The One LinkedIn Enhancement that Would Change Everything

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Marcus Riley

In LinkedIn's quest to deliver a more engagement-centered user experience, it's made significant and sweeping improvements. The technology itself, site aesthetics, overall navigation, and organization of content all have undergone great change. There are strict anti-spam guidelines in place to ensure that interaction on the site is trust-based and ethics-driven and that professionals are connecting with each other willingly, amicably and for the right reasons.

The LinkedIn connection engine is fueled by algorithm, inference and suggestion. As your professional network builds, your digital universe shrinks and you're better positioned for business opportunities. Everybody sets their own personal ground rules for social networking and carries out their own agenda. When it comes to vetting potential connections, intuition and compelling text in a LinkedIn profile will carry someone only so far. The only way to truly discern whether certain people merit inclusion in your LinkedIn directory is to get to know them on some level.

The Etiquette of Connecting on LinkedIn

When an invitation to connect passes from one party to the other, there is implied trust that the offer is genuine. Creating a justifiable reason to connect is the unwritten First Law of Social Networking and many people resent an approach on LinkedIn if the relationship is not accurately framed.

There are gaps in the existing LinkedIn connection protocol. At press time, these are the choices given to us in the LinkedIn invitation criteria in response to the question, “How do you know this person?”

◦ Colleague
◦ Classmate
◦ We’ve done business together
◦ Friend
◦ Groups
◦ Other
◦ I don’t know this person

Whereas some of these selections are clear-cut, there are many instances where connecting on LinkedIn doesn’t fit the current criteria. Additionally, the process is laden with contradiction. On the one hand, we are encouraged (mandated) to connect with people we know and who know us. The mere presence of “I don’t know this person” goes against the grain of basic LinkedIn philosophy. If that’s the case, then why connect? Stating you are a “friend” to someone when, in fact, you’ve never met them before, can be construed as deceptive. Claiming that you “have done business with someone,” when, truth be known, you haven’t, can border on fraud in the opinion of some. LinkedIn users constantly wrestle with this dynamic. The convention today is to opt for either “friend” or that you’ve “done business together,” and hope that the invitee will not view this as false pretense. A shared membership in a LinkedIn group is the easiest and least ambiguous route to take when connecting.

The Gray Areas of LinkedIn Invitation

Think of how businesspeople meet other businesspeople in today’s so-called Relationship Economy. They attend networking events, conferences, symposia and trade shows. They do lunch. They exchange pleasantries, trade business cards and become acquainted with each other in any number of settings. Invariably, a formal LinkedIn invitation will be forthcoming. However, to the disadvantage of both parties, LinkedIn does not take these scenarios into account and the person sending the invitation is tasked with trying to squeeze out some context for the proposed connection. Moreover, professionals are routinely introduced to each other via email, or referred by colleagues and clients. These interactions, too, are not addressed by LinkedIn and fall outside the lines. In social networking, the square peg does not fit in the round hole.

So “How do you Know This Person?”

To account for the gaps in the current structure, and to cover the broad spectrum of how people come together in the course of commerce, I propose that LinkedIn add these two choices to its current checklist:

◦ Met at a networking event
◦ Introduced by a colleague or client

With this enhanced invitation platform, people would be able to connect more freely and fluidly and create trust at the outset. No offending the other party with false labels or misrepresentations. There is great comfort in truth.

Now wouldn’t these additions make things so much easier? 

J.D. GERSHBEIN, CEO of OWLISH COMMUNICATIONS, is a specialist in the Art and Science of LinkedIn. He is a trusted asset to top executives, managers, entrepreneurs, professional service providers, salespeople, and those involved in the search for their next great opportunity. J.D. offers unrivaled strategic direction to individuals and firms -- ranging from small to medium-sized businesses (SMB’s) to Fortune 500 companies -- in using LinkedIn to build brand and generate revenue. Dubbed “The Oracle of LinkedIn” and “The LinkedIn Black Belt,” J.D. is considered one of the top LinkedIn strategists in the world and a pioneer in the design and delivery of LinkedIn educational programs. A highly sought-after international speaker, J.D. draws upon his background in marketing communications, industrial psychology, neuroscience, improvisational comedy and broadcast media to inspire opportunity-oriented professionals in all walks of business.

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