How to respond to LinkedIn contact requests
from people you don’t know

Lisa Fahoury

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I receive frequent LinkedIn invites from people who don’t offer any context for how we might know each other. Maybe I’m crazy, but I’m highly protective of my professional network. If at some point you’re going to ask me for a recommendation or a referral, I want to be 100% comfortable knowing and trusting you. Isn’t that the point of a network, after all?

I don’t want to be rude or make anyone feel foolish for having contacted me, but on the other hand I’m not interested in having a network filled with strangers or people who are simply playing a numbers game.

What is the right way to respond? I’d love to hear how others handle this. Do most people accept all comers?

— Nancy Mueller

In the early days of LinkedIn, I would only connect with people I knew personally either as clients or colleagues. I then expanded my list to include people who had attended my presentations and who had reached out to me (or vice versa) with a personal comment. I now include contacts I have made through conversations in my LinkedIn groups. Though we have not met, we have developed a relationship through our online communications. If someone contacts me and I have no inkling of how we’re connected, I politely ask how we are connected before agreeing to continue. In many cases, I never hear from the person again.

In all cases, were someone to ask for a referral to another LinkedIn contact, I would make clear the extent of our connection before doing so.

— Susan RoAne

LinkedIn recommends that we don’t accept invites from strangers.

As for people who use LinkedIn’s simpleton template, it’s counter to the premise of making a “personal” connection online.

If someone reminds me of how we met, (or a fan of one of my books) or who references someone we both know, I’m more inclined to accept.

And it’s OK to ignore an invite.

— Cynthia Kyriazis

I so much agree with you on your feelings re: LinkedIn connections. This exact topic just came up at a meeting the other day and here are a couple things I heard:

  • Offer that you’re getting older and just don’t remember where you met the person; could they remind you.
  • Explain that part of your policy is to meet for coffee to get to know someone before connecting.

I have tried both of them and never heard back from the people who wanted to “connect.”

— Steve Kaye

Here’s my approach:

  • I’ll let someone connect if I expect there might be a mutual gain or if I want them to receive notices that post on my profile.
  • I ignore requests from people who seem to be prowling for contacts, such as an unknown auto dealer in another state.

Other thoughts:

  • Success depends upon who knows you more than upon who you know. So having a large following is good.
  • Your values manifest in the types of people who you choose to follow. You have no control over who chooses to follow you (such as on Twitter).

— Diana Royce Smith

Don’t want to blacklist someone who is simply ignorant, but also don’t want to populate my network with people I don’t know.

What is the logic behind those requests? It puzzles/troubles me that seemingly quite upstanding people want to “friend” me when I wouldn’t know them if I tripped over them.

I ignore them or make it so I do not see the request. As “social media time” passes, I’ve become as good at ignoring what I don’t need to see as people in a big city are at avoiding eye contact.

— Jeff Deutsch

Ordinarily, I’m all for people approaching others—even if they don’t know them already.

However, LinkedIn has long lived under different rules. The expectations there are pretty clear to me: If you “invite” someone, you better already have a basis for connecting. It could be that you went to school together, or you’re already acquainted, or you previously worked together, or even that you belong to the same LinkedIn group. But unlike the much more personal social media like Facebook and Twitter, contacting strangers is seriously frowned upon.

So much so that on LinkedIn, you have the option to not only ignore a request but also to specify that you don’t know the person, or to label the contact as spam. If and when someone receives a small number of such rejections (I don’t know what that number is, but I’m told you can count it on one hand), he or she is blocked from inviting anyone else without *already* knowing their email address.

LinkedIn provides a space for writing a short note with an invitation for a reason. People have the opportunity to say something like, “We met at such-and-such an event” or “We briefly worked together at X Company” or whatever. If they don’t, that causes my antennae to go up.

When I receive a request from someone I’ve never heard of, I go to their profile and see if we have interests in common. If I can’t tell why s/he wants to connect with me—especially if s/he’s in certain lines of work that *ahem* encourage what I’ll charitably call expansive networking—I’ll either find a way to send the person a message asking why they want to connect or hit the Spam button. (And if I can’t send them a message on LinkedIn or quickly and easily find a good email address for the person, or if I do send them a note and don’t get a satisfactory answer, back to the Spam button I go.)

— Lisa Braithwaite

I’ve tried these two things, but they don’t seem to be making any impact:

  • On the contact page of my website (next to my LinkedIn button), and in my newsletter, I say “Please tell me how we know each other or why you would like to connect when you send a LinkedIn request.”
  • On my LinkedIn profile, my name now looks like this: Public Speaking Coaching and Training || Please introduce yourself when sending connect request

Feel free to add these to the compilation, but they’re not really working. I think I need to flat-out address the strangers who send connection requests, but I’m not sure how.

— Cindy Key

The best way I have found is to use a tool within LinkedIn under email settings: ADVICE TO PEOPLE WHO ARE CONTACTING YOU.

This feature allows you to make a suggestion that those making a connection, and I request one provide context. It does not always occur but it does help.

I find this to be helpful and if I receive a request without context, it helps offer a method for me to follow up without making someone wrong or foolish for connecting. To date I have never not had a reply to my follow-up; and in fact, in two situations the follow-up and then an additional connection resulted in business. I am not an OpenLinker nor for just the numbers game, yet I know that LinkedIn provides me with an opportunity to connect and build relationships with people. I too am protective of my network and I also know that at one point in time I did not know many of the people that I now know and trust that are part of my network.

Here is my process:

  • Accept—If appropriate
  • Follow up with friendly message and request context—to place the person—add notes
  • Wait for reply—usually 3 weeks
  • Based on the reply, stay connected or drop from my contacts (if no reply usually drop)

This is my advice on LinkedIn for contacting me:

“Looking forward to connecting or reconnecting, if we recently met at a speaking engagement or event please be specific about when and where we met. If you are ready to accelerate your career success, let’s talk to see if I can help.”

I don’t know if this is the “right” way, but it works for me.

— Sallie Goetsch

When I receive a LinkedIn request from a person I don’t know, with no explanation of where we might have met or who we might know in common, I usually take a quick look at the profile to see whether I can find out any hints: common connections, common groups, etc.

In any case, I send back a message explaining that I don’t connect with people that I don’t know well enough to introduce to someone else, since it’s embarrassing to be asked for an introduction and have to say, “Jason Who?” I go on to say that I’d be happy to GET to know the person if s/he would like to talk by email, phone, in person, etc.

In many cases, I never hear another thing. Those are the folks I figure are just spammers/ predators. In some cases, though, a person will explain why s/he reached out, and will start a conversation, and I’ll actually start building an interesting new relationship.

I heard an interview with Reid Hoffman in which he explained that he’d designed LinkedIn to connect people online who were already connected offline, which was pretty much the way I understood it. I relaxed my initial policy from only connecting with people I’d done business with or knew well personally (that is, people to whom I could refer business or for whom I could write recommendations), to connecting with more casual acquaintances as long as I actually did know them—and like them.

I did, however, also change the invitation settings on my account so that people had to know my email address in order to send invitations, because I had too many total strangers send invites either claiming they’d done business with me when they hadn’t or claiming to be friends when they weren’t. That simply irritated me. My contact info is pretty easy to find on the Web, so it’s not a huge barrier to anyone who is seriously interested.

And of course anyone I already DO know will have one of my email addresses.

— Rebecca Staton-Reinstein

To decide whether to link with someone you don’t know, you first have to decide how you want to use it for your business. For example, you say you want to protect your network. OK, if you don’t want people to know who is in your network, there is a setting so that it won’t be accessible to people who are in it. It is never accessible to people who aren’t in it.

If you want to use LinkedIn for marketing, there are several schools of thought.

  • School 1: limit your network to people who are ideal customers, potential customers, or folks it makes sense to be in a network with.
  • School 2: Add anybody and everybody you can.
  • School 3 (where I am): I look at the person’s profile and if I find it interesting, vaguely related to what I do, or doesn’t seem to be someone just adding names, I connect. I often don’t link with local realtors or financial services folks for obvious reasons.

I’ve been on for a long time and have over 800 links. Some interesting things have come from folks I don’t know. I only ever had to de-link from one person, and I actually knew that person quite well. He tweeted “buy” tweets 10 times a day! I spoke to him about it but he had signed up for an automated system and didn’t want to stop so I de-linked. LinkedIn does not inform the person so you don’t even have to worry about the person getting mad ;-)

I’ve had some amazing interactions with strangers I would have never thought of linking with but it’s up to what you want to accomplish and your comfort level.

— Dave Crisp

I click on the link in the email to go to the invitation (not on ’accept’), then on their name so I see their profile. These seem to fall into three categories:

  1. legitimate people who have some claim to link up with me, from past jobs, friends, etc., and they show ’mutual connections’ at the lower right of their page, so I usually link up,
  2. people whom I don’t know, but say something that catches my interest instead of the usual “I’d like to add you to my... network” (they may have read my blog or want to share some topic that I relate to)—so I will probably link up, or
  3. people who are just trolling and their page shows some of the following: they have virtually no other connections or we have only one mutual link and it’s someone I hardly know or they belong to a group I’m in but that’s about all and they’re from somewhere that I can’t see any connection to, like faraway lands or companies or pure sales organizations, so I don’t link up, but instead choose ’ignore.’

As with friends on Facebook, the system doesn’t flag you for “ignoring” people and they probably are trolling for a lot, so missing one is not noticed... or even if they notice, you probably don’t care.

— Greg Peters

If I haven’t had at least one substantive conversation, I don’t connect. Just my personal practice.

I periodically get strangers trying to connect with me (one woman said it was because we had three people in common). When that happens, I reply to them and ask them to remind me where we met. I usually blame my forgetfulness on my children. ;-)

If they don’t respond, then they wouldn’t be good additions to my network. I delete the message and move on with my life. If they repeatedly do this without responding I usually block them. They are just playing the numbers game and don’t care about me as a human being.

If they do respond that they don’t know me, I will usually offer to get together for coffee or (in the case of long-distance) a phone call. Again, anyone who doesn’t respond, I delete.

After that, if it still makes sense, then I approve them in my network.

— Marlene Rattigan

I think it’s rude when people just play the “numbers game.” I always ask them how they know me, what event we attended together or who our mutual contact might be, etc. It subtly suggests to them that I’m not interested in numbers but rather in genuine connections. A social network-savvy friend said those who contact you are usually people with whom you have a mutual friend in common but since they don’t answer that question either, I’m still unimpressed. My friend’s comment is that it’s probably OK to accept their invitation and it does positively influence your profile, but I still agree with Lisa that genuine connections are better than a host of strangers.

— Dianne Morr

If I get a request from a stranger, I usually check to see if they are connected to a close friend or colleague. If they are connected to several people I trust, I usually accept their invitation.

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