Of course you recognize this bit of text. It is the generic, boilerplate content that LinkedIn provides in the message field of the connection request. Sometimes I wake up in a cold sweat, shrieking uncontrollably, dreaming that I accidentally sent one to somebody. But it was just a dream. Because when I am awake, I personalize every invitation to connect, something I have done since I began building my LinkedIn network. Figure Helping up Friend (LS)

There is a public outcry over the continued depersonalization of LinkedIn connection requests. For a growing contingent of LinkedIn Nation, enough is enough. They are fed up with the lack of attention given to what has become the most important touch point in social business. By consensus, this is the major pet peeve of the LinkedIn user who has gained wisdom of the LinkedIn process. As someone who is fascinated by the psychology of online relationships, I am amazed as to the frequency with which I receive the generic greeting, despite the incessant wailing.

At this stage, personalizing the invitation to connect is not a strategy but rather should be viewed as common courtesy. Although LinkedIn states above the text box that the message is optional, conscientious users see it as an essential piece of LinkedIn etiquette. I deem it a best practice. I hope that you, dear reader, are personalizing your outgoing LinkedIn invitations. Many people that I know will not accept requests to connect from users who do not put some kind of original spin on the message. The continued sending of depersonalized LinkedIn connection requests is the tragic flaw of the uninitiated. 

In tracing the rash of standardized invitations, there are 3 major culprits that can be isolated. Importing an email directory to LinkedIn does not allow for customized messaging. Everybody in that database will receive the formulaic greeting. For some time, the People You May Know platform, more algorithmic than intuitive, did not allow for personalizing invitations. You merely plucked people from a deck that LinkedIn prepared and fired off a flurry of standardized connection requests. (This has been modified; you can now personalize this greeting, although with a lesser character limit.) And whereas the LinkedIn mobile application has developed nicely, it is still not meant for delicate, nuanced messaging. At the time of this writing, you are unable to personalize the invitation via mobile.

We can course correct here. First, never send out any LinkedIn invitations en masse. This is a one-on-one interaction that must be carefully staged and, in some cases warrants a pre-invitation approach (e.g., an InMail which requests permission to connect). Second, invite people to connect via their LinkedIn profile. In this manner, invitees can corroborate your visit to the page with the invitation and know that you have reviewed (vetted) them as a potential connection. Finally, do not generate or accept an invitation to connect from your mobile phone. Wait until you get to the computer at your workspace and craft an appropriate outgoing message or note of thanks upon acceptance.

And so the question remains: with so many warnings to the contrary, why are you still receiving standardized, default connection requests from other LinkedIn users?

They Don’t Know 

There are many LinkedIn users who take the sending of default invitation content as protocol and are simply not aware that the text in that box can be swapped. (Many who have attended my talks and workshops cite this as their biggest takeaway.) LinkedIn gives you the creative freedom—and 300 characters, including spaces—to frame the request, cite the details of your initial meeting, and create a reference point from which a conversation can take flight. If you were not aware of this previously, you’re very welcome. From now on, delete the default text and personalize every LinkedIn connection request you send. You will see positive results regarding your interactions right away.

They Don’t Care 

My presumption is that those who continue to send the default invitation are not callous. They merely fail to attach significance to the action. A thoughtful relationship builder knows the value of a respectful approach and understands that those on the receiving end of the connection request have feelings. A cordial, well-conceived invitation gets you immediately noticed and catalyzes the connection. Those who choose to be lazy, or retract from the responsibility of representing themselves in a forthright manner, can expect indifference or repulsion from those they message. Make the effort. Appeal to people’s sensibilities. Conscious avoidance, passivity, or apathy in connecting with others will not carry you far on LinkedIn.

They Are Not Sure What to Say

On LinkedIn, self-confidence is the key to successful social networking. Cybershyness, introversion, and reticence are not qualities that enable the assembly of a cohesive, opportunity-rich professional network. When it comes to forming LinkedIn connections with strong bonds, emotional intelligence carries the day. The personalized invitation reflects the intention of the inviter. In your invitations to those you don’t know, let them know why you wish to connect (e.g., you liked their book; you read their blog; you run in the same tribe, etc.). To those you have met, remind them of how, where, and when. Suggest an offline conversation (and, most importantly, follow through). The truth is the best of all possible communication strategies.

Parting Thoughts Tell me why on earth do you want to connect to me? Really. Tell me! WHY?Do we have synergies worth exploring? What do you hope to obtain from our connection? If you are truly interested in building long-term, sustainable business relationships via LinkedIn, your personal touch on the invitation to connect—as with any correspondence—becomes vital to the cause. Stop the madness, please!

11 Responses to “I’d Like to Add you to My Professional Network on LinkedIn”

  1. JD: Ahh, yes, the mindless, thoughtless, generic one-liner LinkedIn invitation… one of my pet issues, and a timewaster in my life and the lives of many, many other folks in LinkedIn. You’ve just said all that needed to be said on this subject; you said it thoroughly and with grace; and you said it articulately and elegantly. Good work — thanks!

  2. Joan Witte says:

    The automatic nature of Linkedin gets me! I’m glad you called it out. My practice is to personalize invites but sometimes I forget and click the wrong “connect” and before I know it the message is gone. :-( Linkedin should have the same process, one that allows personalization, across the board for all connect options.

  3. TaLisa Sheppard says:

    Great points. It would be great if the LinkedIn capabilities were universal across different platforms. I mainly use LinkedIn on my phone and the option to create personalized messages is not available. I do however respond to the connection with a personal note and this seems to work well for now.

  4. J.D.
    Like you, I continue to be surprised when I receive generic invitations to connect as well as invitations from people whom I don’t know at all whose messages don’t contain any reason why they’d like to connect. Hard to believe that so many people still don’t realize: LinkedIn isn’t a Facebook for grownups where the # of contacts defines the value of our networks!

  5. Spot-on, Patrick.

    Even harder to believe that there are some people who refer to LinkedIn as “Facebook for Business.”

  6. Doug Ales says:

    J.D.

    The question I have heard asked, and you avoided in this article, is “Do personalized invitations increase acceptance rates?”

    The issue with intuition without research is it can fail us. North American Indians believed they could make it rain with the correct dance. Studies show gamblers playing craps toss dice harder when they need a larger number. Like personalized linkedIn invitations, these techniques do not work at generating the desired outcome.

    After tracking first contact LinkedIn acceptance rates between people with no prior direct contact, personalized invitations LOWERED acceptance rates.

    I discussed this information with a Milwaukee WI based LinkedIn author and expert when he acknowledged there is no evidence to support claims that personalized invitations increase acceptance rates.

    Conclusion; use the generic invitation for your greatest chance at connecting.

  7. @Doug:
    Not avoiding anything. I can only speak from personal experience. I do not send any generic invitations. Never have, never will. I grow my LinkedIn network organically and judiciously. I let people know why I wish to connect with them. (Frequently, I use off-LinkedIn approaches to gauge their interest in receiving my invitation. By the time they receive my connection request, we are preconditioned for a substantive dialog.)

    There are plenty of surveys out there from which you could glean information on who accepts and who passes on invitations bearing the default greeting. Like everything else in social networking, it all comes down to personal preference. I have accepted generic connection requests from people based on the strength of their LinkedIn profiles, tried to follow up with them, and – nothing. Many of these do not correlate with a visit to my LinkedIn profile, so I figure I was either included in a flurry of en masse invitations to an imported email list, or invited off of a LinkedIn search where the note cannot be personalized.

    I think my stance in this piece is firm, and that there are many LinkedIn users who echo this sentiment. A personalized invitation—one that speaks to commonality and a potential future benefit for both parties—is going to enhance connectivity, open the floodgates for meaningful conversation, and lay a foundation of trust. It also shows respect and a willingness to move a relationship forward.

    But, hey, that’s just me.

  8. Anne Egros says:

    Thanks JD for bringing this issue. Regularly this topic is surfacing in many discussions on “How to use LinkedIn,” but I still got 2 or 3 canned messages per day.

    Call me old-fashioned, but I like to be treated as a unique person not a commodity and I consider it is basic courtesy to introduce yourself and why you want to connect with me. Generic “canned” invitations go same way as the pile of paper advertisement: directly in the trash can. I also systematically switch off the phone from people trying to sell me anything!

    I may accept a generic invitation when there is an obvious reason for connection such as colleagues and clients or people participating in discussions sharing my interests in groups or other social media.

    I personalize my invitations and I usually answer back to people who send me a compelling reason to connect. I often follow up the online connection by a meeting in person or having a phone or Skype call.

  9. @Anne:
    Thank you for your thoughts.

    You and I are cut from the same cloth.

  10. Doug Ales says:

    @JD

    Thank you for your reply and benefiting all that take the time to read your article and responses.

    I offer my complements to you for clarifying your technique. It sounds like your process of building a rapport with a person before you invite them is working well for you and I’m happy for you.

    “After tracking first contact LinkedIn acceptance rates between people with no prior direct contact, personalized invitations LOWERED acceptance rates” is something your article neither confirms nor disputes.

    Your focus is more on best practices and I find no fault with this JD.

  11. @Doug:
    Thank you, Sir.

    As JFK once said, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” On LinkedIn, my mission is to be that rising tide.

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