Dealing with social network connection bloat

For the past few weeks, the total number of people in my LinkedIn network has been decreasing. Why? To use LinkedIn’s parlance, I’ve been removing connections.

Who are these people?

Recently, I started to think about the people whose posts I see in my LinkedIn feed. I realized I don’t know some of these people in real life. Why am I connected to them on LinkedIn?

This subset of connections – LinkedIn connections who I don’t know – I now call “social network connection bloat.” I don’t blame them, or LinkedIn, for this bloat. I used to connect to just about anybody on LinkedIn during the first years I had my account. I also used to send connection requests to people based on mutual interests, and many of them accepted my connection request.

Now, my connection account is north of 1,800. I’m a sociable person, but do I really know more than 1,800 people? I haven’t checked every connection, but I feel confident saying “no.”

What do these updates mean to me?

Today, I get messages about the latest goings-on in the lives of people who I don’t know in real life. LinkedIn may suggest I wish somebody a happy birthday. Would I do so in real life? What about congratulating the person on a job change? If somebody were to ask me about a LinkedIn connection of mine, what would I say?

Side note: hiding promoted posts

When I go through my LinkedIn news feed, I regularly “Hide this post” just about every time an ad comes up. I particularly like to hide “LinkedIn promotion” posts. They keep coming up, so this is turning into a perpetual game of whack-a-mole, but I’ll keep hiding those posts.

How I handle connection requests

Knowing somebody in real life has become the test of whether I connect to that person now. It is now a test I also apply to connections I already have. Check out the “LinkedIn Reply shortcut” in this blog post for the message I send in reply to connection requests from people I don’t know.

If I don’t get a reply to this message, I delete the invitation and tell LinkedIn I don’t know the person. Should the person ask why I didn’t connect, I reply using this boilerplate message.

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. If you like, and it’s possible, I’m open to a coffee meetup.

Cheers,

Luigi

In rare instances, I “block” LinkedIn members who I don’t want to hear from anymore.

There’s also a queue of people who reached out to me via LinkedIn that I follow up on from time to time. I keep this queue because there’s a potential relationship with the people in that queue. But I’m in no rush to add those people to my LinkedIn network.

Have I already connected to everybody I know?

It wasn’t always like this. LinkedIn also suggests I connect to various people when I visit my Network page. Years ago, LinkedIn did a great job of identifying people I know. I don’t know how LinkedIn managed this. It’s a little creepy to think about now.

Today, I don’t recognize any of the people LinkedIn suggests I connect to. Maybe there isn’t anybody else I need to connect to right now.

How I cull connections from my LinkedIn network

Today, I spend a few moments looking carefully at my LinkedIn news feed whenever I visit the site. If I don’t know a particular connection, I unfollow and remove that connection. “Not knowing” the connection means one or more of the following:

  • I don’t have an entry in my contacts app for that person.
  • I have a contact entry for the person, but there’s nothing in it to tell me how we met. For example, I regularly paste email communications and other details in the Notes field of a contact entry to provide context.
  • There is no other evidence anywhere on my computer (e.g. email correspondence) that we know each other.

It’s nothing personal. This new habit of mine simply reflects my current thinking on how to improve the quality of my network.

Incidentally, I don’t have this issue with other social networks. I haven’t connected to so many people on other networks.

How I handle connection requests today

All this begs the question: When do I send LinkedIn (and other social network) connection requests?

  • If I meet/know the person in real life.
  • If I interview somebody over the phone for a magazine article.
  • If I work with the person in some way.

If we haven’t met and I get a connection request, I can ask the person how we know each other. If I don’t get an answer, I ignore the request. If the answer doesn’t satisfy me, I ignore the request. Nobody needs to add LinkedIn profiles to their networks just because they receive connection requests.

This is a minor issue, obviously, but the little bits of cleanup I do improve the quality of my network. I don’t spend much time on social networks these days. But I do make the time I spend there count.

Are you conscious of the bloat in your own social networks? If you are, how do you handle it? Let me know in the comments below.

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