I find LinkedIn a very valuable tool for keeping in touch with a network of contacts from past and present roles.
New modes of engagement need new protocols and there’s always a risk of giving offence as different people have different protocols and expectations.
Because of my current role as a senior headhunter, and Linkedin is increasingly relevant as a tool for headhunters, I’ve given this quite a bit of thought and have reached some personal “policy” conclusions. I’m capturing these here for the wider debate amongst both of my regular readers, but also so that in future I can point to this post as a signal that the application of my policy decision is just that – ie it isn’t personal.
1. I only connect to people with whom I have had some meaningful contact and interaction.
The power of linkedin for referrals, and second and third level networks is immense, and the underlying ethos of connecting only to people you know, and would be prepared to be positive about, is very important.
This doesn’t mean I have to have known someone for years, but I’m not going to connect to people with whom I’ve had no personal contact. This is entirely consistent with LinkedIn rules anyway, but clearly there are some folk who use LinkedIn more like facebook or twitter. That’s their choice. This is my choice. I’m also on facebook if people want to connect more appropriately there, and I can’t stop people following me on Twitter!
2. I don’t do recommendations any more.
Because of my current role, and the prospect that some of the people in my network may be candidates for roles that I work on, there’s an issue of perception were someone to be appointed to a role who I had separately recommended!
Additionally, I find that within-company recommendations of current work colleagues lack credibility.
I’m always happy to act as a referee for people I have worked with, by agreement.
3. I connect with headhunting competitors only if they “share” their network.
Although the default setting is that your network can be seen by your connections, it is possible to set it so that you hide your connections.
For me a significant part of the personal benefit of linked in is positive networking (which is why I only want to connect to people I know). My connections are open. I want people in my network to be able to access others in my network, a place where former work colleagues can find lots of mutual friends when they first sign up to LinkedIn.
In the headhunting world connections and knowledge are a basis for competition. Nevertheless the whole microeconomic theory about Networks show that all gain when networks are shared. So what that adds up to is “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours”. People who I know from competitor organisations (ie still subject to policy 1 above) I will connect with only if their connections can be seen by their other connections.
Others may draw this line in a different place. If I were purely a headhunter, or were working in a research function, then I might decide to keep things closed, indeed people may feel that it would be unethical for connections to see who else you’ve been talking to, but there’s more to my life and career, past and present, than that.
Update October 2012
For the reasons stated above regarding recommendations I won’t be “Endorsing” people either.