Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Cautionary Tale: I sent you a LinkedIn invitation? Really?

Who ARE all these people? Why is LinkedIn suddenly filling up my Inbox with messages from seemingly random people who have accepted my “invitation” to connect?

It started with a simple request from someone I knew: Would I like to connect on LinkedIn?

Yes, I would. This person works in an industry (Sports Marketing/Education) that merges well with my own (Writing/Editing for a national sports organization). By all means, let’s use this online tool to connect and possibly work together.

Accept? Click!

I’m taken to a page that has a long list of people, some of whom I know.  These would be the contacts of my newest LinkedIn contact (the Sports Marketing/Education contact). But there are also many people I don’t know, probably because they’re contacts of contacts. In other words, they are strangers to me. Without doing research on each one, I’m quite sure I don’t want to connect with them professionally at this time.

I click “Skip” and move on to another screen – of more people I might want to connect with. “Skip” again…

But something happened along the way. Perhaps it was the fact that I was using my mobile phone with its small screen and risk of mis-clicking. Perhaps I misread something. Undoubtedly the problem was between the keyboard and the chair, because whatever I clicked has produced a maelstrom, an avalanche, a deluge of emails from LinkedIn saying:

“[Person’s name] has accepted your invitation. See [Person’s] connections, experience and more…”

LinkedIn is a useful tool. It’s not simply a Facebook wannabe for business or professional purposes, because it’s not about being a social connector. Used strategically, LinkedIn helps people find jobs, share important professional information and join forums for discussion and education.

I thought that was exactly how I was using it, too. Apparently not.

Because while trying to navigate a path through LinkedIn – I thought, carefully and strategically – I got caught. (I would say “tricked” or “duped”, but that sounds a bit too nefarious). 

No, you know what? It was somewhat nefarious. This is the dark side of online platforms, social or otherwise. Somewhere in their clever design, they have a way of sucking you in and making you agree to things you really didn’t intend to agree to – Facebook privacy settings being an excellent example. Be very careful what you click – or don’t click. (That drunken photo from Sara’s bachelorette party just went viral, sorry!)

I thought LinkedIn was safer. I was wrong, and the bottom line is I goofed and I now have an unending list of new and not professionally helpful connections – invited by me – piling up in my Inbox.

But LinkedIn made it very easy for me to fail. Consider yourself warned.