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LinkedIn Makes It Easier to Connect with People You Know, Harder with People You Don’t

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nospam.gifLinkedIn 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., first.last@company.com. 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:

addconnection.gif

The difference is that now, instead of being prompted for their e-mail address, you’re asked to specify how you know them:

howdoyouknow.gif

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:

idontknowmike.gif

Does this mean the end of so-called “open networking” on LinkedIn?

Hardly.

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.

Scott Allen is a true social media pioneer, helping turn virtual relationships into real business since 2002. He is coauthor of The Virtual Handshake, the first book on using social media for business, and contributor to over a dozen books on social media, marketing & entrepreneurship. He is currently Director of Client Solutions for Momentum Factor, a social media and online marketing management firm specializing in the direct selling industry.


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  1. [...] More details at Linked Intelligence. Posted by Scott Allen   () in Web 2.0 Sites, Tips, Chapter 10: Relationship Capital Management Software [...]

  2. Nick Braak says:

    Yes indeed, LinkedIn is changing and maturing.

    Being able to genuinely re-connect with people you really did know in the past is a great feature. OTOH
    opportunities to game the system are rapidly being removed, as they roll out new features and close loopholes.

    Speaking of loopholes how long do we have until a crackdown on appended email addresses in names?
    My gut says weeks, but it may be a few months yet. They have bigger fish to fry, though not much escapes their steely gaze these days.

  3. Scott Allen says:

    Yeah – the e-mail address thing kind of baffles me. That’s pretty low-hanging fruit. It really is “a simple matter of programming” to look for an @ symbol or other punctuation that’s not appropriate for a name. There’s no practical need for more than one space in the first name or two spaces in the last name either.

    Still, I suppose there’s not much they’ll ever be able to do to prevent me from being Scott Atlinkedintelligencedotcom Allen.

  4. William_j says:

    Yes, changing the scheme was necessary. But I don’t think that it’s quite right to let other peoples to ban you if they want to.

  5. Scott,
    Will the inviter know who it was that flagged them?

  6. Scott Allen says:

    Not sure. They would certainly be able to see that the request was declined, but I don’t know if they can tell that it was specifically flagged with the “I don’t know ” button.

    Also, I think it’s at least a little bit questionable that they don’t really let recipients know the consequences of clicking that button. There are some people who might not use it if they knew the consequences of it.

  7. Bill Austin says:

    RE: Follow up to “Frozen Account”

    I believe that their system is actually broken – as in – “There is a bug in there that they cannot or will not fix and they are not coming clean with users about the un-repairable defect in their code.”

    My account has been restricted.

    I have only sent only a couple of invitations in the last couple of months and only two since they instituted the latest “your account has been frozen” program. These were all sent to people who communicated by e-mail and who requested that I invite them to connect.

    They all accepted.

    There is no possible way that I could have had five people indicate that they did not know me because I have not invited five people to connect recently.

    1. The system is broken.
    2. They refuse to acknowledge that it is broken.
    3. They refuse to fix it.
    4. They refuse to correct the mess that it creates.
    5. Customer Service has been non-responsive.
    6. Duncan has refused to respond to my inquiries.

    (Is he [Duncan] still there?)

    (PS: I have since heard from Vincent Wright that Duncan no longer works for LinkedIn.)

    Bill Austin
    Chief Technology Officer AZhttp, Inc,
    www.azhttp.com/
    www.linkedin.com/in/billaustin

  8. [...] LinkedIn made some changes in the way invitations work, adding some automated consequences for sending invitations to people [...]

  9. Hugh says:

    I didnt realize that I was getting ‘rejections’ to my evites. How long do the ‘restrictions’ last for? For a specified amount of time? duration of membership?

    thanks,
    Hugh

  10. Scott Allen says:

    At the moment it seems to be duration of membership. Even some of us who applaud the basic concept think that’s way too severe and that it should be a rolling window.

    Simple solution to the problem, though – slow down a bit and just e-mail people before you send them the invitation. Zero rejections using that approach.

  11. [...] a new customer service center and increased support staff significantly earlier this year, some policy changes made shortly thereafter flooded their customer service department with complaints from users whose [...]

  12. [...] LinkedIn Makes It Easier to Connect with People You Know, Harder with People You Don’t – One of the big functionality changes on LinkedIn this year was the introduction of the ability to reconnect with former colleagues, classmates and business partners without having their email address. At the same time, LinkedIn made it possible to indicate that you don’t know the sender of a connection request and created consequences for doing so. [...]

  13. Can you provide more details on this?

  14. ms. Anderson says:

    also someone can invite someone else by using the recipient’s email. I got one of those, and there was no way I could refuse the invitation.
    I knew the person who invited me, but I just refused to open an account on LinkedIn. I already had one and asked them to delete it as the basterds don’t have a feature to delete your account yourself.
    LinkedIn asked me to create an account to refuse the invitation. But I didn’t create an account and LinkedIn kept reminding me through email that I have an open invitation and it is about to expire. No links, no nothing to unsubscribe from that stupid automated mailing system.

    This is called SPAM.

  15. Blahatron says:

    @ ms. Anderson – I have exactly the same problem. I emailed their support and they replied saying that they had done a search and that I didn’t seem to have a LinkedIn Account (shock! horror!), but that I wouldn’t get invitation emails anymore. What happens a couple of days later? – I get an email from the same LinkedIn person asking me to join. Not cool. In real life this would be bordering on harrassment.

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