The continuing devaluation of LinkedIn connections


How many LinkedIn requests are you getting?

Very likely significantly more than you were getting just a few months ago.

LinkedIn reached 100 million users in March. As one of the first 10,000 users, I early on saw the potential of a purely professional social network.

It consistently grew in size and user value over the years, however now that everyone is piling on to the LinkedIn bandwagon, the value of LinkedIn personal connections and networks are decreasing at what seems like an accelerating pace.

Until recently I looked at all of the LinkedIn invitations I received. An increasing number are essentially spam (including all those that begin “Since you are a person I trust…”). However there are people who reach out who I may have forgotten but would be happy to reconnect with.

There are also some interesting people I haven’t met who I would be open to connecting with, even though they are stupid enough to use the default LinkedIn invitation text rather than explaining why they want to connect.

For a good while, if someone who seemed interesting who I didn’t remember meeting requested to connect, I accepted the invite, then asked them why they wanted to connect, ready to disconnect if there was no good response.

I believe it is a flaw of LinkedIn that it does not allow you to communicate with someone who has requested to connect with you unless you accept their invitation. On Facebook you can message someone you don’t think you know who has invited you to be their friend to ask them why they’ve asked to connect. Perhaps you do know them but have forgotten or they’ve changed their name. Possibly, if you treat Facebook as a more open network, you might connect with someone you don’t know who is genuinely wanting to be friendly.

LinkedIn believes you should not connect with people you don’t know, so doesn’t give you that option.
[UPDATE:] As per comments below, I was wrong, LinkedIn does allow reply to invitations without connecting. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t available before so this must have introduced over the last while.

The reality is that many people, including quite a few successful, interesting, genuine professionals, aren’t treating it that way, but rather as a way to make new connections.

One of the core concepts behind LinkedIn is that you can reach out to people through mutual connections. That is only meaningful if people’s LinkedIn connections are mainly genuine. Given the ongoing devaluation of LinkedIn connections, that is not a good supposition.

In early 2009 LinkedIn capped the number of connections any person can have at 30,000. There are likely to be hundreds if not thousands of people, many of them recruiters, who are at that limit.

LinkedIn is still the premier professional social networking platform, and there are many outstanding professionals whose only social network is LinkedIn.

The many massive opportunities for LinkedIn as a company include participating in the burgeoning reputation economy, filtering information for interest groups, and providing corporate internal platforms, in addition to its current recruitment-centered models.

Yet the current pace of devaluation of LinkedIn connections threatens those opportunities. It also makes the platform less valuable to all users.

Unless something shifts, the trend will continue, and the value of a LinkedIn connection will move towards zero. For now, be more discerning in who you connect with. It will make LinkedIn more valuable – to you, and to others.