My LinkedIn Disaster

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You would think after all this time, I’d know my way around social media, yet there I was last week, accidentally spamming more than 350 people with random LinkedIn invitations.

As social media faux pas go, asking someone to connect with you on LinkedIn is hardly the worst but I still find myself a little mortified.

LinkedIn, of course, is the main social media tool for professionals.  It’s not fun like Facebook or informative like Twitter, but it does serve a basic need in keeping people connected with former and prospective work colleagues.  Theoretically you can find jobs and freelance assignments via LinkedIn, but it’s never done much for me.  Instead, I find it most useful as a self-updating address book. When folks change jobs they don’t always send you their new addresses but they will usually update their contact information on LinkedIn.

Where I tripped myself up last week was in trying to be more systematic. (Darn these urges to get organized!)  The nice folks at LinkedIn sent me message saying I could use my Gmail account to identify colleagues with whom I had not yet connected.  Sounds good, but somehow in the process of selecting the Gmail connections I really wanted to make I ended up sending invitations to every single person in my Gmail address book.

That’s not the worst.  LinkedIn also sent invitations to every person I had ever corresponded with on Gmail, even, apparently, people who had only been cc’s.  Altogether, I sent 350 requests, including scores to people I had never even met. And how did I know this?  Because as soon as it happened, I started receiving acceptances from total strangers, including a personal massage trainer, a systems analyst at GE Capital, and numerous IT professionals at companies I never heard of.  Also a lot of assistants.

Not that I mind being connected with these people.  At all!  The more the merrier as far as I’m concerned.  I just wonder what they thought when they got the invitation and whether it seemed weird to them.

I also found myself connected to distant relatives, people from my church, my son’s friends, my parents’ neighbors and my colleague’s college-age daughter, the last of which seemed a bit predatory.  Again, I was happy to be connected to everyone (especially to my friends at church, some of whom turn out to be pretty high-powered!) but LinkedIn is not really the best tool for connecting with casual personal acquaintances.

My accidental spamming resulted in dozens of useful connections to people I might not have had the chutzpah to seek out of my own volition, especially PR executives to whom I’ve pitched freelance work.  In retrospect, I was glad to remind them I’m still alive.

But, as in the real world, it’s somewhat embarrassing when you attempt social media connections with people who are higher up the food chain than you are.  Subsequently, I was a bit red-faced when I realized that because we’d been cc’d on the same email several years ago, I’d sent invitations to the CEOs, CFOs, General Counsels and Chief Communications Officers at numerous major companies.  Of course I have every right to seek connections with anyone I want, but sending a LinkedIn invitation to a CEO you’ve never met is a bit like accidentally sitting at the popular table in the high school cafeteria: sure it’s legal, just don’t expect to be acknowledged.

What’s particularly painful, though, is when slight acquaintances take the trouble to check out your LinkedIn profile and then affirmatively decide not to accept your invitation. LinkedIn will alert you when someone looks at your profile and I couldn’t help but notice that a top PR person at NBC – someone I’d worked with on a number of announcements – first viewed my profile and then didn’t connect with me. Humph. Granted, I only invited her by accident but she didn’t know that.  And it’s not out of the realm of possibility that she would have agreed to connect.

In fact, it turns out that barely a quarter of the people I invited to connect on LinkedIn have bothered to accept.  That seems like a disappointing rate of return, even though I have to admit I wouldn’t accept an invitation from some of these people if they accidentally spammed me.

So what have I learned from this?  That technology is still too easy to screw up. That some people will connect with any stranger who invites them while others are ridiculously choosey.   Most important, I learned that I’m too easily embarrassed and too sensitive to personal slights.  But, then, I didn’t really need an advanced social media network to tell me that.

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