LinkedIn recently made a significant change regarding how you can invite other current LinkedIn members to connect. At the same time, they have implemented functionality that makes it very clear where they stand on the matter of sending invitations to people you don’t know.
Since its inception, LinkedIn has required you to know the e-mail address of the person you were inviting. Ostensibly, this was supposed to help reduce unwanted invitations. Unfortunately, it fell short of that goal because people could obtain your e-mail address by any number of means – being cc’d on the same e-mail, being in the same Yahoo! Group, obtaining it from your website, or simply guessing at it, e.g., firstname.lastname@example.org. The only person who can really determine whether the inviter knows the recipient is…the recipient, of course!
At the same time, LinkedIn is popular for reconnecting with former colleagues and classmates. No matter how close you were to someone at one time, if you haven’t spoken to them in ten years (five, for that matter), odds are you don’t have a current valid e-mail address for them.
So how do you make it easier for people to connect with people they do know but have last touch with without increasing unwanted invitations from people you don’t know? LinkedIn seems to have finally solved that.
As before, when you are looking at someone’s profile, you have the option to add them as a connection:
The difference is that now, instead of being prompted for their e-mail address, you’re asked to specify how you know them:
This makes it much easier to connect with people you already know. Not only does it take care of the situation in which it’s someone who you don’t have a current address for — it also just makes it simpler by not having to copy/paste their e-mail address. This is a good thing.
At first glance, this might appear to make it easier to send unwanted invitations. However, along with this new feature, LinkedIn has also figured out a way to tighten down on unwanted invitations. If you click on that little “Find out why” link, they offer a tidbit of information:
However, recipients can indicate that they don’t know you. If they do, you’ll be asked to enter an email address with each future invitation.
Basically, if you make a habit of inviting people you don’t know, and who aren’t open to such invitations, you’ll have to go back to the old way of doing it.
But it turns out LinkedIn has put even a little more teeth into it than this. A LinkedIn user who had their account suspended posted the letter they received from LinkedIn Customer Service on MyLinkedInPowerForum. Here’s an excerpt that describes what’s going on in more detail:
A recent update to our website now allows users to invite trusted
contacts into their network without knowing the users exact email
address. We believe this feature is a benefit and prevents guessing or
use of an alternative method to obtain email addresses. This feature
also monitors the invitations being sent. An automated restriction is
triggered if too many of these invitations are declined. When
individuals respond to these invitations with the “I don’t know” reply
or the new option of “report as spam” these are tracked and totaled.
When you accumulate 5 of these replies with either or both of these
options the automatic restriction occurs.
Yup – “5 strikes and you’re out”. LinkedIn finally figured out that the only person who can realy determine if the inviter knows the recipient is the recipient themselves. And they now have the ability to effectively say:
Does this mean the end of so-called “open networking” on LinkedIn?
However, what it does do is exactly what was needed – put the burden on the sender to make sure the recipient is open to connecting with people they don’t know, rather than on the receiver to have to filter through a bunch of unwanted invitations. Open networkers will still be able to build thousands of connections if they want to, but they’ll have to change their habits. And the pandemic problem of unwanted invitations driving members away from LinkedIn should gradually go away.
Kudos to LinkedIn for a well-thought solution to the problem. It’ll be interesting to watch how it plays out.