Facebook may have stretched the definition of “friend” to include even your second cousin’s chiropractor. But users of professional networking site LinkedIn seem to go even further, approving virtually anyone who asks to be a “connection.”
Since saying "Yes" can open the door to constant sales pitches and other forms of self-promotion, a backlash was inevitable.
How Not to Decline an Invitation to Connect
The reply went viral, Blazek apologized and returned her award.
But negotiating the decision can be challenging, says Carl Van Horn, professor of public policy and director of Rutgers’ John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development. The site, after all, is “for advancing your professional interest,” he says.
LinkedIn Pros and Cons
They are seen as an endorsement and reflect on your professional reputation, says Scott Dobroski, career trends analyst at Glassdoor, so choose them carefully. “It all depends on how comfortable you are with your own transparency online,” he says.
Dobroski recommends checking out each would-be connection’s Internet footprint and see if they have drunken Facebook or Instagram photos, or even if they’ve ever been convicted of a serious crime that could reflect badly on you. Rival companies or professionals only interested in self-promotion are also best avoided, he adds.
Keeping Things Professional
Adi Bittan, CEO of reputation management company OwnerListens.com, received a request from a LinkedIn connection — a Ph.D. student from a major university — to demonstrate software that could estimate a person’s clothes size over a webcam.
“We set up a Skype call during which he explained that the solution actually requires taking one’s clothes off,” Bittan says. “I ended the conversation quickly and advised him to rethink his pitch.”
Too Many Connections
“Not having a picture says to me you can’t figure out how to put one up, you don’t use your account very much, or you simply don’t like to look in the mirror,” says Billy Bauer, a marketing director in Secaucus, N.J. Either that or the profile is a fake, he adds.
For those seeking to get noticed, profile photos that are cute on Facebook can be creepy on LinkedIn. “The worst offender was a picture of a man smiling in a bubble bath,” Bauer says. “Thank goodness there were lots of bubbles.”
How to Spot a Spammer
Michal Ann Strahilevitz, a professor of marketing at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, recently received an invite from a waitress from a pizza joint in Cambodia. “I have not been to Cambodia, but I did work as a waitress in a pizza place in Texas when I was in high school,” she says.
She does make exceptions to her rule not to accept strangers. “I am Israeli by birth, and I figure I should accept any opportunity to create professional bridges with our Arab neighbors," says Strahliveitz. “It’s quite nice to have both Arab and Israeli names in my network.”
Facebook v. LinkedIn
While Facebook is popular across a diverse mix of demographic groups, the research found, LinkedIn is especially popular among college graduates and Internet users in higher income households. Twitter and Instagram appeal to younger adults and urban dwellers.
The Creep Factor
“It all starts with someone looking at your profile, then you wonder who they are and look at theirs, then they look at yours again, and it just seems to go on,” says Alex Parker, president of Brand Strategix, an Internet marketing agency in Rockford, Mich. “By the end, I’m wondering, ‘Should I know this person?’”
Networking or Broadcasting?
Last month, Neil Gussman went to a lunch for the chemical industry in New York. “One of the attendees asked me, ‘What do you do?’” One week earlier, that same person had endorsed Gussman for “public relations.”
Laermer is tiring of “the constant nagging” from his connections. LinkedIn, he says, encourages the kind of showiness that would make Liberace blush.
“Social networking is now an oxymoron,” he says. “It’s become a form of broadcasting with everyone just trying to get attention.”
This article is reprinted with permission from MarketWatch.com. © 2013 Dow, Jones & Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved.