LinkedIn Invitations and Stranger Danger

Prevent Online TrollsShould you accept a LinkedIn request from a stranger?  Some legitimate, real people (but also a few spammers, trolls and competitors) send LinkedIn invitations to complete strangers.  I extend the term “stranger” to include belonging to the same LinkedIn Discussion Group but not having had any substantive dialogue or value exchange.  Should you link to them? Okay for some, but not for me. Here I discuss the reason, as well as some best-practice advice from experts (see Resources links at end of this article).

The “Start-up of You” Philosophy

My LinkedIn policy tends to follow LinkedIn’s Founders’ “Startup of You” philosophy of linking to:

  1. Allies – Domain experts whom I know well, and who add perspective.  This means we’ve met, collaborated and significantly influenced one another’s lives. You usually a current or past customer, partner, supplier, or coworker.
  2. Acquaintances – non-allies with whom I have actively exchanged value in the form of work, knowledge or perspective.  Merely belonging to the same LinkedIn group without jointly participating in that group’s dialogue does not qualify.
  3. Colleagues, Collaborators, Clients – anyone with whom I’ve had substantial business experience from which I can discern their ethical behavior.

Okay, Stranger, I’m off my horse now and indeed looking forward to starting or joining a dialogue as a part of getting to know you, especially if we share a LinkedIn Group or two, where the chances are thus quite good. But don’t get me started back on the subject of Trolls.  We both know they exist.  Heck, if you are sending me – a total stranger – a LinkedIn invitation, aren’t you risking it a bit?  I could be that Troll.  Of course I’m not; I’m just saying.

The Accidental Invitation?

Some mobile and desktop users accidentally misfire and select the “Invite” button.  Unless they know how to retract it, you may end up with an occasional invitation from a stranger.  To that I say: forgive, forget, and ignore.  If, on the other hand, you are that stranger and you seriously intended to connect with that other person, the easiest way to distinguish yourself from a troll or a nuisance would be for you to customize the greeting message, outlining your thoughts on the value of connecting. Try it!


Scam Puzzle
Typical scam puzzle

It’s actually pretty easy to spot a Troll even though the more sophisticated ones create entire fake Company profiles on LinkedIn, complete with fake recommendations and group memberships.  Dig a little deeper, though, and you may see telltale “cardboard cutout” signs: no active Group participation, no traceable business listing.  Oh, yes, and some of these fake profiles are sending LinkedIn invitations to strangers like you.  Why would a Troll go to all the bother?  To leverage the trust between you and your network, gain access to your contacts, access and extract your network’s profile data, spam them and, in the process, quite possibly mar your reputation – deservedly so, if you’re that careless.

Other likely indications of Trolls include:

Profile Pic – absent, poor quality, over-posed, provocative
Contact info – none, incomplete, or dodgy
Proofreading – grammar or spelling errors, awkward prose
History – scant or missing info, history breaks, scant detail
Connnections – suspicious, none in common, or unfamiliar mutual ones
Messaging – none, generic or, if custom, CTA with suspicious link
Activity – engagement is scant, low value, or suspicious

Link (and think) like the Pros:  legitimate references

Let’s look at how LinkedIn is used today in the corporate world.  Recruiters, for example, when searching for talent, increasingly use LinkedIn to find candidates.  Researchers and sales pros with legitimate needs use LinkedIn to search among their contacts and extended networks to find knowledgeable references.  If you appear in one of those search results, and the recruiter / researcher notices you are LinkedIn to a colleague at their company, or a relevant influential person:  Bingo!  Instant inferred trust and credibility, as if your reference check is already done and your credibility is established….unless you’re not really acquainted and just pecked the “Accept” button simply to amass more pointless, relatively anonymous Connections.

If you are linked in to a bunch of strangers who either don’t know you or can’t remember you, imagine what that recruiter or researcher must think about the veracity of the rest of your LinkedIn profile – or your ability to discern, cultivate allies, and align resources.  Do you want to be seen as trustworthy, honest and accurate in your communications?  Well, then, don’t damage your credibility by linking to people you don’t know and, incidentally, dilute that critical Social Currency known as Trust by co-mingling untrustworthy strangers into your network of trusted associates.

We CAN-SPAM compliant marketers know better.  Relationships, trust and respect are hard-won and sacrosanct.  You get what you give.  Of course, if you don’t discriminate on LinkedIn between strangers and trusted relationships, then by all means, link away.  Just don’t expect me to reciprocate until after we have established a mutual, credible dialogue. Until then, keep smiling.

How to meaningfully connect

If you are legitimately able to find a meaningful mutual opportunity to connect, exchange ideas, and enhance one another’s resources, then say so.  Ask that question in a brief message with your Connection Request.

Your message might include: how you might already know one another (conversation, meeting); what knowledge or domain expertise you have in common; and a compelling reason to connect in order to extend the dialogue, such as a targeted question, an offer to assist, or other compelling reason to follow up.

Note: your spammy sales pitch obviously does not fit here. Nether is your lame statement that you have Connections or Groupa in common.  Think: Is there an opportunity for a mutually beneficial conversation that doesn’t involve a sale?

Over to you

What are your criteria for sending and accepting LinkedIn connection requests? Do they enhance or dilute the value of your LinkedIn network?   Love to hear your stories.




Additional Resources

The Startup of You (book title and website by Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn