As a user of LinkedIn, the quality of your connections with other users will, in general, matter more than the quantity. That’s the argument made by one of the company’s main spokespersons, Krista Canfield.
For example, one person we profiled had some 8000 LinkedIn connections. In general, garnering that many connections can be risky, Canfield says.
The more directly you’ve done business with someone, the stronger the connection will be, making your digital Rolodex that you build on LinkedIn more useful for you and your connections, Canfield argues.
As people make “connections” and build their contacts list on LinkedIn, the popular social network for business professionals, some users have thought long and hard about the quality of their connections versus the number of connections they acquire.
According to the service’s power-users and social media analysts, establishing the best criteria for making a connection could, over the long term, determine how much value you get from LinkedIn.
According to Jonathan Yarmis, a research director at AMR Research, a LinkedIn user might (consciously or subconsciously) decide to fully apply Metcalfe’s Law – the “network effect,” whose premise is that the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of users of the system.
This is especially tempting for users on LinkedIn since it doesn’t contain personal information of the same intimacy as, say, Facebook.
If your social networking modus operandi has been to say yes to LinkedIn connection requests without much deliberation, consider these three reasons why you should be selective about your connections.
1. You Don’t Want to Botch Introductions
Often, the way to connect with someone on LinkedIn is getting introduced through your current connections. The way this happens: if you find someone at a company that you really want to connect with, you can get introduced through one of your connections who is already connected with that person.
When this happens, the person trying to connect you generally puts a message in an introduction message for the person that you’re trying to reach.
As such, if your contact list is littered with people you don’t know well, you will frequently be asking for introductions from people whose introduction notes may not come off as a ringing endorsement of you – making the likelihood of your connecting with your intended person much lower. And as the old saying goes, you won’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
“If a person is your bridge, they want to trust or know you before they endorse you [in the introduction],” Canfield says.
2. With LinkedIn Connections, Your Rolodex Defines You
Given LinkedIn’s default settings, when you connect with someone on LinkedIn, that person will be able to view your connections list. (You can, however, hide them from view by going to your account settings).
But assuming you want to make your connections available, if you don’t thoroughly vet them, you’re chancing the possibility that someone you have connected with (such as a boss or colleague) will see non-credible contacts on your connections list.
What do you really know about that friend of the contact you made at a tradeshow? If the answer is almost nothing, reconsider the connection.
Another reason to vet carefully: You also may open up those trusted connections to be spammed by people that you didn’t screen thoroughly.
“Your connection list is a reflection of who you are as a professional,” Canfield says. “Being connected with someone you don’t know won’t give you much credibility with the people you do know and are connected with.”
3. At Job-Hunting Time, Meaningful Connections Matter
You may never need LinkedIn more than at times when you need a job. The more meaningful connections you build, the better chance that those people will vouch for you when you’re looking to connect with potential employers.
“Especially in an economy like this, you want to have a strong safety net with connections who have a vested interest in what you’re doing,” Canfield says. “If you lose your job tomorrow, would these people want to help you?”
Bill Austin, an Internet marketing expert, has nearly 8,000 connections on LinkedIn. He says the ways people connect on LinkedIn can be identified in a few different ways.
First, he says there are those who rely purely on the network effect (more is better), connecting with anyone and everyone.
Others, he says, want to keep their network very limited by insisting they know the person well, either professionally or personally.
“They all went to the same university or hung out in a coffee shop and do business with each other,” Austin says. “They only connect with people they know, like or do business with.”
Then there are the hybrid users, who don’t need to know the contact personally, but require that a request to make a connection isn’t what Austin calls “canned” – in other words, it doesn’t look like spam.
Those users, Austin says, are also more likely to hit the dreaded “I don’t know this person” button when responding to a request to connect with another LinkedIn user. That action can contribute to a user’s account being terminated if LinkedIn decides that person is a spammer.
Austin recommends making connections liberally, as long as it doesn’t appear the person trying to connect with you is a spammer. He discourages using the “I don’t know” button, as you actually know more people than you think you do.
For instance, if you made a presentation to fifty people, and one of those people asked to connect with you on LinkedIn, it wouldn’t be very nice to lower their value on LinkedIn by saying you “don’t know them.
According to Yarmis, it ultimately depends on the network (and the people in it) in deciding who to connect with, noting, “the value of a network is dependent on the interaction of the right quality of people, the right quantity of people and the right quantity of interaction.”