This article first appeared on HuffPost Tech last Feb 5, 2015.
If there’s one inevitability in life it’s change. There’s not much else as volatile in our lives as the social media networks we use every single day.
Behind the scenes Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn roll out bug fixes and split test new features and UI to various populations on a daily basis. Then when they’ve gathered enough information, they do a big release and everyone complains.
“Oh look, Facebook updated their privacy policies again.”
Remember when we had the thumbs down option, or the Facebook Timeline that included every single post from our friends?
Remember LinkedIn Events, or when we could actually research our LinkedIn Skills, or invite other people to join us simply because we shared the same group?
When people think about the updates to social media, they mostly think of the features that were stripped away from them. That’s just how our minds work.
But what might have gone unnoticed is how easy LinkedIn is making it for total stranger to connect with one another, by way of adding new connection features in all sorts of new places; connection features that require just one click.
These days, you don’t even need to go to a separate invitation page to ask people to connect with you on LinkedIn. You can do it right from a search results page, from the mobile app, and from the You Might Also Know page that goes on endlessly. One click. Invite sent. Easy. Boilerplate language and all.
This is how easy a connection request is from the search results page on LinkedIn.
It strikes me that by way of action, LinkedIn is telling its users to connect and connect widely, despite their original terms of service, whose main thrust was/is “Only connect with people you know“.
Actions speak louder than words. And despite LinkedIn’s assertion that they only want its users to connect with known entities, their features tell us a different story. Connect and connect widely.
LinkedIn even published a study, using their Economic Graph, to show that regions with more connections have more jobs.
There are many possibilities LinkedIn is offering these new streamlined connection opportunities; market share, increasing the value of it’s recruiting and sales products, looking good in front of investors etc.
Whatever LinkedIn’s reasons, I’m glad for this change. It means more opportunities for me as a small business owner, and more opportunities for the job seekers whose LinkedIn profiles I professionally write to help them find better jobs.
To those people who continue to shun the boilerplate language they receive from invitations, I say this, “Loosen up. Most of the connection requests these days come from one button clicks where users aren’t even given an option to customize the invite.”
To those people who continue to shun the idea of connecting widely, and who continue to IDK invitations from people they don’t know, I say this, “Times have changed. LinkedIn has changed. It’s not 2006 any more. The context in which you formed that opinion no longer exists.”
As the age old adage says, “If we’re not growing, we’re dying.” or as author Terry Murray offers, “If you’re not evolving, you’re fading away.”
This odd fixation from a large number of uptight and inflexible LinkedIn users needs to get corrected. They are not only doing a disservice to the people in their network, they are essentially shooting their own professional networking in the foot. They will be limping to the finish line.
Here are five reasons why your IDK policy needs to change:
- The Network Effect. This is a very studied topic, and its basic premise says that any network either excels exponentially or declines exponentially based on the number of nodes, and the number of nodes those nodes have. Larger networks are more valuable. Wikipedia cites the classic example of the telephone… the more people who own telephones, the more valuable the phone is to each owner.
- Swarm Theory (also known as Wisdom of Crowds). This states that large numbers of input create general trends that are more accurate than the direction of the individual. This is the basis for LinkedIn’s Endorsement feature, which can be uncannily accurate when looking at Skills with over 50 endorsements.
- How recruiters use LinkedIn. When a recruiter searches for candidates on LinkedIn, their results often appear in order of connectedness first degree connections first. If you have a small network, your chances of showing up on the first three pages of search results are exponentially limited.
- Theory of the Weakest Link. This states that the biggest leaps in someone’s life often happen with non-first degree connections. In other words, just because you don’t know someone doesn’t mean they aren’t someday valuable to you. I can tell you a dozen stories of people who had a lucky break from someone who knew someone who knew someone.
- Fear. I often ask people what’s the worst thing that could happen if they accepted a stranger, and they will have nothing concrete to tell you. You can always remove the connection if it turns out to be spam. Adding people to your network can only help your chances of getting found by new opportunities.
If you put effort into growing your network, you are opening doors to opportunity. I don’t mean be careless with who you invite. Just be less prudish. You don’t have to know them. But maybe they’re not random. Maybe they are in a company you find interesting or doing a job you admire.
In my book, Job Searching with Social Media For Dummies, I talk about Cats and LIONS, that is, people who only connect with known entities, and those who connect with everyone.
With LinkedIn’s new connection features, this dichotomy doesn’t apply any more. The war between cats and lions is irrelevant. You don’t have to be an “Always No” or an “Always Yes” person.
You can now be a strategic networker. You can pick anyone to join your network, known or not. This gives you way more freedom than ever before.
For job seekers, it means you can easily add recruiters to your network, making it easier for them to find you.
For career changers, it means you can grow your network in the direction you want to move into.
For sales people or small business owners, you can grow your network to include prospects and potential business partners.
For recruiters, it means you have a much larger pool of candidates to source from.
So are you a LinkedIn Dinosaur? If you’ve been using LinkedIn for more than a year, and you have fewer than 500 connections, then maybe you should rethink how you’re using it.