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The 3 LinkedIn Etiquette Rules You Should Never Break

LinkedIn is one social network where little mistakes can directly impact your financial future. Avoid these LinkedIn no-nos that could work against you when building your networking or looking for a job.

I first started blogging and hosting online videos for Fast Company in the spring of 2011. However, like many social networkers, I've been slow to update my LinkedIn professional profile in a timely manner (perhaps that's no-no number one).

In an effort to practice what I preach about building and maintaining an online brand, I spent some time last week tweaking my current work positions, accepting invitations, and even going so far as uploading a video clip on my profile page, which can be done with the SlideShare app.  

Within a few short hours of adding my not-so-new Fast Company role, my LinkedIn inbox piled up with messages that included the same enthusiastic subject line, "Congratulations on your new position!"  The note inside each correspondence looked strangely familiar, "I saw you're now Blogger/TV Host at Fast Company and wanted to say congratulations!" Wow. Either my contacts were struck by grammatical lightning that supercharged these identical messages, or they broke a few of the most important LinkedIn rules for good etiquette.

1. Stop using LinkedIn's auto-generated templates. 

Whether it's congratulating someone on a new role or requesting a connection with someone, avoid generic messages. While LinkedIn does often pre-populate message fields, you will get a whole lot further with your networking efforts if you take some time to personalize your correspondence. Within a few seconds you can include a custom note to a contact (instead of "I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn) and add a little context. For example, if you're connecting with someone you just met at a conference, remind her about this meeting by including some details about your chat (including the date and any other relevant info). Using auto-generated templates time and time again is a sign of laziness, which is probably not the impression you want to leave with potential colleagues on the largest professional online network in the world.

2. Stop pushing your social updates to your LinkedIn status. 

When services such as HootSuite entered the social media space, they answered the prayers of many networkers trying desperately to update multiple online profiles at once. A good social media dashboard can come in handy when you're trying to schedule messages or post a quick update. However, it's an even better idea to tailor an individual post to a specific social network. For example, if you're writing an update about your new job on Facebook, it's probably okay to use more casual and enthusiastic language on that site if most of your connections there are friends and family. If you're looking to share similar news with the LinkedIn community, go for something a little more polished. In terms of sending Twitter tweets to LinkedIn, it's okay once in a while, but don't make a habit of it (especially if you use a lot of Twitter terminology, such as @, RT, or MT).

3. Stop asking for LinkedIn endorsements from people you don't know. 

In real life, it would be a strange networking move to request a testimonial from someone you don't know. However, in my own experience, it occurs on a regular basis on LinkedIn, despite the company's mandate since its launch in 2003. LinkedIn is very clear that their network allows you to connect with people you know. In fact, if you dig deep into the company's user agreement, you will discover that you are in fact bound to specific rules building on this belief: "Don't undertake the following: Invite people you do not know to join your network." In short, requesting an endorsement from a stranger is a definite no-no and can only hinder your LinkedIn experience because it comes across as a naive and amateur move.

When it comes to LinkedIn etiquette, this is one social network where little mistakes can affect your financial future. To avoid mishaps, tailor your messages, customize your posts, and nurture relationships with people you know.

[Image: Flickr user Nicki Varkevisser]


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  • Reymondo Leon

    These are good. I'd also add:
    • Don't request a Link In with someone you don't know, simply by using the auto message.  They don't know you, so have the courtesy and professionalism to introduce yourself.• Don't suddenly remember to Link In with a business acquaintance only when YOU  need to find work. This happens to me and you feel used. Link In with people to
      develop a relationship that could be useful in future, and also offer some value to them.

    • Don't endorse your connections for things you think they might know something about.
      I receive endorsements for things that I know I'm no good at or not interested in,
      and it makes me wonder if that connection actually knows anything about my
      professional capabilities.


  • kathy

    thank you for your insight I personally never ask for endorsements all that are given are earned in one way or another Each company operates on different levels mine is in the informal traders section that assists people in the art world to make progress.It is not profit driven in that area We make our money in corporate  wear silk screening  logos and I am open to networking the wonderful people I have met  through LinkedIn and I am grateful to them  
    for there ongoing support while I get my start up functional 


    Hi Amber - This is Allen MacCannell - I accidentally posted this from our company Twitter account but the words below are my own:

    You may want to edit the article so the amateur LinkedIn users don't mistake #3 as being "Don't accept connection requests from people you don't know". I've seen what are obviously total amateurs make comments that assume that is what you meant because they haven't the foggiest idea of the difference between a connection and an endorsement.

    You may also note that there is a difference between an endorsement request and a request for a recommendation. Those are entirely different things as well, although one must only request one of either of these from somoene you have worked with. An endorsement request asks the other person to go to your profile and press a button where a recommendation request asks the other person to write out a full recommendation. Both are pathetic requests if the other person doesn't know you.

    With 2091 connections, I refuse at least one connection request per day, mostly because the person doesn't use a photo or doesn't have a Google+ profile to prove they probably really exist. I always refuse by clicking Ignore. I accept about one invitation per day. I make about 3 invitations to connect per day, mostly to new customers. I would NEVER click "This is Spam" or "Don't Know This Person" unless I was sure the person needs to be punished for being a criminal. Clicking on those buttons is just downright mean if you're sure the other person was a sincere human being and I know 30 egotistical types who must have done this to me in the past because I found out six months to a year after inviting them that I was unable to "Withdraw" the connection requests to them. 

    My database of 8000 people now has 30 entries that warn me that I may want to think twice about ever wanting  to do business with these people. Clicking on "Don't Know This Person" is cruel and unecessary behavior because it can cause LinkedIn to threaten the other user with loss of their profile and future income stream. So be sure to click "Ignore" unless the other person really looks dishonest. Don't hurt someone's reputation just because you disagree with them about connection requests outside one's personal circle.

    Almost everyone uses those canned requests so I can't use that as a criteria to click Ignore. I wish more people would get a clue on that score, however. I never send a canned request for connection.

    But get this: LinkedIn makes it almost impossible to read the personalized request!

    And if you accept the request, the personalized message is lost in a special archive that I am sure most people never find.So write to people a second time if they accepted your request but didn't respond to something else you asked in that personalized message.

    LinkedIn programmers need to fix that long-standing bug.

    One more thing: Go ahead and withdraw requests that are more than two months old and unanswered. Resend if you still think the person is worth connecting to and just didn't see your first request. Just consider that they may have clicked Ignore the first time and might click on a worse button the second time. When I withdraw, I almost never send another request. 4 out of 5 requests I make get answered positively and within 2 months (most within 2 days).

    I'll hopefully be back for a vacation on Prince Edward Island this summer Amber. =)

  • Josephsabatini0414

    My question is what is the best way to respond to request to connect from someone you do not know but is in your business space and a potential opportunity for business? Accept the request and follow up with an eMail thanking them for the linkedin request?

  • Paul Allievi

    I run a basic rule with connections - I connect if I have:
    1. worked with them
    2. shared more than a coffee with them
    3. had breakfast/lunch or dinner with them
    4. been on a course/workshop with them

    Seems to work well in the main but each to their own and if it works then don't attempt to fix it...

  • Cendrine Marrouat

    Interesting article!

    I don't agree with you on the topic of only adding people you know to your network. What's the goal of being on LinkedIn then? 

    Apart from that, you are pretty much bang on. One of my pet peeves is actually #1. People don't seem to understand the importance of context. Offline, you wouldn't introduce yourself to every people you meet with the same tone of voice and words. 

    Thank you, Amber!

  • Dave Kearns

    I thought the primary purpose for social media was to connect with people with common interests, whether ya know them in real life, that point is mute now days. 

  • ayampolskiy

    For every rule, there are 5 counterexamples. IMO, it's perfectly ok to push twitter or social updates to linkedin, if your updates are relevant and to the point.

  • Adam Steel

    I think the whole thing about connecting on Linkedin only with the people you know really know sucs. Going with this premise what is the difference between my email address book and Linkedin. The better and a more useful  output of my time will be  to reach out to people in my  industry or even in other industries beyond the boundaries of people I  already know or the people I know. If you were ever in a business seminar, how silly it would be if you as a matter of etiquette or rules only talked to your colleagues, classmates, friends, people you have worked with and look  to get introduced to new people who do not fall under these categories. If ever in a seminar, or any event or get together I have found some one interesting I would  always find it more appropiate to go ahead and introduce myself. Having said all that my guess is everybody who is getting any real benefit out of Linkedin is an open networker. Anybody who is restricted to colleagues, classmates, friends, people you have worked with would just dry out in a few weeks with only wasted precious time. Professional growth can  come with expanding your boundaries beyond the people you already know. 
    How ever I do not share the same sentiment with Facebook. Facebook is very personal and best limited to close friends and family. Linkedin is a different story altogether.
     I also realise all this noise Linkedin makes about only connecting with people we know to is to reduce spam. After all it appears that the scores of CEO who are  in the list of my connections are personally known to me. ;)

  • Laura

    Amen to your LinkedIn Etiquette Rules!  I think LinkedIn is a very powerful tool, and when used appropriately, it can yield some wonderful outcomes.  It's amazing how many of the etiquette rules of traditional face-to-face networking apply to online business networking as well.  Thank you for posting this.

  • Henrik

    By accepting invitations from strangers and approaching strangers myself I've been able to gather more than 300 LinkedIn connections, giving an impression that I am well connected. As I read everywhere that it is necessary to be visible on LinkedIn, I consider these connections to be an asset. I would never write references for them or tip them of opportunities at my employer (that's what jobboards are for), let alone "introduce" them as part of a recruitment.
    I consider LinkedIn a necessary evil which I have to accept and particiate in, that's all. 

  • Jennifer

    Great post!  Good to hear that even social media superstars are human too ;)

  • Neil Botten

    Whilst I would never provide a recommendation for people who I do not know well, or ask for a recommendation from them for that matter I would accept &seek connections those that I do not know.  By doing this I have been able to correspond & share with people from all over the world who, sadly, I am unlikely to ever meet. 

  • Dara Schulenberg

    Complimenting the discussion around the types of connections, people need to be aware of the lifetime limit on connection requests (3,000).

    I have mixed feelings on connecting social media updates to your profile as I've seen it work very well for many people focused on awareness building phases of personal branding.  Might the answer vary by industry for acceptance and/or ROI?

  • Mark Lapasa

    This one recruiter who was soliciting on LinkedIn had a profile pic of her cute cats & dogs without her in it. I replied to her not only was I not interested in the job but her profile pic was completely unprofessional. It's not a good look for the client she was recruiting for.

  • Amber King

    Stop asking for LinkedIn endorsements from people you don't know.  This is something you should NEVER do. It's unethical, rude and desperate. What would they write about you when they do not even know you?

  • Aimee

    I don't have to personally know the people I connect with - I'm building and nurturing a network not just talking to those I would ordinarily connect with. And I don't think someone has to introduce me to someone on LinkedIn for me to connect with them. If I wanted that I would do it personally through email or phone. Some of these LinkedIn connections are tenuous at best but others have developed into stronger relationships.  

  • Aquamarine

    I see a lot of people directly opposing connecting with people you don't know well, which, I agree, is what LinkedIn instructs us all not to do. I don't have time to go to conferences to try to meet new people and expand my network, and if we all waited to know someone really well, this would really slow down the expansion of LinkedIn networks.

    I agree that getting connection requests from people you don't know and can't see any shared areas of interest is a hassle.

  • Deborah Hymes

    Hi Amber, I have a different take on two of your three points. The biggest is #3, "Stop asking for LinkedIn endorsements from people you don't know." 

    First, an endorsement is a request for a RECOMMENDATION, not a CONNECTION request as you imply. And I agree that no one should be asking for recommendations from people they haven't actually worked with in some capacity (so awkward when that happens!). And yes, it's incredibly bad form to request a personal favor using an auto-generated template -- astonishing that people need to be told that!

    Second, LinkedIn's admonition about only connecting "with people you know well" is deeply misguided, and in fact, subverts LinkedIn's entire value proposition. Research clearly shows that the true value of a network lies 1 to 2 layers out from your direct contacts. The people you know personally are likely to have (mostly) the same connections as you. But *their connections* are statistically likely to reach farther, yet still in the same areas of interest. 

    While it's true that indiscriminately connecting with people is useless for anything other than social proof, it's also true that you should *definitely* reach beyond only those you know well to include those you definitely have something in common with. Otherwise, LI is just a fancy rolodex and who cares?

    The other point we diverge on (just a bit, though!) is the issue of pushing social updates to your LI profile. I think this is OK if you're pushing updates from a BUSINESS social media account. Presumably, your business account updates are consistent in tone and subject matter with your LI business persona and objectives. And in any case, it's important to be aware of how *any* updates from *any* public account would seem to your business contacts -- whether employers, clients, employees or co-workers -- irrespective of whether they're actually showing up on your LI account!