A rant blog post about the wrong way and the right way to connect, network, and market on LinkedIn.

I’m about to vent my spleen and rant a bit, so strap on your safety goggles, internet masses. I am about to rip into something in desperate need of a good ripping. I also want to preface this rant with the comment that I do not loath social media in all its forms and I have no desire for it to fall into the obscured, faceless abyss of the internet’s lost memories. That being said, I’ve got a serious bone to pick with some people on LinkedIn, and while it’s not all of them, their numbers seem to grow by the day. Yup. I’m talking about unsolicited LinkedIn connection requests.

I’m well aware that culture is an ever-evolving entity, and internet culture evolves at an even faster rate. I feel like Clint Eastwood yelling at kids to get off his lawn in Gran Torino by even bringing this up, but if nobody upholds standards of common courtesy and respect, then they will dry up and blow away like so much dust in the wind. Wow. I fit several allusions in there. My point remains true regardless: unsolicited connection requests (UCRs) are the true bane of LinkedIn, and there is no reason whatsoever that they have to be that way.


My Problem With UCRs

While I am fully cognizant that the purpose of a social network is to connect with others with whom we share common traits and characteristics, this does not mean I am in any way obligated or have any desire to connect with them in the first place. I’m not antisocial in the least, but I dang sure don’t have the time to manage a large circle of friends and business acquaintances/contacts.

Why do I bother with LinkedIn then? Primarily because it’s a professional connection site, so in my line of work, I may occasionally use LinkedIn and reach out to potential clients and others that may have a need for the products and services I offer. I’m not selling though, just looking for introductions and the shared benefits of open two-way communication. I have also used LinkedIn in the past to do potential client research to get a feel for the people they employ and how they run their business. I do not, however, send them cold emails or connection requests suggesting we meet up for a deal. It’s just not how I operate.

Despite my personal code of social media ethics, it seems a vast legion of marketing groups and lead generation sites have no compunction whatsoever about spamming the hell out of my LinkedIn mailbox with UCRs. Experts on work-related stress state that the more work-related email you look at per day, the more stressed you will become over time. These messages may not add a significant amount of stress (*cough* Select All->Delete cough*), but there is always the underlying fear that when I do mass dump my inbox that I am trashing potential legitimate requests. It’s infuriating with a side serving of fear-of-missing-out. There are far more serious reasons this sort of spam is bad business though.


Legal and Social Ramifications of UCRs

Believe it or not, there are laws governing what marketing agencies can and cannot do, and one of those limitations deals directly with sending unsolicited direct messages to people with which you possess no prior relationship. Marketing agencies aren’t even legally allowed to add people to their newsletter email lists involuntary or without specifically requesting someone joins of their own free will.

Not only is this a direct violation of digital marketing laws, but it also starts your relationship with your prospective customer off on entirely the wrong foot. If you walked up to 100 strangers in a mall and tried to sell them something, some of them are going to make a purchase. The vast majority of those 100 people are going to make a potentially violent suggestion regarding where you can stick that product or service.

Yes, you close some sales by walking up to strangers and pushing the hard sell, but by and large, you are developing a reputation as desperate, sleazy, underhanded or some unholy trinity of all three. No matter how confident you are in your abilities, creating a bad impression by randomly approaching potential buyers is only going to damage your potential for long-term repeat business.


The Right Way to Make Social Networks Bring New Business

First off, nobody likes spam, and there are far-reaching laws on multiple continents that ban the practice. UCRs on LinkedIn are a slightly evolved version of spam. Stop it. STAHP. Nobody likes UCRs. Don’t do it.

Instead, you need to find the right collaborative groups online and start building relationships there. Get to know people, learn their stories, learn everything you can about how and why they do what they do and have kept on doing it. Get curious, don’t be pushy, and remember, any relationship worth maintaining requires time and effort to make it work. You don’t have to play golf or go for drinks with them but expressing interest in what they do and striving to learn what they may have to teach you is critical to successful networking on any social media site.

Not familiar with the conventions and common courtesy of correspondence? Read a book or check out some blogs online that can give you a crash course in etiquette for the digital era. We may have developed most of these social norms decades ago, but they are no less effective online than when they were printed or written long-hand on paper.


The Lesson in The Rant

Find successful people you admire and get to know them, even if it’s only reading what they write or following their career online. Above all, remember you are someone worth knowing, too. If you don’t feel like you are, you need to work on building your confidence. Once you’re ready though, you will find that genuine human interest, observing good communication etiquette, and shared respect are going to bring in far more new clients than a sling-crap-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks UCR scheme.

Brad Gillum headshot

Written by Brad Gillum

"We’re business consultants who happen to specialize in marketing. We help people and have fun doing it."