Should I accept all the invitation requests I receive on LinkedIn?

All you need to know about Invitations and then some!
I was asked this question after a recent networking event and I think the question is a valid one.  We all receive connection requests from people we don’t know, some receive a lot and other only a few, but irrespective most people would like to know what is the best course of action to take.
And depending on who you ask, will obviously depend on the response you will get.
For some LinkedIn users, they have an almost inbred fear of people they don’t know and so have a ‘policy’ of never connecting with anyone they don’t already have an offline relationship with.
While for other users, they will not connect with anyone who does not first send them an InMail or email which asks whether it is appropriate to send a connection request.  And then we have the open networkers or LION’s, who will connect with anyone, anytime and for any reason.
There are some people who will tell you its not a numbers game and therefore you should go for quality over quantity.  But, how do you know if it is a quality connection if you do not connect with them first?
There are those people who believe ‘quality’ is defined by you having in-depth knowledge of the person, their business and products or services.
It is a fairly easy decision to make if you know the person well or have done business with them.  That is a no brainer but what about the colleague who you dislike and don’t want them to know who you are connected with?  Some years ago, while working as an interim CEO, I had this problem with 2 of the directors.
So what do you do?
If you work for a company, but are looking for another job, do you accept the connection request from all the recruiters you meet?  DO you accept your HR manager or direct supervisors request?
There is, of course, the flip side of the coin when for example you leave a company, do you remove your former colleagues and bosses as connections?
Depending on how many connection requests you receive, the process can become overwhelming and I have known people to ignore LinkedIn altogether for this reason and in the process miss out on one of the best networking options available today.
To start with, it is important to recognise there is no right way, one-size-fits-all solution.  There are only opinions.  LinkedIn recommends you only connect with people you know, but if you took the same approach to growing your network in a physical sense, you will run out of connection opportunities very quickly.
Or if you took that approach to doing business, you would again run out of business opportunities smartly.
So you need a balance and I have a 5 step process which enables me to define whether to accept a connection request or not.
Here’s my 5 step approach:
  • Step 1: Strategy
I believe everything begins with your strategy.  You should have an overall strategy for social media interaction within which is your LinkedIn strategy.  That LinkedIn strategy should define your specific target market (STM) as well as the type of people you want to connect with who may add value to your business as suppliers or to your network as contributors.
  • Are they in the industry you are targeting?
  • Are they in the city you work in?
  • Do they give you cause to look further or do they give you that ‘don’t touch’ feeling?  Your gut reaction could be the right instinct.
  • Step 2: Investigate
If they give you the feeling that you want more information, I then suggest you dig deeper into their profile, the connection request itself, their environment, their website, etc.
We know that most people don’t send personalised messages with a connection request, although more and more people are becoming switched on to the reality of personalised messages, so look first whether the person has sent you a personalised message and what it says.
If they have not personalised their message, you may want to send them a message to ask why they want to connect with you.  And yes this does sound like a long process, however, it is in my opinion a wise option.
Why?  Well, I would rather have 100 relevant connects with whom I can do business or that can add value to my network, than 1000 connections who are not in the space I want to influence.
By reading through their profile, you will also get a better feel regarding whether they are the right fit for you and your strategy.  It is generally easy to spot fake profiles as you read through them and it is equally easy to determine whether the profile fits in with your STM.
  • Step 3: Accept, Ignore or Follow
Now you have a decision to make.  Do you accept the request or ignore it?
Well, you should now have sufficient information to make that decision.  One tactic I use when I am still unsure is rather than accepting the request immediately, I will follow them and assess whether they fit into my strategy through their ongoing interaction and engagement.
Again, it may be a longer process, but it has saved me on a number of occasions over the past few years.
You could also send them a message suggesting they follow you rather than connect if you think they could learn from you, but there is very little chance of you engaging with them.
  • Step 4: Message
After I have made the decision to accept the connection request, I then want to begin a discussion, so send them a message thanking them for reaching out and connecting.  It does not have to be a complex detailed message, but it is an opportunity to confirm I want to be connected with this person.
The main reason I send this first message, though, is many people say all of the right things and seem legitimate up front, but immediately after they connect with you, you are either straight into their automated stream and are engaging with bots or they begin to sell to you at the first kiss.
When this happens, I almost immediately remove them as a connection.
  • Step 5: Engage
If they have then been through the mill and come out on the other side, my 5th step is then to begin to engage with them.  This is not always successful and you need to be aware of their circumstances.  What you could do is ask how they would like to go forward to develop the relationship.
So there is my 5 step process when I receive a connection request from someone I may not know and have not yet met.
If you want to store common snippets of text for your messages which can help you, there are a number of tools you can use.  The most common of these is TextExpander, however there are alternatives like AutoHotKey or PhraseExpress.  These types of programs can help you complete these 5 steps quicker and easier.
I do want to take this one step further and look at your own outbound connection process.
Based on what I have said earlier, it should be fairly obvious that I believe in the importance of a personalised connection requests.  However, is it necessary in every circumstance?
From my own research and from the data supplied by LinkedIn, there is clear day light in the responses which personalised connection requests and non-personalised requests receive and there are a number of very good reasons.
  • The blandest, boring, vanilla 11 words on social media are?  That’s right, you guessed it.  ‘I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.’  They are a total turn off!
  • Most people prefer to know they are dealing with a human and not a robot.  That is why I am not a fan of automation.  It works great if you are in the numbers game, but I don’t believe building a network on LinkedIn should be automated.
  • A personalised request means you have taken some time to consider the person you are connecting with.
Is it necessary in every circumstance to send a personalised message?
No, is the short answer.
For example, I very seldom carry business cards to networking groups as I find it easier and more convenient to connect on LinkedIn so we have each other’s details immediately.  If I am standing with the person, it is pointless to send a personalised message, unless I want them to remember how and where we met.
So there are circumstances that it is not necessary, however, I would think that they are the minority of cases.
So should you accept every request you receive?
No, ignore the obvious spam and fake accounts, ignore those who don’t meet the specifics of your strategy and ignore those people you don’t want in your network.
If you would like to know more about our LinkedIn For Business Growth courses which are delivered regularly in the UK and other countries or would like to find out how you can use LinkedIn in your business, please call +44 1392 980258 or email me directly vic@theaudaciouscompany.com.
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