LinkedIn has been created with the express intention of allowing professionals to engage in online networking, make connections and share information with other professionals in your field.
As such, whether you are networking online or at an event, the same principle applies: you never know when you might make a crucial connection.
LinkedIn users can invite anyone to become a connection so it is inevitable that you will at some point receive an invitation to connect with someone you have never met in ‘real-life’. What should you do?
LinkedIn actively encourages users to only connect with people you have met in real-life. Yet is this really the best strategy to adopt?
Sociologist Mark Granovetter’s paper ‘The Strength of Weak Ties’ concluded that social capital (i.e. who you know) was nearly three times more influential when acquiring a new job than formal methods.
Social capital can now be extended to online networks. Thanks to LinkedIn, limitless ‘weak ties’ can be forged and that could lead you to a new job, investor or client. By excluding people who extend their ‘digital hand’ you are excluding yourself from potential business opportunities.
Therefore connecting with people you don’t know on LinkedIn can certainly be beneficial. However, you want to make your network as valuable as possible. Here are some pointers to help you effectively assess whether accepting a stranger’s invitation request will add value to your network:
1. Do they have a connection to your profession?
Take a good look at their LinkedIn profile. Do they work in a space that is relevant to your sector, position or skillset? Once you have assessed this you can see if accepting them will add value to your professional life. Otherwise, although they will assist you to expand your network this will result in your ‘network’ comprising of people who will not be able to offer you anything (and vice versa) so will merely be names linked together electronically.
2. What are their reasons for connecting?
One of the fundamental mistakes that people make on LinkedIn is not personalising their message when approaching you to connect. However, the beauty of LinkedIn is that you can always reply to the message and ask about their motives to connect. This will provide you with a better understanding of their intentions and enable you to make a more informed decision.
3. Play the long game
When reviewing a request it’s best to not only consider the here and now, but also to contemplate whether having a ‘weak tie’ to this person may come in useful in the future. It would be unfortunate if rejecting a LinkedIn request now resulted in losing a potentially useful future resource.
4. What have you got to lose by connecting?
Since when has connecting with more people ever been a bad thing? As demonstrated more often than not, success in business comes down to who you know, or with evolving social media, who you can get access to. By choosing to ignore or reject connection requests with people you risk actively reducing your own opportunities to advance your professional career, gain useful insights and access key industry knowledge.