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The Sanctity of LinkedIn Contacts

Church bannerAs a business professional, what is your most valuable asset: Your MBA, your years of experience or the awards on your shelf? Or maybe it’s the profit your business made last quarter or the last successful projected you delivered? Each of these is important and each is valuable, yet none are your most valuable asset.

A business professional’s most valuable asset is his or her contact list and the relationships fostered with each person on that list.

You may be the top operational, marketing or sales exec at your firm today, earning the big bucks and lunching with the CEO. One buyout, restructuring or economic downturn and you’re out pounding the pavement. Your key to the executive washroom no longer works.

It’s at times like this that you realize the value of your network. Can you turn to your LinkedIn contacts to ask for referrals in your efforts to gain another job?

You Are Who You Connect With.

Growing up, my father often shared this nugget of wisdom: “Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are.” We tend to associate with those who have similar personalities, culture, and/or points of view. In fact, we’re highly influenced by those we’re maintaining a relationship with so it’s no surprise that our personal and professional contacts often reveal quite a bit about us.

Professional contacts are similar. On LinkedIn, your network is there for the world to see and says as much about you as the details in your profile. What does yours say? What is the quality of your contacts? How aligned are they with your personal brand and professional experience?

The LinkedIn Rules of Engagement

Do you have a strategy for connecting with others on LinkedIn? Given the importance of networking to business professionals, having a clear strategy here is more important than on other social media channels, such as Twitter for example. Twitter is truly a mass communication tool where we can follow and engage with a wide audience, eavesdrop on others’ conversations, and engage with people we’ve never met or hope to meet.

Do you connect with anyone who sends you a request? Many do, justifying the connection to a person they don’t really know or have worked with as “community building.” However, LinkedIn is not Twitter. The purpose of LinkedIn is professional networking. There’s an unwritten rule that your professional contacts are those you know or have worked with. People that you can either recommend or not — and provide a reason for in either case.

Arguably, what wasn’t planned by the founders of this growing social network is what your connections — and your engagement with them — say about you. A large LinkedIn network of people whom you don’t really know is counterproductive and a poor reflection on the quality of your network and networking skills.

The Value of Referrals

I’m often asked to refer a colleague in my LinkedIn network. The assumption is that if I’m connected to them, I know them and can either make an introduction or make a recommendation. If my response is, “Well, I don’t really know that person,” what does that say about me? Why am I connected to them? What is my standard in relationship building?

If I don’t know the contact well, but make an introduction anyway, what is the likelihood that the recipient of the introduction will respond? What does it say about me if they don’t? Or if they do, but turn out to be a poor contact, and I didn’t warn the other person because of my lack of relationship with the person they thought I knew, what does that say about me?

One of the most important facets of business and business networking is the referral. Referring one colleague to another says much about you. A quality introduction and referral to someone who delivers is a credit earned, a reputation verified. Conversely, a referral to someone who doesn’t deliver is as much a slight on you as it is on them.

Beware the One-Click Recommendation

The same applies to those I “recommend” via LinkedIn’s latest scheme to increase activity and users — the one-click recommendation. Your recommendation is your word; it’s a declaration that you vouch for this person’s ability on a specific skill set. Businesses take those recommendations seriously, although I fear those granting their one-click endorsements are less conscious of the importance of the act.

If you recommend someone who is then hired or recommended by another colleague — in part based on your recommendation — and that person fails to meet expectations, it’s a poor reflection on you. How skilled and knowledgeable are you? What’s the integrity of your network?

Who Are You On LinkeIn?

Another thing that amazes me about how people engage on this important social network is the practice of hiding profiles.  The most common way of doing this is not posting an avatar or making yourself “invisible” in the settings so that people don’t see your activity. The other way people make themselves invisible is by simply not engaging in a meaningful way or fostering relationships with those contacts.

I would not be surprised if many of these people are active on Facebook playing Candy Crush with others, so why do so many see LinkedIn as a place to disappear?

You may overcome a sense of loneliness or satisfy a need for entertainment by surfing YouTube and Facebook, but LinkedIn has the potential to boost your career through the contacts you make and the relationships you foster, if not the short term, certainly in the long term.

The Sanctity of LinkedIn Contacts

There is sanctity to the contacts you foster on LinkedIn. They represent your social graph and who you do business with. They are a reflection of you.

Unfortunately, social media has trained us to value quantity over quality. The more connections you have, the more popular you must be. The more connections you have, the more influential you must be. We’ve lost the old-fashioned principle that less is sometimes more.

Your contact list is your most valuable asset; build, nurture, and protect it. Before you accept that next connection request blindly, think about what it says about you.

Sensei Debates:

– Do the contacts you build on LinkedIn really say anything about who you are? Do employers and colleagues really judge you by it, even if it’s subconsciously?
– How valuable are contacts on LinkedIn and should they be actively managed? Or, in reality, is LinkedIn just an electronic resume for that one time.

Sam Fiorella
Feed Your Community, Not Your Ego

A version of this post originally appeared on my Huffington Post column.
mage Credit:  Nicu Buculei, licensed via Creative Commons


Join the Conversation

Andreas Kopp
Andreas Kopp 5pts

Thanks Sam! You made me think differently about my contact list. I tend to connect people I exchanged a view emails with and use linkedin to build up that relationship. I think that is fine also it could happen that I do not know that I just have connected with a person and then somebody asks me then for an connection. But I take that risk and would just answer. Sorry I just got to know this person. But I also do not accept invitations from people I do not know.  

Milaspage 5pts

 Interesting approach Sam, and as Linked In starts to develop to a point where even the "non social" understand the interactions, it becomes more important to form a strategy. 

I agree that it makes no sense in creating a connection with people who you can not vouch for. In the early days of Linked In, before the functions we know today were realized, networks or connections may have been formed, that at the time ,were not as important to screen. However as the network is developing more consideration has to go into each individuals perspective on how THEY are going to be using Linked In.

You mention visibility above, and I think that is one important tool to deciding who you must connect with. Those who would argue they want to connect with people to grow their networks, should be posting their activity visibly to all...

Another approach may be posting some activity solely to their own network (people who are connected) - if that is the approach - and one might seek to do this to avoid competitors from seeing ALL their activity - then it is more important to have connections with the people you want to share with. It could almost work like a gateway. 

As we discuss these strategies, far too often we get lost in the marketers perspective, the issues that touch on marketing and the issues that come to us as marketing professionals. We must keep an open mind to think also about the functions for people who are not using networks to broadcast and share large ideas. There are those out there who are purely consumers, or who share items but want to keep their circles discreet. 

The more recent Linked In updates make Linked In function very much like a Facebook. The best way they can evolve to make these various roles people have online to to create subscribe features for all users, then users would not feel obliged to accept connections from their fans, and could manage this in a more productive way. Think Facebook evolutions (lists, subscribers, etc)

Looking toward the future, I agree that people need to think about what it means to THEM to have connections. How this appears to others, and what their true goals are on Linked In. 

Lets not forget that as evolved as we in the 1-5% are, as we upload our videos and slideshares and make full use of the site, the other 95% who have access to us may be collectives that have hardly grasped a profile picture.... its all about where you are at, and what you're trying to accomplish. 

So, we can either start a massive clean up of our contacts and decide who we want to leave in there (example: only people we recommend, only people we have worked with, people we think are cool??) and perhaps forma  statement in our summaries explaining how we ourselves use Linked In. Maybe that's the best solution moving forward at this time, after all you may use it one way, I guarantee others will use it differently...we can't all be mind readers. :) The only standard right now is constant change.

jeanniecw 5pts

Great post, Sam. One of the things I also make note of if I'm using LinkedIn for research: is the recommendation made by someone who has a reciprocal recommendation? LinkedIn encourages this and I try my best to avoid it. It seems too heavy on the quid pro quo instead of authentic recommendations.

samfiorella moderator 5pts

@Milaspage Mila, you must really come and guest blog at Sensei!!  Thanks for stopping by. Yes, the  latest updates do make it work more like Facebook, which is not necessarily a good thing. However, there are some great new features like the LInkedIn Today news feed, which I use very often. It's like a business newspaper. 

In terms of using it to promote yourself, the point I'm trying to make is that there are subtleties that must be considered - it's not just about the size of the connections and your job titles that says something about you, it's those you have connections with and how you connect with them. 

samfiorella moderator 5pts

@jeanniecw Excellent point and tip!  "social media reciprocation" has got the better of us these days and there are certainly a lot of games being played.  Blog tribes, mutual #FFs on Twitter, follow back schemes, etc. 


  1. […] The Sanctity of LinkedIn Contacts – build, nurture, and protect it. Think before you accept that next connection request blindly…  […]

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