The biggest lie on LinkedIn is that you’re not supposed to connect with people you don’t know.


“We recommend that you only send invitations to people you know well and trust.”

LinkedIn Help Center, 4/17/2013.


LinkedIn’s business model feeds on discovery and requires growth. We join LinkedIn to discover and build new professional alliances. If we only connected with people we knew in real life; networking, collaboration, opportunity and growth would be severely constrained. LinkedIn tells you not to connect with strangers because it gives them cover, it’s the official line, crafted by lawyers, impossible to enforce and they know you’ll ignore this rule anyway.

Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 1.43.49 AM


LIONS (LinkedIn Open Networkers)
LIONS totally disregard the no-strangers networking rule. They’re at the opposite end of the connection spectrum – they’ll connect with anyone with a pulse.











They boast about having thousands of connections (usually they’ll put their Connection count in their LinkedIn Headline) but anyone can be a LION – no skill is required and I think their networks are inherently weak. LIONS are promiscuous, rabid and unsophisticated networkers, socially inept.

Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 12.27.58 AM

I built 6 LinkedIn Groups with close to 30,000 members. It took me 5 years. Though I’m not directly connected, I can send a message (via a Group Announcement) directly to all of them in seconds. I shape their public Discussions and decide who can join. I care for and about those communities. Think about not just what – but why you are building.


You can change your settings to require an email address before somebody can invite you to connect on LinkedIn. But the person inviting you has no way of knowing for sure if the email they inputted is correct, since LinkedIn’s system just acts like everything is ok when they add the email and click ‘connect’. Presumably this is to avoid email guessing. If you are the person doing the inviting and a handful of the people you invite to connect mark your invitation as “Spam” then LinkedIn will impose the email requirement on ALL of your subsequent invitations as a penalty. This can lead to confusion. You may think that everyone you invite has opted to require an email or you could actually be in LinkedIn connection purgatory. LinkedIn doesn’t tell you that you’ve been penalized. Btw did you know that LinkedIn puts a lifetime limit on the number of connection requests you can make? It’s 3,000. That may seem like a figure plucked from the air and in a way, it is – because once you use your allotment, you can just request more. It’s a fire-break, designed to stop people who are trying to build a mega network quickly (i.e LIONS).


After much thought, I’ve decided to put that email requirement on my account. I’m tired of getting random/thoughtless connection requests. The vast majority of requests I get are irrelevant and have zero networking potential for both sides. I’m sure you know exactly what I mean. I’m ‘breaking bad’ for the following reasons:


If you’re in customer service living and working in Mumbai, I’m fairly confident – that our professional objectives will not align, ever.



If you don’t have a photograph, why would I want to connect with someone who can’t be bothered to complete this most basic step on their Profile?



If you don’t use your likeness or use a logo, I don’t connect. You lost me at “Hello”. First impressions count.




If you use the tenuous template “Since you are a person I trust…” or the tepid template “I use LinkedIn to keep track of my professional network…” you definitely have not made the effort.



If you don’t bother to read my Profile. My Profile states “Don’t invite me just because you can. I am not an ‘open’ networker (or LION).”


If you’re a fellow Group member but don’t explain why you want to connect. Just because we joined the same Group, doesn’t automatically make us sympatico.



If you say that we worked together at the same company/firm (but we didn’t). I really don’t mind the subterfuge but I still want to know why you think connecting will be good for both of us.



I’m a methodical and strategic networker. It’s not just about connecting with people I can help or whether they can help me. It’s about connecting with people who know how to network. If I build my network strategically, it becomes an incredibly useful tool for me and for the people in my network. You’ve heard the maxim, “build your well, before you are thirsty”? I’m always planning for future collaboration. Credibility is also key. Just like real life, there are circles of trust on LinkedIn. If you have a handful of people in common and a strong Profile (with a bevy of Endorsements) the chances of successfully connecting with someone you approach on LinkedIn are greatly enhanced because you’re already connected with their contacts, this is the currency of credibility. You can seal the deal by giving a great reason for connecting in your connection request.


LinkedIn Co-Founder, Reid Hoffman has publicly referred to 2 types of networks: ‘Allies‘ and ‘Acquaintances‘. ‘Allies’ are the small group of your tight-knit contacts you’ve built up over the years who are similar to you professionally and personally close to you. ‘Acquaintances’ are the larger group (numbering in the hundreds or thousands) who are more professionally diverse than you, typically you met them through school/college or work/play. Reid points out that ‘Acquaintances’ are not merely added to your network because you connected with them, he insists that there ought to be some kind of meaningful exchange between both parties and time taken to build up trust between ‘Acquaintances’. He says that one way to build up trust is by giving each other “small gifts” which can be intangible (i.e information or references). A British Anthropologist, Robin Dunbar theorized that there was a maximum number of people with whom humans can maintain stable social relationships with. He said that we can keep roughly 150 people happy as friends. He’s currently looking into whether the size of our brain is relative to the size of our social network, re-igniting a theory that was first floated in the 1970’s (by Nick Humphrey) that humans evolved big brains not to understand our environment but each other. I’m wondering if Endorsements qualify as “small gifts” and deciding which 150 people in my 5,100+  LinkedIn network to focus on this week….my small brain is hurting.


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99% of my network has been built (carefully) by me. I am the one who knocks. If you’re not planning your network, you’re leaving it to chance. When I reach out to people to connect, I’m executing my plan and vision. Here are just some of the elements I look for when I connect:


(1) 500+ Connections – likely to connect (<500 implies they ‘don’t connect with strangers’).
(2) Shared location – likely to connect based purely on proximity, the coffee potential.
(3) Shared contacts – if we have 5+ connections in common, we run in the same circles.
(4) Shared field/function – we’re in the same business or the same role, the ‘career bond’.

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I agree with Reid on ‘Allies’ and ‘Acquaintances’ (and the Dunbar 150 theory feels about right). I think there’s a 3rd networking category peculiar to LinkedIn which fulfills our desire to build and discover. I call them ‘Affiliates’. These are your 1st degree Connections that you’ve not met…yet. They are loosely affiliated to you but tightly bound to their own ‘Allies‘. When/if you meet them – they become your ‘Acquaintances. When/if you help and nurture them – they become your ‘Allies.


If you liked this article, you’ll love my customized consulting service. I’ve helped many professionals to achieve their full potential on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is not somewhere you paste your resumé, sit back and wait for things to happen. It’s a complicated and nuanced website portal that requires action, consistency, insight, branding strategy and marketing know-how. What you don’t know – could hurt you.


Whether it’s getting more traffic on your Profile, engaging with a stunningly good Summary or refreshing your LinkedIn presence and brand – share your goals with me and I’ll help you to achieve all of them via LinkedIn.


Contact me now: linkedinsights@gmail.com / 773.469.6600 to find out how I can help you.


That’s all from me for this week. Have you noticed that I have no advertising on my site? It’s because I don’t want to bother or distract you, the reader. But I do need advertising! – if you liked what you read, PLEASE share this article with at least one person you know via LinkedIn, twitter, google+ or Facebook, it’s good to share 🙂

By Andy Foote

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52 Responses

  1. If I had heard a recording of the above post, I would have said, ‘music to my ears’. I guess delight to my eyes will have to do. There has been recent spurt in the ‘since you are a person whom I trust’ type of connection requests of late. In the beginning, I used to politely write back asking the requester to jog my memory and then gave up since I never received a response. Does not bear well if one is hoping to make a meaningful connection. Just wish folks would not treat LinkedIn the way they might be treating Twitter or Facebook. One connects for possible mutual benefit in work or business, not to win a popularity contest.

  2. Milena Regos says:

    Hi Andy, love the article and you are spot on on your observations. I’m tired of getting requests from people I don’t know and don’t care to know. Have a quality network and expand it carefully. Well done.

  3. Alasdare says:

    Nicely put. Up until recently I’ve only been accepting people I’ve actually met, however I’ve widened this out to people in the same function and region and been pleasantly surprised at some of the positives (some great input when I’ve posed questions)

  4. This is really the best article I have read on LinkedIn. I have been saying this for some time now. You want to connect with people who you want to do business with and get to know. I do think it is wise not to connect with someone who you have no mutual business or personal reasons to connect, but that goes right along with what you were saying. Be selective in your connections. Thank you for this article. Very well written.

  5. Faye Oney says:

    Great article Andy, I’m glad somebody finally addressed this. Whenever I get an invitation to connect, and I’ve never met the person who invited me, I accept the invitation; then invite them to meet for coffee (if they’re located in my area). If they’re out of town, I invite them to reach out if they ever get to Columbus. I also include a “warning” on my profile that basically says “don’t bother connecting if you’re just looking to build an audience.” At the end of the day it’s all about relationships, and I prefer to meet my contacts in person. Thanks for the morning read!

  6. charley matera says:

    The usual brilliance…..helping me think through what I don’t find time to do myself or don’t know enough about to do so.

  7. Murali says:

    Really good one. I wish that this article should be sent to every new person who is joining Linked in.

  8. Thanks for the article, and I agree with many of you who suffer “inappropriate” requests for a connection. I had an odd situation recently though.
    I suggested a connection with somebody who was directly connected in terms of both industry and geagraphy, but was also within an existing network of connections. The invitation was accepted, and I thanked them and sent them a brief expo as why I thought the connection might be mutually beneficial.
    The response was unexpected, as I was told I had “totally misunderstood the use of Linkedin” and I was ” to be removed from their connections “.
    At first I felt that I had misunderstood Linkedin, so shared the communcations with Linkedin colleagues and asked for their conclusions. All responses were that it was totally acceptable and appropriate in the way I had conducted the connection. And one particular colleague , summed up his response with “……I think you will find , they are getting confused between their facebook account and Linkedin ! “

  9. Mary Walsh says:

    Hallelujah! Amen! This subject has been frustrating me for some time now. Like the other above, I originally started to reach out first. I would reply without accepting saying “how can I help you in your business or career?” I would invite them to call me for a 5 minute discussion on how we could benefit by networking. A few responded and have ended up being great networking partners. I give them about 5 days to respond if nothing then I ignore their request. Oh, lets add to your list…how about the ones who send a connection request just because I looked at their profile. Don’t get me started. It is so simple to give a brief explanation why you want to connect.

    I would love to hear your thoughts about endorsements. I think they are a bit of a wasted space on people’s profile. I don’t trust them because too many people have endorsed me for random skills that they have no idea if I am qualified or not. I basically ignore all endorsements. I did just read another one of your articles that explains a little about how they can benefit me in a search. I need to check it out since I am starting in a new position in a new industry.

    Thanks for your great insight. I may pay for your services soon.

    • Andy Foote says:

      Thanks Mary! Over 2 BILLION Endorsements have been given since their inception on Sept. 24 2012, 50 MILLION are given weekly – so it’s safe to say that they are a massive hit and here to stay. I’ve written extensively on the subject and the first thing I tell my clients is to think of them as a professional ‘like’ and not an endorsement in the traditional sense of the word. LinkedIn thrives on curated data, it needs us to constantly provide information about ourselves and Endorsements are an important part of that strategy. You are in complete control of all of your Endorsements (you can reject, hide, endorse and even create brand new Skill categories) and yes – they do factor into LinkedIn searches. Over time, as folks accrue more and more Endorsements they will also help people to make informed decisions about connecting, recruiting and collaborating. Standing on the sidelines, while everyone else plays the Endorsement game just doesn’t make sense for these reasons imho.

      I’d be delighted to work with you Mary.

  10. Andy,
    Love the article. Really explains some of the “rules” we may have not known about,i.e., the 3K invites rule. its everything that most of us need to know and what we have been thinking!

  11. Michele Merens says:

    Sorry to read in your excellent post that you automatically decline to link with people who do not want to put a headshot or icon up on their LinkedIn profile. I think 1. many who have no pic on their profiles have nonetheless taken time and interest to comment on this very post (I count seven out of 15, and with me, eight)–and that their comments seem to add to the dialogue of like-minded professionals overall and 2. you may be making assumptions about people professionally who may, for various personal reasons, choose not to publish pictures or icons.
    Sorry this sounds snarky, because I don’t mean it to be–I enjoyed and learned from your piece. I also must admit that I have not utilized LinkedIn to the extent that I would hope to–and perhaps not having a photo (even when urged to do so by another savvy LinkedIn professional years ago) is part of an admittedly less than enlightened strategy.
    Yet I simply would urge you to reconsider your rule of thumb for automatically eliminating people based on a lack of visuals–to my mind, one’s substance best comes across in the written word on social media sites. I understand the eye-catching benefits of marketing via photos and logos, video links, etc. but sometimes feel these add-on features can also distract from serious appraisal of another’s potential–and so they should be evaluated with caution as well.
    Finally, in social media, the chances of actually meeting face-to-face versus helping another via computer (emails, links, blogs, references, etc.) is often remote, and so technology itself puts far greater weight on one’s ability to communicate well primarily through words.
    To conclude, while I see the potential benefits of having a picture profiled, I don’t see the necessity, except that conventional wisdom says this is how we should present ourselves online. (In the end, maybe this is the answer to my query: conventional wisdom rules on social media, so get in line?) I can agree with you that first impressions do count but wonder whether a willingness to connect in written dialogue trumps a genuine and smiling (or) dated and/or doctored photo in that initial appraisal anyway. Respectfully, .

    • Andy Foote says:

      You should never apologize for your opinions Michele 🙂 If people don’t have their picture on Linkedin, they’re not sharing, for whatever reason, and I am. It’s not about ‘catching the eye’ it’s about authenticity and credibility. If people choose not to have a Profile pic that’s fine – but there’s a very good chance that I won’t provide access to my network. I won’t be ‘re-considering’ my approach, which has been fine-tuned over 5 years but I’ll always judge every connection request on it’s merits/failings. In a hectic & busy online world where decisions about whether to connect or reject are made in milliseconds, an engaging, perfectly formatted Profile pic or a blank grey space is often the only decider.

      p.s The folks on this comment thread may well have pics on their LinkedIn Profile. To have a picture next to your comment on my blog, you need to set up an ‘avatar’ and this has nothing to do with your LinkedIn Profile.

  12. J.L.Nawan says:

    Great article Andy! For me, if I know the person … no use to build a network with this person … cause I knew him/her already (practically he/she is already in my network, LinkedIn or not).
    I built my network to know more people. To learn more knowledge from other people. To share any subject with them. So, for me … any invitation is OK as long as he/she had a brief information (profile, photo, etc.). If not …. sorry …. how can I know somebody without seeing his/her face? Is he/she a ghost?

  13. Thanks for posting this article Andy. Finally a perspective on how to use LinkedIn written with insight and common sense. I’ll be sharing this with my network as I think everyone should read it.

  14. Very interesting comments you share Andy.

    Interesting to hear how you think when you connect or not.

    £k rule was new to me and there are so many small hidden details, rules and algorithms hidden from us users. So thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    I also work with individuals and companies to make better use of Linked In even if that is not my core business.

    Greetings from London

    Fredrik Sandvall

    • Andy Foote says:

      Thanks Fredrik, send your clients to me – if it’s a LinkedIn education they want!

      I miss London (I lived in Chelsea for many years).


  15. One interesting aspect I find is that while Linkedin is the social platform for professionals….anyone in HR will tell you that it is the best think since sliced bread for finding a job. And one of the tricks “to be noticed” is to have 500+ connections. I have also heard that 10+ recommendations…. That’s when the Linkedin algorithm puts you to the head of their search list.
    I think Linkedin needs to define itself. Is it an HR tool to find the next great job, next great hire, or is it a Professional networking tool?

  16. Where were you Andy when I needed you, right back at the beginning when I first joined LinkedIn? I read through your article with increasing embarrassment as I realised I have made most of those mistakes in the last three years! Only now do I realise the true power of social networking which can be used to create a powerful image of you and your organisation, hopefully for the best but possibly not, if you don’t know the ins and outs!
    Live and learn! Thanks for a great article.

    • Andy Foote says:

      I was around (but probably not writing about LinkedIn!) Maggie. I’m sure I’ve made more mistakes than you but crucially, always try to learn from them 🙂

  17. Jon Leist says:

    Andy- love this post! I’ve been building a network for years with no consistent strategy. I like your approach. I’m in the midst if a profile and network overhaul, and I intend to incorporate some of your suggestions. Thanks!

  18. David Stannard says:

    How does one stop people who remain anonymous from viewing your profile? Isn’t that a bit cowardly?

    • Andy Foote says:

      Unfortunately you can’t stop anonymous people from viewing your LinkedIn Profile David. It could be construed as ‘cowardly’ or timid or devious but at the end of the day only the people who opt to be hidden know why they do it. There are some perfectly good reasons for being anonymous i.e. a journalist needing to protect their sources. Perhaps LinkedIn should include a feature in our settings panel which allows us to block anonymous Profile views? Maybe that would decrease anonymous browsing as a whole?

  19. Richard Twitchell says:

    I am interested in connecting with everyone who reads this article and comments. Please feel free to look me up. And yes… my tongue is in my cheek.

  20. I have to admit I scratched my head when I first saw the “don’t connect if you don’t know them” advice from LinkedIn. I would be interested in their stance on your wise guidance, Andy. Thank you for taking the time to provide, not just your opinion, but helpful specifics as well.

    • Andy Foote says:

      Thanks Delta. I hope they agree with my pragmatic approach but LinkedIn usually stays above the fray. Unusually for a company built on ‘social’ foundations/tenets they seem to have a strictly observed policy of not engaging in public.

  21. as a fellow breaking bad fan- really enjoyed this (and I don’t like reading on-line so I’m pretty choosy about what I read)
    Great insights about the purpose of connecting, and wonderful humor about the mindless requests to connect .
    Am going to quote your section on number of meaningful connections and ways to maintain them to my grad students in the MACS (http://www.goucher.edu/graduate-programs/ma-in-cultural-sustainability) program on Cultural Sustainability. (I saw this research in the NY Times but appreciate your thoughts on how to keep the relationships going- and the excellent visual)

    • Andy Foote says:

      Thanks Sue! I’m still bereft/forlorn after Breaking Bad ended… such a great show. Very kind of you to show your appreciation and thanks for sharing my content.

  22. Doug Ales says:

    Thanks Andy.

    Well done.

    How about spotting fake profiles?

    Do you have TIP’s on how to do that?

    • Andy Foote says:

      Thanks Doug. I do! Go to the Category box on the right of my blog and click on ‘fake’ and you’ll see an article I wrote some time ago which ought to help with spotting fake Profiles on LinkedIn.

  23. One again a very good article by Andy. But I have 3 comments:

    1) People can’t personalize their contact request from Smartphones or tablets. And many don’t konw it.
    2) Even if you are on LinkedIn from a PC or a laptop, if you send a request from a search results page, you can’t personalize your message. And many don’t know it.
    3) The thing is that for being found, visible, seen or whatever on LinkedIn, you need to have an large network.

  24. Thanks for the education! Especially about reaching out to people who are not in your network, but you want to connect with for potential networking and/or business. I have been reluctant to do this, and try to get an “invite” from someone with little success.
    Keep the info/education coming…

  25. Ron Pauley says:

    Thanks Andy for yet another eye opening article. Like so many, I have jumped in enthusiastically to explore the many features of LinkeIn, only to discover I’ve stumbled into one of the pitfalls you have highlighted.

    As I continue to refine my approach I truly appreciate your insights and advice. Whenever I encourage someone to join LinkedIn now, I recommend they view your blog, as a first point of call – and avoid the traps.

  26. Jonathan says:

    The unsolicited invitations I hate the most are the ones from people who don’t even bother to look at my profile before inviting me .I found this to be a total lack of respect and I typically decline these kind of invitations. People that I already know in real life might get away with this lack of etiquette. But I always refuse invitations from strangers who don’t view my profile first .Why should I accept an invitation from someone who doesn’t even show the slightest interest in me by at least checking my profile? Don’t these people realize that whenever they do this, they are implicitly sending the message that they don’t care at all about the people they are inviting; they just want to build a large network quickly and they are using you as part of the process..

  27. Mike Kunkle says:

    Andy, time after time, I’m seeing consistently good, value-added, detailed posts from you, that teach. I don’t take the time to comment frequently, but just wanted to let you know, since I finally caught this one today. Also, anyone who quotes Walter White, is okay by me (and perhaps to be feared).

    (I’m resisting the urge to write “Yo, bitch.” Oops. 😉

    BTW, I find it interesting that LI suggests that we only connect with people we know, yet in the Who’s Viewed Your Profile section, they suggest that I connect with certain people to increase my profile views… none of whom I know. 😉 That whole policy reminds me of joining the world’s largest Chamber of Commerce, going to a mixer event, and standing all night in the corner with the people I already know. Almost funny.

    In any case, stay the course, Andy, and have a great holiday season!


    • Andy Foote says:

      Thanks Mike, I greatly appreciate your kind words. Breaking Bad set the bar for TV drama in this short-attention span, quick-fix, entertain me like I’ve never been entertained before, busy world. At the end of the day, it’s all about engagement. LinkedIn certainly seems conflicted when it comes to who we should and shouldn’t engage with. The concept of knowing someone simply isn’t compatible with discovery, which is how most people hope to leverage the LinkedIn platform. Maybe they’ll update their advice (and maybe Breaking Bad will do a 6th Season!) but I doubt it.

  28. David Zamarin says:

    In general I think your observations and comments are excellent. A few areas where we may have a different perspective:

    – I will accept invitations from people I don’t know if there is some reasonable connection but I totally reject all the invitations from vendors. I don’t need more unsolicited contacts from anyone trying to sell me something. Plus some off the wall invitations always strike me as having scam possibilities.

    – I am not very concerned about the lack of a photograph. I did not have one until maybe a year ago and I have over 500 contacts of which I have initiated very few. But in a male chauvinist pig admission I have accepted invitations to be linked in to people I don’t know when the invitee was a beautiful woman who included her photograph. For the most part you already know what people look like when it is from a previous acquaintance.

    – I find the whole endorsement thing a waste of time. While I suppose it is flattering to have someone endorse you, I don’t think it means a lot in the big picture plus it creates a sense of obligation to respond in kind (which I don’t do but always feel as if I am being a bit ungrateful). It just smacks of a junior high popularity contest to me.

    Again thanks for the informative article and I will look forward to seeing more.

  29. Lisa says:

    I appreciate your views and advice. I still consider myself fairly new to Linkedin and I’m still learning. I have been fortunate to meet some great mentors on LI. Very detailed, well written post. Thanks

  30. Giuseppe A. D'Angelo says:

    And what about the LinkedIn app? It automatically prompts you to request a connection without leaving a message or any information worthy of note. So even if I’m well intended I won’t have the chance to show it.

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