Quality versus Quantity: The Dilemma of “Open” Networking

I hesitate to say that I am not an open networker because, to many people, that makes me a completely closed networker and that's not true either. “Open networking” is a term used to describe people who will accept any social network invitation they receive without regard to relationship, approach or justification for the invitation.

Recently I received a call from fellow recruiter / blogger / twitterer Heather Gardner. Among other things, we discussed the matter of open networking as we have often been on opposite sides of this debate. Heather’s approach to networking is what I would call a “you never know” approach. That is to say that you never know when you will need to find a particular type of person in, oh let’s just say, Peoria, IL (OK, I'll 'fess up. Heather is looking for a recruiter for Peoria, IL). She even admits to accepting the generic LinkedIn invitation, a personal pet peeve of mine.

In a recent post on My Linking Power Forum, Heather said:

“I view EVERY connection as an opportunity. It's like Christmas or birthday surprises each time an invite comes my way. I jump and shout for joy every single time – you should see me! I'm all smiles and it's a great day at my ‘virtual office’”

I certainly understand her position that every connection is an opportunity, but I wonder about the value of collecting contacts just for the sake of “some day”. And why would I want to sort through a bunch of “some days” just to get to those with whom I actually have a relationship? A “relationship” – at least to me – does not necessarily require recognizing someone if I walk past them on the street. It could mean someone that I have interacted with directly over the phone, through email or online through a forum of some kind.

My question to Heather was “what good do all of those contacts do when you don’t know anything about any of them and vice-versa?” It would be one thing if the initial connect always led to a relationship, but they typically don’t. There are far too many people on LinkedIn who believe quantity EQUALS quality to bother with building any kind of relationship.

I first became aware of this issue when a musician pal of my husbands, Steve Lawson, posted a MySpace post about achieving his 7,000th “friend”. I remember this post because I laughed out loud at the end when he said that he had amassed:

“…such a considerable number of completely meaningless non-relationships”

Exactly.

Specifically the LinkedIn User Agreement prohibits users from:

“…using LinkedIn invitations to send messages to people who don’t know you or who are unlikely to recognize you as a known contact.”

So that must mean that LinkedIn provides users a simple mechanism with which you can contact people you want to get to know, right? Uh, no. LinkedIn only offers a very limited and proprietary email system allowing users to communicate directly with each other. The InMail system is also fee-based, assuming you wish to extend beyond a measly few you get with your membership. Further, LinkedIn adds gas to the flame by increasing you ability to achieve successful search results based on the number of 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree contacts in your network. Sooo, let’s recap…

1. You are not supposed to send invitations to people you don’t know
2. LinkedIn only provides a limited, fee-based (after a measly few you get with your membership), proprietary “tool” to communicate with people you don’t know directly through LinkedIn in order to actually build a relationship AND
3. Your search results increase based on the sheer number of contacts you have in your network, thereby encouraging people to grow their networks large and fast.

Hmmmm. How does THAT make any sense? Is that a double or a triple standard?

I guess I understand the basic justification for Heather and other “open networkers” on LinkedIn; it is the only logical result, given the above conundrum. They almost have me swayed…but not quite.

For now at least, this “relationship gal” is perfectly happy with the merry circle of personal relationships I have on LinkedIn. I just don't see myself ever caving in to the extreme just to increase my connection count and, thus, my search results. I have become more open in recent months, however, as long as the invitation I receive has some kind of personalized content. How do you feel about this issue?

This content was previously published on www.careercourageously.com

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