LION – LinkedIN Open Networkers: Why it’s a bad idea

I’ve been on LinkedIN since around 2007, which by some measures is a long time, but by the yardstick of the digital/marcomm industry, I was a bit of a slow poke getting onboard. Checking today, I have 400+ connections. That to me, is a lot. And I’m pleased to say that I personally know and/or have worked with every single one of my contacts, who in select cases, have become friends.

But more importantly is this: given the circumstances and opportunity, I would happily work with any of them again. This is really important to understand if you have tried to connect to me and I’ve declined. It’s nothing personal, but because I can’t validate both your person, as well as the quality of work you do, why would I risk exposing my network to people that I can’t verify?

Like most people, my career has charted a really interesting path, allowing the opportunity to work with some extraordinary people and glimpse an insight into the strategic thought and motivations that come with running a business. These types of personalities are inevitably at the board level, company owners, founders and C-suite level personalities.

The concept of a LION – LinkedIn Open Networker – is one where people connect up to pretty much anyone they meet. Or they go one step further and connect up with people they would like to meet. They cast the net and see what comes back. Maybe it’s the way I’ve been bought up, but I place great stock in the ability to vouch for someone and the quality they represent. I want to experience first hand the expertise people offer before I connect to them. It’s only fair I feel, because inevitably my network will come back to me if something doesn’t work out. It’s what I would do. Equally when I’m looking for quality candidates and comparing them to the Industry and each other, LinkedIn becomes a point of investigation and validation to verify the applicants bone fides.

Some of the people I have connected too, guard their personal privacy very, very highly. The lengths they go too are quite incredible. I’ve taken some lessons from this personally, in the way I monitor what I do online and offline myself. Working in retail does that too you – makes you inherently suspicious. But it means there is no way I want someone I don’t know, potentially approaching them and breaking my trust. If I had a LION type of outlook and connected to everyone I met and included a number of people I didn’t really know, there isn’t much stopping them from making up how they know me and using that to introduce themselves to people I actually do know and whose association I do care about.

Connecting to someone you don’t know, you can’t vouch for their expertise. Their experience. Their ethics. Their intent. The rhythm they work at. The value they offer.

It all comes down to this: It’s your reputation on the line.

LinkedIn is fast becoming networking by association, as opposed to networking by benefit. I’m determined to not operate my network like a popularity contest, because I actually want my connections to be meaningful and beneficial to both myself and each of my connections that all tend to know each other or will inevitably meet each other. Exposing my network to the potential gaps in what I portray as my ethical outlook and my sense of what is appropriate – and what my network know is the level I operate at – is too risky to my own reputation and how I am perceived by my peers.

So being a LION is not for me. Its why I meet with quizzical disbelief the phone call from the overseas call centre, with the visuals in my mind of a battery hen like team of 40 business development managers being relentless in their lead chasing. Why on earth would I want to connect up with them? I’m not that lonely or insecure in myself to stoop to that level to grow my network for the short term, feel good fix.

LinkedIn recently celebrated 200 million members. That’s a huge milestone and illustrates the sheer volume of opportunity inherent in the platform. But next time you get a request to connect up from someone you don’t know, I encourage you to assess the value of that person and question the value they offer you on LinkedIn.

And ask yourself the hard question – can you trust them?