(Editor’s note: This was one of the top viewed stories of 2014. We’re rerunning it as part of a look back at the articles that captivated our readers the most.)
Ah, social media. Alas, it’s a club anyone can join as long as he or she has a browser and an Internet connection. We’re all still learning the rules together, and behaviors you might consider absolutely benign could be annoying the rest of us.
When it comes to social media activity in your personal life, breaches of etiquette can easily be dismissed by your friends and family. However, on LinkedIn, the dominant social network for business, mistakes can affect your career and the way your peers and colleagues view you.
A friend might tell you nicely when you’re being annoying, but you won’t get the same patience in a business setting—and you might not get a second chance. Be careful how you conduct yourself. Otherwise, you risk soiling your professional reputation and being “that guy.”
Are you a LinkedIn misfit? The following are annoying LinkedIn behaviors that you might want to review to ensure that you are not sending out the wrong message to your peers. In the interest of full transparency, I admit I have been guilty of a few of these, and I plan to revisit some of my own LinkedIn practices.
This is a common issue that goes back to the beginning of the Web. It started with email. Who among us doesn’t have a family member who feels the need to broadcast every joke, recipe, meme, how-to, or news brief they encounter? In their mind, it’s just a click to delete—so what’s the harm?
The problem is that we have so much communication coming at us these days—via cell phones, home phones, IM, texting, email, social media, etc.—that we just don’t need unnecessary clutter. (I appreciate the soy chocolate chip cookie recipes, Aunt Marge, but you’re filling up my inbox.)
With regards to LinkedIn, ridiculous titling (which I wrote about last year) can send the absolutely wrong message to the world. “Social Ninja”? “Chief Visionary Officer”? Be careful. What might seem like an innocent demonstration that you don’t take yourself too seriously might be misunderstood.
LinkedIn is a business setting, not a comedy club. Half the population might get the joke, but the other half might think you’re the joke. Remember that 93 percent of recruiters use LinkedIn.
Ultimately, the decision is yours. Just remember that humor and personality are great, but written communication can be easily misinterpreted.
Listing a ton of current jobs on LinkedIn makes you look like you’re overcompensating. You’re an account executive at a big company, a CEO/CTO/CFO of your own startup, a blogger, an advisor, an activist, a judge for the local talent show, etc.
OK—awkward moment here, as I am culpable. Yes, I work at a great company, I write for two great publications, and I volunteer at an industry association. However, I feel it’s important for me to list these things, as they are relevant to telling my professional story. The takeaway is to be cautious about sending mixed messages with multi-jobbing. Don’t go overboard with the jobs you list; you could confuse the reader as to what you’re really about. The roles you list should seem to complement one another rather than compete.
Using LinkedIn mail too much
Choose your method of communication wisely, young grasshopper. Does this message deserve a call, a letter, a Facebook status update, an email, or is LinkedIn the right place?
Based on my experience with LinkedIn response rates, the average person keeps this social network at a fairly low priority in their overall communication schedule. Yes, they’ll get back to you, but it might take a few days. I often miss timely messages inviting me to an event or something similar, and I feel bad that the senders might think I ignored them.
Never checking your LinkedIn Mail
On the flipside of the above annoyance, people who never check their LinkedIn mail can be even more annoying than people who use it too much. I sent out a notice of a change in my professional status last May, and (this is absolutely true) I am still receiving a trickle of congrats from folks who are just now getting to that message—almost a year later. If you’re going to have an account, use it. If not, shut it down.
Social media pundits have been using Dunbar’s number of about 100 to 200 as a rule of thumb in terms of the maximum number of social connections that any single person can truly know and follow. If you’re like me, you haven’t accepted every invitation to connect on LinkedIn, but maybe you haven’t been as narrowly selective as you could have been. So, based on that metric, if you have 500 connections, it’s highly likely that you don’t know 300 to 400 of them very well. That’s not a big deal on LinkedIn because it’s meant to be your professional network, not your intimate personal one.
I’m sure I’ve reached out to connections with whom I’m not very close—I might have been researching a company, checking up on a potential hire, or just trying to strengthen a relationship with someone I would like to know better. However, some people really go a bit overboard and ask for recommendations and referrals that a contact isn’t comfortable giving.
Whenever I’ve felt like I might be crossing the line, I try to send a very brief LinkedIn message that asks the person to speak on the phone with me for a few minutes at their convenience. Then, once we chat, I am able to phrase the request in a manner that lets the other person ask the questions needed to feel comfortable. I also try to keep the call very friendly and—what’s important—I give the person an out. That’s only fair.
Such a call might go something like this:
“Hey, Anne, thanks for taking my call. I know we’re joined on LinkedIn, but I wanted to be respectful and not just shoot this request over, as it’s been a long time since we first connected. If you aren’t comfortable with this, I completely understand. This is something I would normally request from someone who I know a bit better, but frankly, I just haven’t been able to find another path to take other than asking you.”
Not adding a picture
This is a pet peeve of mine. I can completely understand the privacy (and security) aspect here, and I wouldn’t hold it against anyone who didn’t want to share an image of himself or herself. However, even though LinkedIn is a professional social network, it’s still a social network. We’re on it to get to know each other, to research business contacts before we meet to see whether there’s an interesting connecting point between us, etc. What’s the harm? Adding a face to a name helps us recognize each other at conferences and lunch appointments.
Having multiple profiles
This is not something I encounter very often, but sometimes I’ll look someone up to invite them to connect, and the person has multiple profiles. Which one is the real you? What’s the call here? Do I try to connect with all three of your profiles or just the one I think is most used?
This list might not represent all of your LinkedIn pet peeves. For example, one of the main annoyances in LinkedIn etiquette I’ve seen documented is when people try to connect using the default “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn” message.
My feeling is that when the motivation for connection is fairly obvious, you don’t need to write a personalized greeting. For example, I just started at a new company, and I sent out a few LinkedIn default requests to new colleagues. Was it bad manners for me to not spend the time to customize each invitation? I don’t think so-but I might be wrong. What do you think?
Overall, I find LinkedIn to be a very helpful resource. Before I meet someone new for a business appointment, I try to check them out to see where we connect: Do we have similar experiences? Where did that person go to school? Do we know some of the same people? Walking into a meeting with a bit of context absolutely helps smooth the initial learning curve in getting to know each other. But to ensure that LinkedIn is helping you put your best foot forward, you need to use proper social media business etiquette.