Why I Don’t Respond to Random LinkedIn Connection Requests

I originally shared this post on LinkedIn, which makes sense. But for those of you who don’t follow me there or missed it, here it is in full.

Why I Don’t Respond to Random LinkedIn Connection Requests

Hi, I’m David.

Like you, I’m a LinkedIn member.

I’ve been a LinkedIn member for a long time. At one point, when it was easy to tell which user number you were, I discovered I was one of the first 1,200 people here.

Over the years, I’ve received thousands of connection requests. I’m not special. If you’ve been on LinkedIn a long time, it doesn’t matter who you are, who you know, or what you do – you’ve probably experienced the same thing. If your job is to cultivate a few deep relationships and you haven’t changed companies much, perhaps you receive fewer requests; that’s great. Ten strong, meaningful relationships matter more than 10,000 names in a database. But I do love staying in touch here with anyone I’ve met, and it’s a perk of my career to have had memorable interactions with so many memorable people.

Whenever I receive a connection request, I have a triage system that applies to >99% of them:

  • Someone I definitely know: I accept the request. I often wait to do so, until I’ve opened Google Contacts and can enter their contact information, along with a note about how I know them. I even look to see if people use their personal email address on LinkedIn and store that in my file; that email can come in handy after someone switches jobs.
  • Someone I definitely don’t know: I decline the request. Those are easy. Usually, a good clue is that we have fewer than five connections in common, though that’s hardly foolproof. There are plenty of clues such as location, occupation, and other attributes that make this easy.
  • Someone I’m not sure I know: This comes up a lot, and perhaps more than it should. I’ve been on my career path for nearly two decades. I’ll often check my email or contacts files to see if I have a trace of the interaction. I may even check Facebook to see if I know them there. Sometimes, I decline requests from people I really know; I won’t claim to be totally accurate. But when you’re trying to organize people you know rather than run up a high count of connections, then it’s okay to make a few mistakes. And if you really know them, you’ll have other ways of keeping in touch beyond LinkedIn. If the name’s not familiar and I realize we were colleagues, I give them the benefit of the doubt and add them. [As Karl B. noted in the comments here, this lack of clarity could be solved entirely by adding a note to tell an invite recipient how you know them.]

There is a small subset of contacts (the <1%) where it’s some person of interest, like a head of marketing at a Fortune 500 company, or a prominent journalist, who I know I haven’t met but added me. I will typically reach out to them via LinkedIn to ask if we’ve met and ask them to help jog my memory (knowing full well we haven’t met). Or perhaps I will see if I can be a resource for anything they’re working on. It can lead to meaningful exchanges. Again though, this is rare. Maybe it’s really 0.1% of the time. Sometimes I will add them, and sometimes I won’t.

So, back to the point of this — why don’t I accept requests from people I don’t know? Here are three examples of how LinkedIn contacts I don’t know are totally useless:

Scenario 1: A personal request

Say I need something for myself: a lead within someone’s organization, a recommendation for candidates for a role I’m trying to fill, an informational interview, a speaker for an event I’m working on, or a VC to meet with a company I’m advising.

I check LinkedIn, and I found someone interesting who I’m connected to, but I have no clue who they are. What’s my lead — “We’re LinkedIn connections. Can you help me with something really important to me?” Why would they? I know nothing about who they are or what they do. If I’m going to cold call someone, it doesn’t matter if we’re connected on LinkedIn or some social network. There’s no relationship. It’s still cold.

Scenario 2: A request from others

I get requests on a regular basis from colleagues and friends either asking if I can introduce them to a specific person or asking if I know a certain kind of person (e.g., people at ad agencies in San Diego, or people who are hiring managers at a retailer). I will then go and check LinkedIn, which is the best way to see who I know, and then sort them if needed.

If Jack says, “Can you introduce me to Jill?” and I don’t know Jill in any meaningful way, I have to tell Jack, “I’m sorry, but I don’t know Jill at all.” The next time, when he needs an introduction to Jane, Jack will then ask me hesitantly, “Do you really know Jane, or is she just some random contact?” And when he needs an introduction to Judy, he won’t come my way at all. I’ve lost Jack’s trust.

Similarly, when Jack asks me if I know any partners at venture capital firms investing in early-stage technology startups, and Jill, Jane, and Judy are all partners at such firms, he will see I am connected to all of these accomplished people, but I can’t help him at all. Again, that trust is gone. There are people I know who connect with literally anyone – even spammers; I never ask them for introductions.

Scenario 3: Keeping in touch

I like congratulating people on new jobs. I do this pretty regularly. I often send notes congratulating people on work anniversaries, especially if it’s a milestone year, like a first or fifth anniversary. It’s hardly high involvement. But it’s an easy way to stay current with people, and with anyone I’m connected to, I’m rooting for their success.

If I don’t know them, I am happy that others are successful, but I’m not rooting for them. I’m not emotionally involved in any way. Sometimes I’m impressed that some person I don’t know winds up in some important-sounding role. But that doesn’t mean I have any emotional investment.

It is nice to hear kind remarks from people I don’t know, but it means far more to get supportive messages from friends, or at least acquaintances who I really know. And if I just get a bunch of formulaic messages from people I don’t know, then there’s no meaning behind it. It even takes away from the more meaningful messages.

From friending to following

The problem with a missive such as this is that it will preach to the converted. I can send this to anyone who sends a random contact request; they’re not going to read it. I can choose not to connect with people who advertise their number of connections in their headline; they won’t lack for people to accept the requests.

But for the odd person who cares, this is a testament to why connections matter, and a reminder why fake connections are counterproductive.

It’s also why I love the “follow” button. It’s asymmetrical. There’s no requirement for a relationship. Frequently, when I encounter people on LinkedIn who I don’t know well enough to send a connection request to, I follow them (typically on Twitter, but that’s a personal preference, and it could just as easily be LinkedIn).

When there’s no relationship, it’s better to follow than connect, and it’s better to be followed than connected. Connections can come later – once the relationship is established.