Why yes, I did receive your LinkedIn connection request. Um, no. I didn't accept it. Do you want to know why?
Well, let's start with the requests that I do accept.
Colleagues and coworkers get accepted immediately. We both work at the same company, we pass each other in the hallways, and we chat in the break room while getting coffee. No problem there.
Likewise, friends and relatives are also accepted quickly. Again, I know them personally and am happy to be part of their network.
Vendors and customers are also welcome to connect with me. These are professional acquaintances that I or my company do business with (or have in the past). There's even a special option to specify this: "We've done business together at XYZ company" (see image), although it's not uncommon for people to specify "Friend" instead. I prefer the "We've done business together" approach, as we're probably not really friends (unless we hang out socially). But that's just nitpicking.
There's a very good chance I met you at an event, conference, meetup, or even just in a passing conversation at a coffee shop. If so, I probably gave you a business card or asked you to scan a QR code on my smartphone to download a vCard directly into your address book. Maybe I wrote down my contact info on the back of a napkin or piece of paper. Either way, you probably have my email address. The most appropriate option is to choose "Other" and enter the email address you have for me. It's okay. I have all my contact emails (personal, day job, side gig, random startup business, etc) registered with LinkedIn so it would be recognized. In this case, you probably should include a small personal note to jog my memory. Nothing complex; just a simple, "Hi Andrew, we met at the Speed Networking Power Mixer For Computer Geeks last week, and I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn." See what I did there? I just added a few extra words to the default text already included with the message that LinkedIn is going to send anyway. There's very little effort involved and it makes a world of difference.
Of course, you don't *have* to write a personal note. But it's good manners and personalizes the connection. It tells me you didn't simply use the LinkedIn "enter your email password so we can send a large number of impersonal requests to your contacts." And I'm more likely to remember you and accept the request. And you not even have to go that far: if you also handed me a business card, I probably followed-up the next day or so and included the personal note myself.
If I didn't give you a business card or otherwise failed to provide contact info, you can select "Friend". Again, the personal note emphasizes the fact that we did meet in person, and I'm very likely to accept the request. Be careful here, though. If you select "Friend" on connection requests and enough people indicate to LinkedIn that they don't know you (by declining the request and reporting it), you may be required to include an email address each time you indicate "Friend" going forward.
Finally, if I don't know you and you're looking to connect with me for some reason or other, read on.
So why would I not accept a connection request?
The first reason is that I probably don't know you. Do I want to know you? Maybe. Probably. But I don't know who you are, and there's an inherent danger of accepting requests from people I don't know.
You may have sent the request because we have a shared connection, and you want to introduce yourself. There's a feature for that, called "Introductions." True, there are a limited number of introductions you can request before an account upgrade is required. But you can always introduce yourself to me with a personal note (see above). Including a personal note ensures that I understand why you (a complete stranger) want to connect with me. You do have a reason for wanting to connect with me, right? It's not just to have another pair of eyeballs reading your
blog "thought leadership", right?
Perhaps you work in sales and view me as a potential customer. Of course! LinkedIn is used by professionals and provides a number of tools to target the right decision maker for your products. However, you really should use the InMail feature for this. Yes, it costs money. But you're a sales professional who is looking to make a commission off our association. The cost is not that onerous. Of course, if you're trying to sell to me personally, you should probably understand what I do and what I might be interested in. I've had one connection request (with a personal note, to bypass the InMail system) where a staffing firm was trying to sell me staffing services or request I refer them to our HR department. It should be pretty clear from my profile that I'm not the decision maker for that. And no, I'm not going to recommend a complete stranger to our HR department.
I usually receive a several requests from recruiters every month. Some use the InMail feature. I usually reply to these, because they are specifically looking to send me a message and are using a feature designed exactly for that. Sometimes I also connect directly with the recruiter involved, if it's clear they are really wanting to have a conversation with me about an opportunity that is in line with my skills. But many try to bypass this system and connect with me directly without using InMail. I don't mind this when a personal note is included. Maybe your boss didn't give you a budget to properly use the premium features of LinkedIn. But most are just looking for extra people to add to their network so they can spam their job postings via status updates. They have no interest in me personally or professionally. I accepted a few of these in the past, but now I decline them.
I also receive requests from people that may have read something I posted online, such as an answer on Quora, a comment or update on LinkedIn, or something else. That's great! I like that people may be interested in what I have to say and want to reach out to me personally. However, if they haven't included any note to explain why they want to connect with me, I do not who they are or what their intentions may be. Ideally, it's because they like what I have to say and want to read more. Or maybe they think I know something about my field and they want to associate with me in some capacity. Maybe they want to sell to me or buy from me or ask for help with an interesting project. Well, I don't really know. Without a personal note, I have to ignore the request.
I really do enjoy meeting new people, both socially and professionally. LinkedIn is a great tool for that. But I'm interested in quality professional connections. If you're interested in finding and connecting with me on LinkedIn, it takes only a few seconds to do it right. I look forward to doing business with you!
Update #1: Not too long after I posted this, I met an individual at a local event who looked rather familiar. As it turns out, I had declined her LinkedIn request because I didn't know her and there was no personal note. That conversation was almost embarrassing, but I explained why I declined the request. Later, after the event, I logged in to LinkedIn and accepted the request (LinkedIn will archive, but not delete declined requests).
Update #2: I'm rethinking this policy, because LinkedIn doesn't always make it easy to send a personal note. For example, if you are on my profile page and use the Connect button, you'll have the option to include a personal note. However, I did notice recently that if you try to invite via email address, you can't include a note. At a different event, I exchanged cards with a fellow whose first name I learned during our conversation, but not his last name. Only his first name, email address, and company name was on the card. So I tried searching LinkedIn by Company and First Name, but did not find the gentleman. The only option I had was to "invite by email address" feature, which is buried past the "LinkedIn wants your passwords to search your mail service for possible contacts", which is not what I was looking for. Further, what if I'm looking for John Smith, but don't know John's email address? There are a lot of John Smiths, and it may be difficult to find the profile without an upgrade to "see all results". This generally isn't a problem for people searching for me (there simply aren't that many "Andrew Borings" in the world), but this doesn't apply to everyone.
Disclosure and disclaimer statements: I own LinkedIn stock and have a [free] Basic Account. I have received no compensation from LinkedIn for this post, and will receive no compensation from LinkedIn for any increase in InMail/Introduction credit purchases as a result of this article. This post is entirely my opinion and is not intended to convey any official policy or position of LinkedIn or its official representatives.