Are you building the value of LinkedIn’s business, or your own?

Since I first joined LinkedIn I had three goals for visitors to my profile:

Judging by the number of random strangers who ask to connect to me on LinkedIn, my list is different to yours in one fundamental respect – most of you seem to be seeking to connect to every random stranger LinkedIn’s algorithms suggest to you.

I ask you to reconsider that approach.

You know that internet adage, “If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer, you’re the product”? Apparently it was first posted in 2010 on this Metafilter post by Andrew Lewis.

If anything, it’s more true today than it was in 2010 since there are now many reported instances in which the data created by our use of a free internet product has been sold.

There might be value to you in seeing who I really know when you visit my LinkedIn profile. There’s no value to you in seeing a list of people who asked to connect with me on LinkedIn. So who’s making money from your time?

There’s value in that for LinkedIn – recruiters and other advertisers pay more for advertising on highly interconnected networks than sparsely connected networks. And new LinkedIn users are more likely to engage in their first few weeks on LinkedIn if they get connection requests all the time. And long-time LinkedIn users are more likely to keep coming back if they get connection requests all the time.

So LinkedIn doesn’t want us to decline connection requests. They want us to accept every one as quickly and as thoughtlessly as possible.

Some people tell me that by connecting to strangers on LinkedIn they’ve received value unexpectedly – a business deal, a job offer, or a new friendship, and I’m sure that does happen. But I’m not sure it happens often enough to recompense you for the unpaid time you spend connecting to strangers on LinkedIn, unless you’re getting paid a very small amount per hour in your actual job or business.

Another thing many people tell me is that once they’re connected to someone, they’re hoping when they share an item or report a promotion they’ve received, that others in their network will see and read it.

But the more people we’re all connected to on LinkedIn, the less chance you have of any particular person regularly seeing your latest updates. If what you want to do is keep people informed of your professional news, you want fewer connections, not more.

Connecting to strangers to help you build your business is surely, for most of us, too asymmetrical a relationship between time invested and rewards gained.

For me, it means my inbox is full of investor pitches that don’t match my investment focus, offers to do web development for me offshore when I don’t need offshore web developers, and job offers I don’t even want to receive, much less read and respond to.

You may as well just publish your email address on the web.

(In the past I’ve written about why not to pitch to VCs on LinkedIn, how previous updates to LinkedIn seemed to deliberately make it harder to decline invitations, what happened when I complained about that, one or two updates to the template reply I use when I decline an invitation, and an iOS keyboard app I use to make it easier to use that template when using LinkedIn for iOS).

I’m Alan Jones, an EiR for startup accelerators, GP at M8 Ventures. Previously investor, founder, and early Yahoo PM. Opinions mine (but should also be yours).

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