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.

  • Des Walsh

    Yes, more coming in and an astonishing (to me) proportion with the boilerplate message. On the issue of being able to communicate without or before connecting, I too thought that was not an option and got increasingly frustrated by it: then it was pointed out to me that if you click gently on the downward facing arrow to the right of the Accept button, you get a dropdown option to Reply (don’t accept yet). LinkedIn has never been great on the UI!

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  • Whilst I agree in some part, you’re incorrect that you can’t message people before accepting them – I use it all the time.

    If you’re on the inbox tab in LinkedIn, if you click the drop down arrow next to Accept you’re offered the “Reply (Don’t accept yet)” option.

    • I was about to make the same comment.

      I also wanted to add that I very often reply to people “sorry I only connect to people I have met or with whom I regularly speak to on the Net” or something similar …

      If the person really has something intersting, she’ll get back to me …

      • Thanks Luke, Barthox, Des, good to learn that! I’m pretty sure that didn’t use to be there, so glad they’ve remedied that.

  • slk

    I would take exception to the view there is less value.  Like anything there are now layers or concentric circles of value (for you visual thinkers).  So at the core you have the links that are both strong and valuable and at the edge you have the links that are both weak and unknown value……like strategic planning from the fringe… just making links sometimes where they are least expected, can have an immense amount of value.  I’ve truly made some connections to professionals that are startups or developing new ideas and it has been an immense value!   After ten years inside IBM where you spend a great deal of time talking to yourselves, I think these new and unexpected connections provide more than you think.  Not uncommon for a narrow view but given the breadth of the Internet the value is up to the individual and not the application or the organization!  So in the end it’s whether you can handle the volume of data points flying at you at light speed, not the characteristics of the requests.

    • Certainly it is significantly about how you treat it. The reality is most people accumulate connections and do little with them. Great that you’re able to make this valuable. But for most I think it is harder to do so.

  • Olgierd Sarzynski

    I read somewhere that 150 contacts is the maximum that a person can normally handle. So 3000 is a little bit artificial.

  • Garry V

    I agree Ross. I liken the collection of connections on LinkedIn to a teenager friending hundreds of people they have never spoken to on Facebook.

    As a premium user, I can reach out to people that are not contacts, sending them InMail. This is the value of LinkedIn to me – my contacts’ connections are the people I need to be able to get to to expand the pool of skills and experiences I can tap into.

    I recently contemplated purging contacts but have still not decided if that action would limit my ability to reach out at some later stage to someone I may need.

  • idk

    The fact is you can never have too many business contacts. So this nonsense about only connecting with people you know is garbage for flies.

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  • Scott Allen

    I saw this coming from the beginning, and was pushing the need for some kind of strength indicator on relationships, like Spoke. The simple binary “connected or not” model is, I think, one of LinkedIn’s fatal flaws.

    I wrote a post back in 2007 that explains why “light links” devalue the network using a road map metaphor:

    • Thanks Scott! Yes I still like Spoke’s original relationships strength indicator. Nice post.

  • Purplesime

    Hi Ross,
    Wonder if the mobile app is to blame? I’ve fallen foul of tapping the + sign next to a connection I’d like to make and it just sends it. There is no way, that I can tell, to adjust the messaging.

    As an aside, the mobile app functionality needs some serious attention.

    • That is no doubt part of the issue. There are a number of invite mechanisms on the web interface that also just send the default invite. Indeed, needs attention from LinkedIn!

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  • ewc

    I agree. To me it seems like its a race to see how many people you can link with. Like the more you have the better you are. Its dumb. It means nothing. I wish we didnt have to do it but it seems to me like if you dont than your not sucessful to viewers of your profile. How strange this is and how irelavant it all seems to me.

  • i agree, linkedin is now a swarm of maggots eating dead meat.