Why You Should Connect with People You Don’t Know on LinkedIn

LinkedIn, LinkedIn Connections, Networking, Social Media, Social Networks


Imagine this. You’re at a networking event and a professional approaches you extending their hand to introduce themselves. You quickly turn your back on them and walk away. Sounds crazy, yet millions of LinkedIn users do this when they ignore invitation requests from people they don’t know.

Why would I accept an invitation from a stranger?” is the response I get when I advise clients to accept most of the invites sitting in their Inbox. On LinkedIn you have connections, not friends, and that should be your first clue.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point he references sociologist Mark Granovetter’s classic study about connectors. “Granovetter’s research showed it was your acquaintances, not your close friends, who introduce you to new ideas and opportunities.” If you think about it, this makes perfect sense. Your friends travel in the same social circles as you, after all, and are therefore exposed to the same information. Social power comes from your “strong, weak ties” or the acquaintances that introduce us to worlds in which we do not belong.

Granovetter’s study makes the case for accepting invitations from people you don’t know on LinkedIn.

It’s a social network after all, not a private country club—be inclusive, not exclusive. The more connections you have, the more relationships you will forge. There’s a ripple effect that takes place. Each LinkedIn member is one, or two, degrees of separation away from someone who could potentially be a future client. If you say no to that one person, you’re simultaneously turning away their entire network of second and third degree connections.

Does this mean you should accept every invitation you receive? No, you should evaluate the merit of the invite and then decide.

1. View their profile. Simply going to the person’s profile can provide insight as to why you received an invitation. If you share a connection, college or group then you might show up as a suggestion from LinkedIn’s “People You May Know.” In my last post I spoke of keywords; the keywords in your profile serve as a prompt for all these suggestions from LinkedIn.

Study what they do, gauging if you could benefit from this relationship—although it is often the person I least expected who surprises me. Take note if they have a strong network. You may not want to connect with someone who has 15 connections (although we all have to start somewhere.) You definitely want to connect with someone who has 500+ connections. There’s power and influence in a large network. If the member has his settings open, you have access to those connections. And you get a SEO boost from being part of their network.

2. Ask why the person sent you an invite. My life’s mantra is “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” Did you know you have the option of selecting “reply” before accepting an invitation? Try saying “I’m sorry would you remind me how we know each other?” You can’t anticipate the response you will receive. Maybe they heard you speak at a conference, or were referred by a mutual connection, or read your blog and decided to reach out. Don’t assume; ask. If you don’t get a response, then you shouldn’t accept.

3. No photo? Don’t accept the invite. If someone doesn’t have a LinkedIn profile photo it says two things. Number 1. It might be a fake profile. Number 2. The person is not savvy enough to understand social media is about transparency and authenticity. I reply, “I don’t accept LinkedIn invites from invisible members.” Many profile photos have been posted due to this comment.

4. “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer” ~ Sun Tzu ~ Is my response when asked by clients, “Should I accept invitations from my competitors?” Don’t forget you have access to their profile, too. And you’re more likely to show up at the top of their profile page under “People Similar To…” when someone is viewing it.

Look at it as an opportunity to partner with your competition. I have a reciprocal relationship with a LinkedIn coach, Emily Miller based in London, who referred a client to me after we connected.

If you still have doubts about accepting invites from potential spammers, remember you can always “disconnect.” Try it first though.

I hope to receive invites from you in my Inbox, too.

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