In a recent discussion on MyLinkedInPowerForum about the “I don’t know…” (IDK) button as a response to a connection invitation, Robin Kluz asked the following question:
If I invite a person once and they decline, what’s wrong with that? A single invitation to someone I don’t know cannot be considered bothersome on a site that was created for the purpose of networking. Members should expect to hear from those whom they don’t know…
Robin’s question is a fairly typical one, and a common one from people who have experience in other social networking sites, as well as people who joined LinkedIn after the IDK feature was put into place. But a year ago, the situation was very different.
The problem is that there is a disconnect between how LinkedIn has positioned the service – their value proposition, the users who expect to receive that value proposition, and users who have developed their own way of using it based on a different value proposition.
LinkedIn’s “About LinkedIn” page states the following:
Your professional relationships are key to your professional success.
Our mission is to help you be more effective in your daily work and open doors to opportunities using the professional relationships you already have.
This isn’t networking—it’s what networking should be.
Forget exchanging business cards with acquaintances that don’t know your work, or trying to renew professional ties when you need a favor.
The emphasis is clearly on leveraging existing relationships, not making new ones with complete strangers. Their entire basic functionality – the introduction system – is premised on the idea that new relationships are better made (at least virtually) via introductions from people you already know, rather than directly. It is THE distinguishing characteristic of LinkedIn as opposed to Xing, Ryze, Ecademy, Konnects, Fast Pitch, etc., which all are designed to support direct personal contact.
LinkedIn created an expectation for you to hear from people you don’t know a) primarily via people you do already know, and b) for a specific purpose.
The whole reason the IDK button came about was because of complaints from LinkedIn members, who were writing them to complain about receiving invitation requests from strangers. Once-active members were wanting to cancel their accounts because of those requests. Dozens of prominent bloggers were blogging about “invitation spam”. Besides irritating thousands of users, it was also very publicly damaging LinkedIn’s brand.
As Robin said, a single invitation can’t be considered bothersome. But at its peak, before they implemented the IDK button, I was receiving like a dozen a week. THAT is bothersome, and I’m far more tolerant than the typical busy executive who’s not heavily engaged in the social networking space.
If you only read the conversations in a forum for power users, i.e., MLPF, you might think that the majority of LinkedIn users think the IDK button should never be used. But those conversations represent a small, vocal minority of highly active LinkedIn users. The silent majority aren’t discussing their issues with LinkedIn in open forums. They either contact LinkedIn Customer Service, or simply “vote with their feet” by leaving the site completely.
I agree, as I have said before, that the specific implementation of the IDK button has problems. But I think in order to come up with a better solution, and in order to deal with it in the meantime, we have to understand why it got implemented in the first place.