Over the past few months, I’ve received an increased number of LinkedIn ‘connection’ and Facebook ‘friend’ requests from people I don’t know and with whom I don’t have an obvious mutual connection but often have common professional interests. I assume that these requests are coming from people who read this blog, as the increase started when I transitioned my old blog from Vox to WordPress and added the social icons you see in the right banner, linking to my public profiles… But, I don’t know for sure, as the requests rarely include a note.
If you’re one of the people who asked me to connect, and you’ve not heard back from me, it’s most likely because the request wasn’t accompanied by an introduction. If you seem normal and you write me message on Facebook or LinkedIn, I’ll do my best to reply. I enjoy meeting new people and talking about mutual business interests and/or consulting opportunities.
The thing is – I don’t immediately ‘friend’ or ‘connect’ with people I don’t know enough about on Facebook or LinkedIn. Why? Social networks need to be relevant to be useful. It’s the conversations you have with your connections online that make social networks powerful, not the act of connecting. Good things don’t come from adding a new connection you’ve never talked to or know nothing about. Good things do come from meaningful conversations, which is why I prefer to start communicating with professional contacts that I don’t know well by email, Twitter, and my blog. In contrast, I use LinkedIn to stay in touch with the people I’ve worked with or done business with before. I use Facebook to connect with people I know – mostly with friends and to a lesser extent with colleagues.
I occasionally get Facebook requests from people I’ve met briefly professionally but don’t know much about. I used to accept these requests thinking it was good for business and assuming was no harm in it… After all, Facebook’s privacy settings can help users control the information different groups of ‘friends’ see. What could go wrong? Er- plenty. I stopped accepting ‘don’t know well’ requests shortly after Mobile World Congress. It was there that I met a seemingly normal man who worked in a management position at a reputable mobile company. For the purposes of this post, I’ll call this man, “Engineer” (as in – social engineer). Engineer suggested we connect on Facebook, and once connected, he scanned my friend list for useful contacts. Without asking me for an introduction, Engineer pinged one of my friends (who used to be a Venture Capitalist – I’ll call her “VC”) asking her for help and citing me as a reference of his character and business acumen. Wondering why I hadn’t introduced them directly, VC sent me a note asking how well I knew Engineer and asked me to verify his claim that I was a ‘reference’. Needless to say, I deleted Engineer from my Facebook ‘friends’ and vowed not to make the same mistake twice. My experience with Engineer is one of the reasons I still prefer the formality of LinkedIn for professional interactions over the informality of Facebook… There is a formal process for requesting and making introductions through existing connections.
So, why do I post my LinkedIn and Facebook profiles on my blog if I don’t intend to accept all requests to connect? There’s nothing better than a great conversation – regardless of where it starts. If you want to talk with me on a social network, drop me a note letting me know about yourself and what we have in common. I’d prefer to start talking on email, SocializeMobilize or Twitter (where anyone is welcome to follow, ask questions, join the conversation). If you ping me on Facebook or LinkedIn, I will reply, but unless we’ve interacted before or have many friends in common, I’ll want to have meaningful conversations before adding you as a ‘friend’ or ‘connection.’
I can almost hear the chorus of the “friend everyone” school of self-proclaimed ‘social media experts’ warning that I’m going to squelch my social media mojo with this philosophy, but I disagree. One day, my thoughts about ‘friending’ may change – especially if Facebook gives me the option to restrict who can directly email my ‘friends’. For now, I hope that choosing my ‘friends’ wisely in the short-run will yield more meaningful conversations in the long-run.