Open Connections on LinkedIn

Alan BelniakSocial Media13 Comments

"Sure, call anyone you like...."

"Sure, call anyone you like...."

I recently had a discussion with a friend-and-colleague (Friend #1) of mine about opening up one’s connections on LinkedIn. It’s been a while since I set up my profile, but as I recall, that is the default action. If a user wishes to not open up their network, they need to specifically indicate this. When I saw that my friend had recently joined LinkedIn, I noticed his connections were closed. I was perplexed. I thought, ‘this is the social web; the real value – in my eyes, at least – is opening up the connections to others.’ But maybe my eyes weren’t the norm.

I updated my LinkedIn status a little while ago with a short message saying that I spent some time with my friend and we engaged in this debate. Shortly after, another friend of mine (also on LinkedIn; Friend #2), send me a message. I’ll paraphrase it below:

[Re:] your comment with regard to opening up one’s LinkedIn connections […]

It is funny, but that’s one of the major criteria I use to having people in my network:
1) I’ve worked with them or known them (and enjoyed the experience)
2) they share their contacts

My feelings is [that] if they want to be part of my network and share my contacts, then they have to reciprocate. Otherwise what’s the point? If I just want one person to know my status (if I’m looking for a job or what have you), then I can email them. The whole point of LinkedIn is to leverage not just your contacts but your contact’s contacts. If people are worried about other people knowing who they know, then is LinkedIn really the place for them?

What Friend #2 is referring to here is what’s known as the strength of weak ties (description, full text). This text carries some weight – it’s one of the most heavily referenced documents in this space of network theory and social networking. I happen to share the above two criteria with Friend #2, though I do make an exception on occasion. Further, I share the follow-on points as well. The word in the description that sums it up for me is “reciprocate”. I look at this as a quid pro quo, though I’m not going to openly disparage anyone in my network who do not open their connections. This entire topic turned out to be a good discussion between Friend #1 and me.

Friend #2 continues:

I’ve had several people that more than fit the first criteria, but because they failed the second, I’ve had to send them a slightly awkward message along the lines of “sorry, I only have connections that share their contacts, so link back up if you change your settings!”. I would actually prefer LinkedIn would warn you as to whether or not they share their contacts prior to accepting (or sending) them an invitation.

Friend #2 uses an interesting approach. I’ve never done this, but am happy to know that others (okay, so n=1) do this. And I think the LinkedIn setting that Friend #2 recommends is a good one. This is a practice I might consider using.

Friend #1 explained to me when we were discussing this that he works in an industry where others salivate at getting access to additional contacts related to the industry, and the supporting ecosystem. In fact, so much so that once contacts are made open, one can get deluged with multiple, unsolicited requests for business. It becomes a hassle to not only just wade through these (the inbox functionality of LinkedIn is abysmal), but also to consider which warrant replies and which don’t. If a message goes unanswered, then people tend to be pushy, and more messages are sent. A seemingly obvious fix to this would be to appropriately tick the contact preferences (job requests, getting back in touch, etc., and not select ‘new business’). But this doesn’t guarantee anything – it only indicates one’s preferences.

Sol two interesting viewpoints. I tend to side (if I had to pick, I guess) with Friend #2, but mostly because I really agree with the approach and value the strength of weak ties and second- and third-degree networks. However, Friend #1 makes a compelling point, though I can’t fully appreciate it because I’m not in the same industry.

In closing (and in jest), surely Friend #1 must have heard this from another friend in the industry, rather than experience it first-hand. He doesn’t open up his connections – how would he know?  🙂

What’s your take? Do you open your LinkedIn connections? Why or why not?

Image credit: Flickr user muilak