For first level connections on LinkedIn to happen, I need to first have some form of personal contact

Butterfly collection, Beijing Art Museum, by Ivan Walsh
In all the time I’ve been on groups where LinkedIn is discussed, including the Linked Bloggers group I co-moderate, the great staple of discussion has always been what some refer to as the Quality vs Quantity debate.

The discussion revolves around the question of how well you should know someone before you connect with them at the “first level”.

Sometimes the discussion is conducted in fairly either/or terms: either you connect with as many people as possible, or – in the words LinkedIn provides under the box from where you send an invitation – “only invite people you know well and who know you”.

In one of the LinkedIn groups to which I belong, I picked up today on another iteration of this Great Debate. In that instance it was framed in terms of whether you would establish a direct connection with someone you had never actually met (with the implication of having met “in real life” as distinct from just online).

My contribution to that discussion was that I believe there is a sensible line which does not involve either never connecting with anyone you haven’t met or going the open slather of connecting with everyone possible.

I acknowledge the point of view of colleagues and others who argue that you should build the biggest possible network of first level connections, on the basis – as I understand – that this gives you more reach and influence. There are more complex arguments advanced, which I have personally found either too arcane in their theoretical frameworks or simply not convincing enough for me and for where I focus my business activities.

LinkedIn for Recruiting: free e-book
When Bill Vick and I wrote LinkedIn for Recruiting, we devoted several pages to outlining this Quality vs Quantity discussion and included quotes from people with a range of views on the subject. (LinkedIn for Recruiting is now available as a free download.)

My approach is that I check out the credentials of the person wanting to connect and then offer at least a virtual meeting, preferably a Skype call but sometimes I am ok with an email exchange.

Most of the people I offer this to do not even have the courtesy to respond, which to me says that it would be quite unrealistic to see them as potential business connections. And I never cease to be amazed at the number of people with whom I have had no prior contact and who send me a boilerplate “invitation” with no explanatory info or other courtesy included.

Is that how the butterfly feels when the fellow with the net turns up?

That said, I am privileged to be connected to a group of what I would call high quality people, all 644 of them (today’s count), who in turn can connect me to 363,400 other professionals at two degrees removed and then to 12,934,100.

In my book that’s a pretty good network. YMMV

By the way, in the four hours that elapsed since I started drafting this post, my total LinkedIn network grew by another 700 – not quite 100 an hour, but getting there. 🙂

Image credit: Butterfly collection at the Beijing Art Museum, photo by Ivan Walsh via Flickr, Creative Commons

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