Invitations and the IDK Button

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idontknowmike200 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.

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  1. Hmmm… I cannot fully agree with you.
    Now, if you decline the invitation, you click the button, right? What’s the difference in clicking “IDK” button or “Ignore” button (if there was one)?
    Implementing the “Ignore” button would do I believe. Most of the inviters would respect such decision ans wouldn’t bother any more. For those who don’t – LI could introduce some sort of mechanism preventing them from sending invitations to people who ignored them.

  2. The point that is missing in this explanation is that LI markets the tools for us to load our Outlook contacts and invite them all. Then they resend the invites automatically. For anybody with an Outlook address book that goes back even a couple of years there are always going to be people who don’t remember them but should they be penalized for sending those invites? How could anybody know who is going to remember them unless they communicated with them very recently? I have become very careful with invites and no longer use the ones from my Outlook but even then I have had one person that emailed me only 2 days previous and they still said they didn’t know me!

  3. Scott,

    You know I have been going back and forth on this issue, ever since I heard Stan Relihan interview you and Chris Mayaud, founder of the LIONs. I have until now pretty much used LI a bit close to the vest as to my connections, with the exception of a couple of LIONs who I connected to. I am trying to understand whether the LION approach and LinkedIn’s value as a trusted biz connection tool can coexist without being watered down. I don’t know if I have fully made up my mind yet on this issue.

  4. The button name and function are quite clear. I think the disconnect with those who are looking for a different way is granularity.

    networks are trees. You have many branches, and many levels of acquaintance. I submit that a more granular management of contacts, at least to the contact list owner, would help this.
    Being able to add them to close friends, work acquaintances, casual contacts, etc might give the invite system a whole new useful aspect.

  5. @Mikolaj: I agree. There should be some other option than “I don’t know” and “Archive”. The way the interface is currently designed, “I don’t know” is the default option other than “Accept”. And there are all kinds of reasons people might not want to accept other than “I don’t know…”. I wrote more about this on Why Can’t I Just Say “No” Any More?

    Furthermore, I think the button needs to be moved farther away, so that you really have to make a conscious choice to say, “I don’t know.”

  6. @Pam: You’re exactly right. There is a disconnect between the fact that LinkedIn makes it easy for you to just invite pretty much everyone you’ve ever exchanged email with and then the 5-IDK limit.

    I’ve had a couple of friends who did this, and even went through the list of contacts by hand and made sure they knew them all, and then still got 5 IDK’s (out of 1,000+ invitations).

    I agree it’s a problem. I think the limit of 5 is too low, and I think it needs to be a sliding window.

    But it also highlights the need to remind people how you know them as part of your invititation.

  7. @Michael: That is a challenge. The thing is, the two approaches definitely can coexist, in general. Whether or not they can peacefully coexist using the same tool, well, that’s another matter.

    I do believe, though, that having some sort of relationship strength indicator and the associated functionality, e.g., showing the strength of a particular introduction path, would be extremely useful and go a long way toward resolving the issue.

  8. @James: You’re exactly right about the need for some additional granularity. I think the one point I would make, though, is that while the name and function of the button are quite clear, the fact that it creates consequences for the sender is not. Only those people who either follow LinkedIn-related blogs and forums or who have personally been on the receiving end of the IDK penalty would know about it. And if they knew, they might at least be a little more thoughtful about checking to see whether they know the person or not. For example, before I IDK anyone, I always check their profile and search my email. I only IDK them if I don’t recognize any common ground, we’ve never corresponded, and they send a generic invitation.

  9. Well, not out completely… more like in the penalty box. Your account gets suspended — no invitations, no messages, etc. — and you get a message from LinkedIn asking you to agree to use the site as intended — to connect with people you know. And from then on you have to have people’s email addresses in order to invite them. They may make some exceptions on that last point — I’m not 100% sure.

  10. I personally like the current implementation of IDK. I receive a lot of connection request from individuals who work in the same company I do but with whom I have had little or no contact. I always reject these. I think that less senior employees are using these sort of request to name drop in interviews. I had a long time friend ( an IT director at a spa ) contact me recently about an applicant who had mentioned my name in an interview. I had never met this person and knew nothing about his work.

  11. Coming from marketing, I don’t buy the “value proposition” argument, where you should only contact someone you know, or there wouldn’t be a purchasable InMail feature where you don’t have to know them at all. And you can decide not to receive InMails. Just because you have someone’s email doesn’t mean you know them. The only thing that makes sense is that they are trying to sell you up to the premium service. Raising or taking away the IDK limitation (or giving users a decline option), would cut seriously into their income. The problem is that I am a premium member, and only send invitations to those I know, but am currently restricted for the second time in two months, and 2 days later I’ve had NO response from Linkedin support. I guess we have to wait until sites like Xing and Naymz get bigger and better. They are growing rapidly, and Naymz will automatically send an invitation to Naymz to your current connections within LinkedIn, and automatically import all your profile data from Linkedin! The competition should help Linkedin come clean with their policies.

  12. re: Scott: “But it also highlights the need to remind people how you know them as part of your invititation.”

    -Good luck with that. You do realize there is a character limit to invites? In this regard LinkedIn is being absurd to punish a sender when that sender is critically hampered in their ability to truly re-connect with a contact who may be like Kurt. (and doesn’t pay attention to fellow employees that are beneath him in the chain of command!)

    Kurt: Are you absolutely sure that person had no reason to use your name? You sound more like the kind of guy that doesn’t pay attention to those around him who are beneath his station:

    “I think that ‘less senior employees’ are using these sort of request to name drop in interviews.”

    This comment tells us a lot about how you view yourself and the world around you. I hope that stepping on people has gotten you far in life. That poor young applicant probably thought he had a connection with you but you were so absorbed with yourself that you didn’t notice them and now you screwed them in their future search for a job. Wow! Stellar. Pay it forward. Some day Karma will bite you in the ___.

    • @Josh – I hate the character limit on invites. It’s not a big deal for someone you’re already in contact with via email/phone and just affirming the connection via LinkedIn, but it’s a severe limitation when reconnecting with former co-workers, past customers or classmates.

      I do think you’re jumping to conclusions re: Khurt. Sure, I like to help people, but I also place a very high value on honesty. I wouldn’t lie to help someone get a job, and someone dropping my name who really doesn’t know me is lying, pure and simple. And by using my name, they’ve pulled me into their lie, which I don’t appreciate.

      That said, I’d be hesitant to make any kind of generalizations about that kind of behavior either — I’d have to consider it on a case by case basis.

  13. “Don’t be afraid to tell people you’re too busy, or even to selectively ignore them.” This phrase caught me. I admit I’m very busy, I have a day job and a freelance writing work when I got home. I am also managing my inline buotique. Sometimes, I feel guilty because I really have a little time to spend with my boyfriend but I’m indeed lucky that he understands my situation.

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