In February, 26-year-old job-seeker Diana Mekota sent an email and a LinkedIn request to connect with Kelly Blazek, who runs an online job board for marketing professionals in Cleveland. After Mekota posted online Blazek’s harshly worded response — which called Mekota’s email “inappropriate, beneficial only to you, and tacky,” and closed with “don’t ever write me again” — the Internet exploded in its full viral fury. News sites including CNN and the BBC picked up the story, which even inspired its own Twitter parody account.
However out of line the response may have been (Blazek has since apologized and returned her local Communicator of the Year award), business etiquette experts and LinkedIn aficionados say the original request was a bit inappropriate, too. “To be a connection on LinkedIn, I would wait until you have some kind of rapport,” says Lizzie Post, co-author of “Emily Post’s Etiquette.”
LinkedIn combines the politics of job seeking, the nuances of business etiquette and the still new-to-many social protocols of online networking, making it an invaluable yet at times perplexing professional tool. On one hand, LinkedIn says you should only accept invitations from people you know and trust. On the other, the site suggests “people you may know.”
“I think people are confused by it,” says Mark Williams, a Britain-based consultant who trains recruiters, marketers and job seekers on the do’s and don’ts of using LinkedIn. “If I was going to a networking event and I only spoke to people I knew well, that wouldn’t really be good networking.”
Many LinkedIn and etiquette experts recommend accepting only invitations from people you know. Beyond concerns about privacy or spam, you’d be opening your network to a stranger. In addition, the quality of people you’re connected with can send a good or bad message about who you are as a professional. “It’s not a popularity contest,” says Nicole Williams, a spokeswoman for LinkedIn. “Your connections should reflect your professional network. It does reflect who you are.”
The best way to send a request
If you want to send an invitation to someone you don’t know well, experts suggest you reach out first by email, LinkedIn’s InMail messages or even by phone. Sending an impersonal request first, Williams says, is the online “equivalent of walking around a room and shoving business cards in people’s faces.”
Still, some experts say there are some clear cases. For instance, it’s not a good idea to ask someone with whom you’ve just interviewed to connect on LinkedIn until after the employment decision has been made, says Barbara Pachter, author of “The Essentials of Business Etiquette.” Asking an interviewer for a connection can force an awkward situation. “I may have to give you bad news,” she says.
On the flip side, Post says she always accepts invitations from interns who’ve worked with her. “When you have an intern, there’s an agreement between you and that person,” she says. “They’re starting out and trying to build that network. You are, in essence, that baseline for them.”
When in doubt, one way to judge an invitation might be what social media maven Alexandra Samuel called the “favor test” in a Harvard Business Review blog post. “Would you do a favor for this person, or ask a favor of them?” she wrote. “If so, make the connection. If not, take a pass.”
And then, leave it at that. No need for rude retorts — or any response at all.