Thoughts on improving social networks

Are people in your social networks also your friends?

The quick answer: if you know them in real life, if you could call them to meet for coffee, then yes, they’re your friends. At the other end of the spectrum are people you’ve never heard of.

In between these two extremes lies a continuum. Where people draw the “friend” line depends on their personal opinions.

Activity on various social networks has led me to ponder this question more deeply. I’ll talk about LinkedIn here, but the logic applies to other social networks too.

My LinkedIn networking history

I once connected to just about anybody on LinkedIn. That may explain why I have more than 1,800 LinkedIn connections. (I have far fewer connections in other social networks.)

But the first time I came across a LION – LinkedIn Open Networker – something just smelled wrong. I ignored my gut instinct about this, but it’s been simmering ever since.

Some years ago, members of a South Asian “group” of “writers” calling themselves ICE (I forget what the acronym stands for) wanted to connect to me. I had to ask why. Ultimately, I didn’t connect with them. That’s when I started to accept that if I don’t understand the purpose of a connection request, I don’t need to accept it.

After all, what’s the quality level (or the use) of a network when I don’t know people well enough to offer them LinkedIn recommendations? Or if I’ve never even met them in the first place? Or if I can’t easily meet them for coffee?

Culling contacts

I started to keep a list of LinkedIn connections who I suspect I’ve never even met. Then I stopped. LinkedIn posts updates about my connections in my news feed, so if I don’t recognize people whose names appear in the feed, I can check them out right away. (I’m not likely to go through all 1,800 of my connections anytime soon. Sounds like a great procrastination tactic, though.)

How do I check my connections? Whenever I meet people, I often add their contact information to my Contacts app along with a note on how we met. If the people whose updates appear in my LinkedIn news feed aren’t in my Contacts app, I consider “disconnecting” from them.

I can make this decision in less than a minute. No Contacts entry? No email correspondence? No records of any type of contact? Goodbye.

If there’s a downside to this habit, I haven’t come across it yet. The upside? I may be disconnecting from duplicate LinkedIn profiles, as well as profiles created for purposes that I don’t want to serve.

Preventing excessive LinkedIn connections.

Preserving the quality of my network involves judicious use of connections. If anybody sends me a connection request, I’d like to be able to at least say how I know the person. So when people first ask to connect with me and I don’t know them, I send them this polite “challenge message”.

Hi,

Thanks for reaching out.

I don’t think we know each other. Did something in my profile catch your eye? Is there something I can do for you?

Looking forward to your reply,

Luigi

If they don’t reply in a day, I refuse the connection request and tell LinkedIn I don’t know them.

Apparently there are repercussions for these actions of mine, but I no longer dwell on them. (Some replies to this message arrive with what reads like veiled guilt trips, attempting to coerce me to connect. That doesn’t work.)

If people ask about my logic, here’s my reply, a personal “policy statement” if you will.

Hi,

I connect with people on LinkedIn only if I’ve met them in real life first. Let me explain:

For a while, I connected to all sorts of people on social networks who I didn’t know. I stopped doing that because it seemed weird to have other people ask me about connections I didn’t know in real life.

I hope this clarifies things.

Cheers,

Luigi

Technical note: I was typing these replies often enough that I decided to automate them. As a bonus, these preferences are now synchronized to my iPod Touch and iPad via iCloud.

Improving networks

Sometimes I question the quality of the social media experience. I believe far too many LinkedIn ”connections” don’t exist in real life, and deep down most people know that. There’s so much potential value, yet so little actual value.

This conundrum led me to search for other people’s thoughts on this topic. I ran into a great article that mirrors my thinking. Here’s the conclusion:

What I do know is that I’m not generally a person that works a room and hands out my business card to 25 people, even at a professional networking event. I prefer to chat to two or three people and get to know them. Open networking seems to be a bit like that spray can kind of approach. I’m not saying that’s wrong. I just don’t think that’s my natural style.

My main take out of all of this, is my networking style worked for me one way offline, so I should have approached it that way online. Perhaps that’s a good rule of thumb for anyone, really.

Let’s take this train of thought one step further: maybe the answer is to pare down our social networks to just the people we know. That might, paradoxically, make our networks stronger.

Do you recognize the same issues? Do you haver any potential solutions? Other viewpoints? Please share them in the comments below.

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