Keep it human when networking online.

When you send a connection request to another LinkedIn member, LinkedIn provides you with the opportunity to hit 'send now' or to customize your request before hitting 'send invitation'.

The only situation, in my humble opinion, when you should just hit 'send now' without customizing your connection request is when the recipient will 100% know you and will 100% accept. Why?

You don't want to get put on a naughty list by LinkedIn and that will happen if enough people decline your connection request and take the additional step of clicking 'I do not know this person'. Going on the naughty list invokes the loss of certain LinkedIn privileges.

In almost all situations, the customize connection request option is for you.

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At Empire Selling, we teach the simple cadence of connecting immediately after a meaningful business or personal interaction and customizing the connection request every single time, even for colleagues and friends.

Has anyone else noticed a significant increase in the number of clearly templated connection requests you are receiving on LinkedIn in recent months?

Products and services exist that allow you to define your target audience on LinkedIn and then blast them with your choice of 'customized' connection request. The only way you can mass blast groups of LinkedIn members is by selecting a generic message that will go to every single person to whom you are sending the connection request. This is not keeping it human when online networking. Check out the below examples.

The first example is a weak attempt at playing on my curiosity to try and get me to accept a connection request.

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The second example is the assumptive, non-explanatory connection request.

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The final example is the self-serving connection request dressed up with fake praise.

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Online networking etiquette is a critical business skill. Think about what you are actually doing by sending a connection request to a stranger. You are asking them to accept you, also a stranger, into their professional network. And then what? By accepting you into their network, that person is making their personal contact information available to you, their connections (if they don't have them on lock down) and anything else that is otherwise only available to their 1st degree network (i.e. their connections).

Have you been sending or accepting connections requests like the ones outlined above from strangers? What has happened after accepting? From my experience, one of 2 things:

  1. Nothing.

  2. A generic sales pitch via LinkedIn Message within 24-48 hours.

If you are using these products and services to build your network, think about the 'trail of declines' you are leaving in your wake and the number of times you have already been put on the LinkedIn naughty list. Could you survive without LinkedIn? If no, stop doing it immediately. Perhaps more importantly, think about the negative impact you are having on your personal and corporate professional brand. LinkedIn is already a busy place. Don't add to the noise for your fellow LinkedIn members.

If you are connecting this way on LinkedIn, at least follow up with those that have accepted and explain specifically how you believe, based on your research of that person and their professional situation, can help them achieve their goals. Don't send a generic sales pitch.

You may be thinking what's the alternative if I want to build my professional network quickly?

What's the rush? Why do you feel the need to have thousands of people in your network who with whom you haven't had a meaningful business or personal interaction? What's in it for you? What's in it for them?

If you are new to LinkedIn or only really paying attention to it as a business platform recently, you can sync email addresses with LinkedIn which is the fastest way to grow your network. LinkedIn will immediately show you the names of LinkedIn members who use the email that you have communicated with them as their primary LinkedIn email address. You can then select or deselect the people to whom you want to send connection requests. Be warned. You are syncing your email address(es). There will be people to whom you don't want to send connection requests (i.e. ex-partners if the relationship ended badly, bad ex-bosses who you absolutely don't want in your network... you get the idea). And by the way, you will not be able to customize your connection requests to these people by taking this approach. Only send it if the recipient will 100% know you and will 100% accept. Otherwise, make a list of the people with whom you want to connect, go to their profiles and send customized connection requests.

Yes it takes more time, but so does building a robust professional network that you can then make more productive and successful via your content strategy (see earlier articles).

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The main takeaway from this article should be that you have to keep it human when it comes to online networking. If you went to an in-person networking event, would you go up to every single person at the event and introduce yourself by saying: "I think I have something that will be of interest to you" or "I think it would make sense for us to be connected"? I suspect not. So don't do it on LinkedIn.

Hope this is helpful as you build your professional network.