommend you sign up. (Just read below before inviting me to join your network.)
In LinkedIn, when you send someone an invitation, it pre-populates a standard message that says something like this:
Since you are a person I trust, I'd like you to join my network.
When you receive the invitation, you have the option to click on an "Accept" button or a button that says "I don't know this person". I feel bad whenever I click on that "I don't know you" button, because most of the time, I do know who the person is, but that's about the extent of the relationship.
Everyone has the right to manage their networks in their own way, but I personally don't want to be too flippant about that word "trust". I manage my LinkedIn network differently than I manage other networks, like Twitter, Facebook or Readernaut (highly recommended, btw). These networks have completely different purposes and deserve a different approach. They're more for social networking, keeping up with old friends, sharing information with your buddies, etc.
What is the purpose of LinkedIn? On the surface, it could be as simple as an online resume. The social aspect of it (connections, recommendations, answers, etc.) makes it much more dynamic than a standard resume, though. In addition, LinkedIn could potentially be your most important network if you were to suddenly lose your job. Your connections in LinkedIn would be the place you start looking for work, right? In this scenario, this network would have tremendous value.
So, who should you add?
Do you add everyone you have ever met or had a conversation with? I guess some people do and to each his own, but for me to maintain the "integrity" and value of my network, I try to only add people that I do know and trust. Even if its only someone that you know online, there can still be an element of trust in that "virtual" relationship.
In some regards, I think LinkedIn makes it too easy to add people to your network. In a few simple steps you could send an invite to everyone in your email contacts list. Or to everyone from Company X that you worked for 10 years ago. Those are nice tools that make finding potential connections much easier, but I like to think that more discretion should be used.
- Current and former teammates
- Current and former clients
- People I worked closely with at previous companies
- Online colleagues that I know do good work and that I trust
- Friends and family
- People I shared an elevator ride with once, but never talked to again
- Former colleagues that I really never worked with, even if I recognize their name
- High school classmates that I haven't spoken to in 15 years and probably never will again
- All Philadelphia Eagles fans (ha! I jest)
In the past, I have probably added people to my network that I shouldn't have, based on the thoughts that I've outlined above. I guess I just did it to be nice before I really formed a real philosophy about all this. Because of this, there are definitely people in my network that I don't really know or trust. Its good to be nice, but you also have to be smart.
With that said - good luck and have fun using LinkedIn. I highly recommend writing recommendations for people who's work you endorse and that you know well. But above all, be judicious with those invitations.
That's my take. How do you manage your networks?