One Mistake You Don’t Know You’re Making on LinkedIn

little blue guy.jpgI came home recently to discover my husband Steve glued to his smart phone, cheeks flushed with excitement.

“What are you up to?” I asked.

“LinkedIn is starting to make sense! It recommended these People You May Know so I started clicking the little blue guys next to people’s names. I clicked over 50 names, and my phone is on fire now with people accepting my request!”

He peered up at me over his readers. “What? You look sick all of a sudden. I’m confused. Don’t you always say I should grow my network?”

I was thrilled he was exploring LinkedIn, and acknowledged that. “You are so excited at the responses you’re getting!” I waited before launching into Miss LinkedIn Know-It-All.

“Yes! It’s easier to connect than I thought,” he said.

“I’m dying to share a fast LinkedIn lesson, if you don’t mind. Most people don’t know about it.”

“Go on,” he said.

“LinkedIn makes connecting easy, for sure, just like on Facebook. But the two platforms are very different: Facebook is a personal networking site. LinkedIn is a professional business site. People prefer to do business with people they know, like, and trust, and LinkedIn is a perfect ecosystem for establishing your credibility. Here’s the problem: Clicking the little blue guy can mess with the “know, like, trust” factor.”


“Because when you click that blue guy, it sends a default message to the recipient which says, I’d like to connect with you on LinkedIn. That’s it. It’s cold and impersonal. Think of it this way: If a stranger walked up to you at a networking event, handed you his business card without saying a word and then walked away, what would you do?”

“I’d probably put it in my pocket and forget about it,” he said.

“Exactly. His awkward networking move is the equivalent of clicking the little blue guy in the People You May Know area. You’ve “collected” a name in your network with someone you don’t know. Now the trail between you is cold. To pave the way for that “know, like, trust” factor, it’s vital on LinkedIn to be a genuine connector, not a collector. See the difference?

Steve says, “So it’s like having a can in your pantry with no label. The one that sits there unused for years, taking up space.”

“Bingo,” I said. “Here’s another problem: Let’s say now you’re connected to Jerry Smith through the little blue guy. In a couple weeks your friend Rick calls you and says, “Hey Steve—I see you’re connected to Jerry Smith on LinkedIn. I’d love it if you’d introduce us.” You have to tell Rick “Crap! I don’t really know Jerry. Sorry buddy.”

“Now your “know, like, trust factor” has diminished in Rick’s eyes. He can’t rely on you to provide referrals, like you can rely on him. See, Rick knows not to click the little blue guy. He personalizes each connection request, starting the relationship on warm, solid footing. In addition, he stays in touch with his network, providing value in all the ways he can through LinkedIn. As a result, Rick’s “know, like, trust” vibe is through the roof.”

I also tell Steve about the third down side to clicking the blue guy: LinkedIn will restrict your account if too many people you invite that way respond with “I don’t know Steve.” (I contacted the LinkedIn help desk just now, asking what the “I don’t know” threshold was, and was told it depended on “multiple algorithms”). You can get it unrestricted, but I suggest avoiding the hassle in the first place.

Steve and I furthered our conversation by discussing how forgiving LinkedIn truly is. He can work on growing his relationships with these new “cold” connections in spite of a rocky start. Once connected, he can:

  • Message them privately, reviewing their profiles, finding like-mindedness and commonalities, laying the groundwork for information sharing
  • Provide status updates that his connections value
  • Write blogs that offer insights and information that benefit his network, boosting his “know, like, trust” factor

Steve’s initial hunch was right: LinkedIn does make so much sense. It’s a rich online environment for finding prospects, earning their trust, and creating mutually beneficial professional relationships. But in relationship building there is no shortcut, which is why we need to avoid being seduced by the little blue guy, who makes us think a real relationship is just a click away.

Julie Bondy Roberts, MA, GCDF is a LinkedIn™ Profile Writer, LinkedIn trainer, REA Career Coach, and blogger.