Updated December 2018
LinkedIn has a problem. Or rather, it has a branding issue.
You see, before online social networking came around, there was just regular old networking. You had to go out and meet people and have conversations with them.
A lot of people hated networking. One of the main reasons: the obnoxious attendees that seemed to populate every networking breakfast and conference cocktail reception. In fact, one of the first Chamber of Commerce meetings I ever went to came complete with “Bill”, a life insurance salesman who seemed to embody every negative stereotype possible, from the overly aggressive business card pass to the constant talking. It was so bad that I thought someone would jump out from behind the appetizer table and tell me that I was being punked. It was definitely not a great first impression
People don’t want to deal with pests. Ironically, many are also fearful of inadvertently acting like them. And so it was usually easier to avoid networking altogether, even if it meant missing out on some career opportunities.
Offline and Online Networking Require the Same Etiquette
Since LinkedIn has secured its place as the online extension of offline networking, it suffers a bit of “guilt by association”. The same fears that haunt offline networking have followed us online, and keep people from engaging on these new platforms.
But you don’t have to worry about being a jerk online if you keep in mind the same etiquette rules that work offline. If you are going to engage with your existing network and new contacts, it makes sense to pay attention to how you are interacting online. Here are a few of the ways that people act like jerks on LinkedIn, and the best ways to avoid them.
Jerk move #1 – Send introduction requests with no customization
Offline Equivalent: Would you up to someone at a business event and have the first sentence out of your mouth be, “Here’s my card, can I have your contact info and access to your Rolodex?” Of course not! They would be justifiably wary. A lot of users on LinkedIn use bots to connect en masse and get contact info. They don’t see that when you send an invite on LinkedIn, you are asking for access to someone’s network and their attention.
Better Solution: Write a 1-3 sentence introduction that tells the person why you’d like to connect on LinkedIn, especially if you haven’t met in the offline world yet. Give them some context for your request. “I’d like to sell you something” is not going to cut it.
Jerk move #2 – Pull a bait and switch with your introduction
Offline Equivalent: We’ve all met the person who is initially super-friendly and solicitous. Ninety seconds in, though, the conversation takes a twist. All of sudden they just want to sell you something. I met a mortgage broker once who asked me if I was looking to buy a house or knew anyone who was within two minutes of meeting me. I was like, “Whoa, slow down a bit”. There was no relationship established and the ask was inappropriate. Would you ask somebody to marry you after you met them for 2 minutes?
Better Solution: Take the time to build a relationship and provide value before you ask the person to do something. And if you feel you might be jumping the gun, say so: “I know we haven’t been connected for long yet, but I wanted to let you know that…”
Jerk move #3 – Send super long InMails
Offline Equivalent: We all know the person who can’t shut up and can’t get to the point. I once belonged to a networking group that had someone who I would reflexively avoid. No conversation with her would last less than ten minutes, and I never did any of the talking. It was easier to avoid her. And even though she would talk about all the ways she could help my clients, I never once sent business to her.
Better Solution: Keep InMails short. A lot of professionals get poor results from their InMails because they treat them like info dumps. People don’t have that much time. Get right to the point: here’s who I am, here’s why I’m writing, here’s what I’d like for you to do.
Jerk move #4 – Post a ton of content about your product/service and nothing else
Offline Equivalent: The people who talk too much are usually the same people who talk about themselves over and over (they have to talk about something). In the end, though, no one really cares to hear about the details of their product/service/life; they care about how it’s going to help them. It’s the same on LinkedIn. I knew a recruiter who filled my newsfeed with minutiae every position he was filling, and he didn’t relate it to how it would help me. He didn’t stay in my newsfeed for long.
Better Solution: Share content that is directly related to your offering between 20-35% of the time. Mix it up with information that could help your target audience and a personal piece every once in a while
Jerk Move #5 – Ask for an introduction without providing an out
Offline Equivalent: If I ask you for an introduction, I’m hoping to get some credibility with the new person by extension of your relationship with them. But what if we were at an event and I asked you to introduce me to someone that you knew by dragging you over to them? That would put you on the spot, and I wouldn’t know the context and backstory. Maybe you don’t get along with the person I’m hoping to meet, even though you work together. That puts you in very awkward position.
Better Solution: When asking for an introduction through LinkedIn, add, “If it’s not a good time to introduce us, that’s completely OK.”
Jerk move #6 – Hijack LinkedIn Group conversations with off-topic promotions
Offline Equivalent: You’re standing at a conference cocktail reception with a few people you’ve just met, having an interesting conversation about some of the workshops you’ve attended, and BAM, a salesperson walks up, nods his head for a minute, and then tries to steer the conversation to his company’s new software package. Not only is it annoying, but it ruins the vibe that you had with your other conversational partners. You don’t like when others do it, so why do it to them?
Better Solution: Listen to the conversations before you start posting. There’s nothing wrong with lurking in a group before you start contributing. It takes a little longer but it’s much more effective. And if you don’t think that it’s a good fit after listening in, then find a new Group, there’s over 2 million of them!
Jerk move #7 – Post inappropriate, too personal, or fluffy material as a status update
Offline Equivalent: I have yet to meet someone who hasn’t heard an off-color joke or a “too much information” admission in a professional setting (there’s nothing like hearing about someone’s latest rash). Some people are trying to create a closer relationship, and sometimes they are just socially awkward. In any case, it’s not good. In the same way, LinkedIn should be about professional topics, and you should be on your best behavior.
Better Solution: Pretend that your grandmother is involved in the conversation online and listening to what you say. Nothing goes out without you pushing “send”, so when in doubt sit on it for a little while. And then, don’t say it.
Navigating relationships online takes the same care and focus that your offline relationships require. Spending just a moment thinking through your activities will prevent most of these faux pas. Don’t worry about being perfect, you will have missteps, just like in the offline world. (We’ve all accidentally hit “Connect” on LinkedIn before customizing the invite.) As long as they aren’t done intentionally or maliciously, they won’t be career-ending, just like in the offline world.
But a little time and attention can save you a lot of headache and make your online networking and effective part of your daily work life. And isn’t that what we all want.