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Stop Polluting LinkedIN

It started as an occasional annoyance. Then it became a mild distraction. Lately, the volume of fake LinkedIn connections has grown into a flood that threatens to overwhelm one of my favourite business networking tools.

I’m sure you see them, too: the LinkedIn request from someone you’ve never heard of, or who works for the organization you left five years ago. It’s an individual invitation that took at least a moment of thought before the originator hit ‘send’. But it crosses an important line and reflects a misunderstanding of LinkedIn’s purpose…and its strength.

The antidote comes in three words (two of which have only been defined in the last decade): LinkedIn isn’t Twitter.

The difference matters. On Twitter, the more followers you have, the better off you are. The 140-character connections are small, their duration is fleeting, and the best use of the platform is to pull casual connections into a longer conversation.

But LinkedIn is one of the places where those conversations are supposed to take place. That’s why the platform itself puts so much emphasis on real-world connections—the system confirms whether you know each contact before you reach out, and makes it a bit more difficult (though, sadly, not impossible) to send contact requests to strangers.

Malcolm Gladwell’s definition of connectors may stretch the point a bit: In his first book, The Tipping Point, he talks about the power of “loose connections” and the amazing networks that surround those people we all know who seem to know everyone. LinkedIn is a place where those connections can thrive, but it defeats the purpose to try to turn a big, extended, virtual water cooler into an anonymous street corner.

That distinction is easily lost on inexperienced account managers who see any social platform as an opportunity to build their pipeline and nab some short-term sales. Bad habits are reinforced by Directors of Sales & Marketing who talk a good line about building business relationships, but still put all their emphasis on quarterly reporting. Sales reps assure prospects that they’re really interested in understanding their business needs and building a long-term conversation…until planners realize that that’s just their latest line to try and close a quick deal.

LinkedIn may have crossed its own line when it introduced its endorsements feature this fall. In his excellent It’s All Virtual blog, Dennis Shiao argued that endorsements make it too easy to send out a public recommendation for someone you don’t really know all that well. And by the time I saw his post, I had already come to a perverse conclusion: endorsements made me realize that it’s time to scale back my LinkedIn list to people who really are a part of my network.

Miss Manners might have a few choice words about the best way to “dump” someone from your network, but that misses the point. It isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a rejection—I just want my LinkedIn list to be an accurate reflection of my real-world networks. For casual conversations, I can still find those looser connections on Twitter (and I'm happy if we connect there; my handle is @dashtonwagner). But LinkedIn is a different kind of network…and that means if you ask me to connect and we really don't know each other, I will ignore you.

What are your thoughts on this issue?