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Should I Connect with People I Don’t Know on LinkedIn? Or…How I Met Claire

By Sander Biehn | Jan 3, 2018

Should I connect with people I don’t know on LinkedIn? This question should be easy to answer. It’s like asking if you should chase a ball into the street. But the real answer is much more nuanced because it depends.  Sure, I’ll break down the 5 situations where it is ok to connect with strangers or not a bit further down, but let me start out by telling you about how I first met Claire.

It all started with an invitation on LinkedIn by Felicia from San Francisco. She wanted to connect and tell me about Claire. She succinctly informed me that Claire was a natural language travel assistant who could book all my travel via SMS text. Intriguing. I connected and wrote back to Felicia, “Ok I’m in! Let’s see how Claire works.” Felicia is in startup mode. She called me and she got me logged in. A week later, I’m already starting to forget that I met Felicia through the dreaded unsolicited-LinkedIn-connecting-method.  She had something of value. She saw that I looked like a guy who traveled a lot. Enough said.

My point is that there is no easy answer when it comes to how to use LinkedIn to prospect. If Felicia was selling health insurance I’m sure I’d be typing a different kind of blog right now. As long as we keep the Claire story in mind and agree that there will forever be an exception that proves the rule, we can then turn to a list of when you should and shouldn’t connect with strangers.

It’s ok to connect…

1) …when the people you connect with aren’t really strangers. The CFO came to the meeting late and left early. She said very little besides introducing herself. Oh yeah, and she is a key decision-maker for the deal you have on the table. I say go for it. You don’t have much to lose and you are technically not breaking LinkedIn’s terms of use since you’ve actually met this person.

2) …when their presence in your network is going to be a net positive for you. Chalk this up under ‘you never know.’ Let’s imagine someone asks to connect who is in your industry and your geography and is connected to others in your network. I say, why not click the checkbox and connect. This won’t be someone you can turn to for a referral or business. You may even find yourself helping them initially, but they might be a good contact someplace down the line.

3) …when serendipity calls. Kohei sent me a connection request. He helps foreign firms with business development in Japan. Keep in mind that my business isn’t looking to expand in Japan, but we aren’t opposed to it either. And it just so happened that I am taking a family vacation in Tokyo in a couple of weeks. Ok Koehi, you’re on! I accepted his request and set a meeting immediately to meet up at my Shimbushi hotel when I go to Japan…I’m leaving next week so I’ll be sure to update you on how it goes.

When not to connect…

1) When the connection request includes a product pitch you don’t need. I am sure the person writing has many great qualities, but you are not likely to hear about any of them until you have gone through a sales pitch of ‘time-share’ proportions. Just hit the X and move on.

2) When there are 3 reasons not to. Let me show you how my little litmus test works. Suppose someone tries to connect who:

3) Lives on the other end of the planet

4) Has no relevant work experience or interests that match yours

5) Does not have a profile photo

It doesn’t have to be these exact 3 reasons, but if you can find any 3 “red flags” consider that person X’d.

The moral of the story is moderation. Connecting with everyone will not help nor will connecting with no one. You need to strike a balance that is most likely to bring you the right audience and opportunity to grow and excel in your career. Follow my advice above, but don’t forget to make room for the unexpected. You never know when Claire will enter the room and wish to talk.

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