Still, I clicked “Ignore” for both of those, just as I had done in response to that invitation from someone in the Netherlands several months earlier. Why, you ask? How does that jibe with the open mind I just paid lip service to?
Well, for one, those invitations were generic, containing nothing more than the default “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.” For another, I didn’t know those people, and it didn’t help that their profiles still didn’t tell me why I should connect with them. All that added up to break the deal.
A lot has already been said about how to invite people “properly” on LinkedIn. (Actually, here’s a recent thought-provoking article that has spawned some outspoken comments.) Mind you, not that I was offended by the invitations I mentioned; just as I don’t want anyone thinking I mean to offend by clicking “Ignore” as I see fit.
It seems the discussion is nowhere near settled—and how could it be, since we’re all coming from different cultures in LinkedIn’s global village. So I guess now would be the time for my two cents.
1. Inviting people you haven’t met before (in person or online) is generally fine.
LinkedIn is about visibility, approachability, and fruitful professional contact. Of course there will be new people turning up on your radar. How you approach them can make or break the invitation.
Perhaps most importantly: If people you haven’t met pop up under “People You May Know,” don’t just click “Connect.” Doing that sends a generic invitation immediately, which preempts any customization and thereby defeats the purpose. Click “Connect” on the person’s profile page instead, and take it from there. See below for more specifics.
2. Don’t say you’re a “friend” if you really aren’t.
So you haven’t been “colleagues” or “classmates,” and you haven’t “done business together.” (I once got an invitation from an insurance professional who said I had done business with their insurance when that wasn’t the case at all.) That makes it tempting to just claim to be a “friend,” right? Once you do that, LinkedIn won’t ask any more questions, and the invitation will be sent.
The thing is, many people (myself included) are taken aback by an unsubstantiated “friend” claim. Worse yet, it leaves the impression you were too lazy to do some legwork. The least you should do is find out the person’s e-mail address and use it when you choose the option “Other.”
The option “Groups” can work well. If you don’t already share a group, join a group the other person is part of. Specifying a shared group can immediately establish common ground.
3. Invitations should generally be personalized.
Allow the person to see what makes you want to connect with them specifically. If you don’t include a personal message and your LinkedIn profile doesn’t make it obvious enough why you should connect, then you may look like a “connections mill” who really just cares to make it past the magical 500+ connections quickly.
Unless the person is someone you are already pretty close to, with regular interaction, you should add a personal message. It doesn’t have to be long—in fact, it can’t be: there is a 300-character limit to that message. That’s two Tweets and some change. Give the person that two Tweets’ worth of your time. They will appreciate it.
If you haven’t met (in person or online), point out what you have in common (especially any shared connections). If you have met once, reference the occasion: e.g., “It was great to meet you at the Chamber of Commerce event last night/on the webinar yesterday.” Not only will that refresh the person’s mind quickly, it will show them you saw value in the encounter (meaning, in the person).
4. Don’t approach the person in real life about why they haven’t accepted.
Give the other person an out. Maybe your boss is the other person’s ex-boss, and they don’t see eye to eye. Maybe there is a perceived conflict of interest in the picture. There really could be the most miscellaneous reasons the other person wouldn’t connect with you.
In any case, pushing the other person in real life about connecting on LinkedIn is poor style and will effectively lower the chances of your invitation being accepted. Leaving it alone, on the other hand, can work in your favor: in one instance, I had a person accept my invitation after…wait for it…seven months!