Originally posted in The National Law Journal on September 27, 2012
Life is full of tough decisions. Do I go out with friends or stay home tonight? Do I choose the filet mignon or the lobster? One of life’s other tough questions is: “With whom should I connect on LinkedIn?”
Whether you have joined LinkedIn.com (the largest professional social network in the world) or not, it is a mathematical certainty that you have received an email informing you of something like this: “John Smith has indicated you are a person they trust and wants to connect with you on LinkedIn.”
So what do you do? Do you accept? Ignore it? Or do you click the button that says, “I do not know this person”? The answer depends on how you use LinkedIn.
Michael Droke, a partner at Dorsey & Whitney, best summed up one possible approach: “I don’t connect with anybody that I don’t want to spend an hour at dinner with,” he said. “If someone wants to connect with me that I hardly know, I don’t see the point. I want my LinkedIn network to be made up of all high-quality contacts.”
Droke is not alone in his attitude — many lawyers are uncomfortable connecting to casual acquaintances on LinkedIn. I am much more open to meeting new people and expanding my LinkedIn network, as long as those connecting are in fields that complement my own.
The term that LinkedIn uses for people like me is “LinkedIn Open Networker,” or LION. That isn’t to say I won’t click “ignore” when total strangers from foreign countries in random industries try to connect with me. But when I get a connections request, I ask myself the question: “How could this connection possibly be helpful to me or my clients?” If I can’t think of anything, I hit “ignore.” If I feel the connection request seems too much like spam — and perhaps came from certain countries with reputations for financial scams — I click “I do not know this person.”
The difference is subtle, but makes a big difference. If someone has too many people click “I do not know this person,” his account will be blacklisted and he will be barred from sending connection requests unless he already has the email addresses of the people he is trying to connect to.
Should you connect with competitors? That depends. Sometimes competitors are good friends and can refer business, but usually this is not the case. The general advice I give to lawyers is this: If they are competitors in the same geographic area, don’t connect. If they are peers elsewhere, it probably doesn’t hurt and could potentially lead to referral-sharing.
What if you have had dozens of LinkedIn requests, but you haven’t done anything with them? Nothing happens to them. They just sit there. So it might be time to log in to LinkedIn and accept a few. Who knows — maybe someone trying to connect has some work to send your way. And while you’re at it, you might want to reconsider that profile picture you had taken during the 1980s.