One LinkedIn feature that has been the subject of some debate is the Connections Browse feature. In a nutshell, Connections Browse allows you to let your immediate connections see your list of immediate connections. LinkedIn describes it in more depth as follows:
Browsing Your Network
You can now get a better feeling for who is closest to you in your network.
Start by visiting the profile of a connection. If your friend or colleague allows it, you can see the people they are connected to. You can then quickly look through their profiles to find old friends or the contacts you need.
Right now, your connections list is hidden from your other connections. If you would like to allow your trusted friends and colleagues to browse your connections list, click here.
Why allow your friends and colleagues to browse your connections list?
- You still control access to the connections linked through you
- Only other connections can see your list — no one else in your network can see it
- You can help particular connections find the people they need faster
- You can help two of your connections meet each other
- If you want, you can always hide your list again in the future
Click here to allow your trusted friends to browse your list of connections.
At first glance, it certainly may seem more “in the networking spirit” to allow connection browsing. However, people may choose not to allow connection browsing for any number of valid reasons. Some of the ones I’ve heard include:
- Confidentiality of client or other relationships
- Not wanting to readily display their competitors, even if they’re connected to them
- Time constraints
The subject of the debate isn’t whether the feature should exist at all, or having a problem with people choosing not to open their networks for browsing for some legitimate reason. The issue is that some people feel that it’s “unfair” for people to turn off connection browsing of their own network, but still be able to browse other people’s networks. Some have suggested that people who turn off connection browsing univerally not be able to browse others’ networks, or that users should individually be able to disallow connection browsing from people who don’t have connection browsing enabled.
Let me start by saying that I don’t open my connections for browsing. The reason I don’t is because I already have more demands on my time for networking than I can handle. I don’t want to invite more, particularly in a way that I consider marginally beneficial. If other people want to browse and allow browsing – hey, great. No problem whatsoever with the concept – I just don’t have time to do it myself or support others doing it. So it really doesn’t matter to me if others in my network do or not.
That said, the whole idea of “I’m not going to open my connections for browsing to someone who won’t open theirs to me” is NOT reciprocity, except in some twisted, negative way. It’s basically the LinkedIn equivalent of “If you’re not going to share your ball with me, I’m not going to share mine with you.”
What – are we three years old? Come on.
People have all kinds of legitimate reasons for not sharing their networks. If you’re comfortable sharing yours, and if you feel it creates value for your network, and therefore for you, to do so, then by all means share it. What harm is done in sharing it with someone who doesn’t share theirs? Do you really need to “punish” them for not sharing theirs?
Reciprocity in a network context is about “paying it forward”, with the expectation that somehow, collectively, the network will give you returns far exceeding what you put in. If you take that down to the individual level and “keep score” with each individual person, that misses the whole point of networking.
Let’s consider a similar situation, and I think it will make it obvious how silly the whole idea is…
Let’s say that you’re a job-seeker, or perhaps a semi-retired executive. You have 30-50 hours a week to spend networking. You have the time to spend, say, an hour on the phone getting to know someone. One of those people you want to meet is an extremely busy executive. They have maybe 3-5 hours a week to spend networking. They tell you that they’d be happy to spend 15 minutes on the phone with you.
Are you going to refuse to meet with them because they can only give you 15 minutes while you’re able to put an hour or more into the relationship?
Of course not – that’s ludicrous. You can’t expect the same thing from everyone else that you expect from yourself. Everyone’s situation is unique.
It’s not good networking to withhold anything from certain people in your network simply because they choose not to reciprocate in the same way or at the same level. It doesn’t serve you in any way whatsoever – in fact, it makes you look petty. If allowing connection browsing works for you, then it works for you. Turn it on. Don’t worry about what others are doing with it – it’s none of your business.