The nuanced reply is that you should be cautious but not too hasty to reject an unexpected request.
What would help immensely would be to have a personalized message with each connection request explaining why the person wants to connect, but the in the current version of LinkedIn this is quite difficult (How to Personalize LinkedIn Requests), so we have to learn to live without it.
Just accepting any request has some disadvantages. Some unsolicitated requests might be genuine but others might be spammers, scammers, fakes or people who are just collecting connections as a pointless game. Connecting blindly with these people hurts you in several ways.
Low value contacts diminish your reputation. Having too many poor quality contacts means that when other people look at your profile they will question your judgement. It's easy to recognize when someone has many weak connections. In this case some people might reject your requests; recruiters might choose someone with a more helpful network.
Irrelevant contact swamp your feed. If you unwisely accumulate thousands of uninteresting contacts they will waste your time by clogging your feed do that you miss updates from people who really count. Missing key updates from important people in your network means that you will not be able to maintain the relationship.
Accepting connections effectively endorses people. Your friends might trust someone because they see that you apparently know them, so you are effectively guaranteeing them. When these people turn out to be annoying or worse they will blame you. It was your friend who wasted their time or tried to sell them the Brooklyn Bridge.
You might enable a spear phishing attack. Some of the unknown accounts are genuine but some are spear phishing accounts created to exploit you in some way. Don't fall for it. Your security people will look on this like the way people hold doors of secure areas open to let people without badges walk in.
These hazards do not mean you should just reject all contact from strangers. Sometimes they can turn out to be very beneficial and I have had random encounters on LinkedIn that led to mutually beneficial relationships. The secret is to get to know the person and check that they are genuine before accepting the connection request. LinkedIn allows you to reply to a request with a message without accepting the request.
Engage with unknown people first through LinkedIn messages, discussions and other sites first to see if they are really interested in knowing you or are just collecting thousands of connections. Try asking a question or asking for help. If they completely ignore you then you know they would be pointless connections. Some of these users even have a special dumping email for notifications that they never look at.
In some cases the accounts are not just low value, they are completely fake. Most fakes are obvious but if you are not confident of your ability to recognize them try these tests:
Look at the profile and see if it is credible. A lack of profile information could mean that whoever created it doesn't know enough to fill in the profile; a lack of words could mean that they don't know the language. Profiles with no text are the most suspicious; they are often the work of spammers or worse.
Look at the profile photo. If there is no profile photo be suspicious, and if the photo looks too good to be true then it probably is. Real pictures look normal, not like staged photos of models. You can also check the authenticity of photos using Google or . These tools often reveal where spammers found the photo they are using.
Cross check with a Google search. Real people tend to have a broad online footprint. When a nearly empty LinkedIn profile is all they have then it is probably fake. Very rarely if ever do spammers or spear phishers attempt to create a credible suite of online properties. In case of doubt I usually look for confirmation of a person on a site that does not allow anyone to create a page. For example, if someone claims to work at a university it is likely that their name appears on the university website.
By being selective in who you connect with you can make the LinkedIn experience less frustrating and more productive while boosting your reputation. You can still discover and get to know strangers, but at the same time avoid time wasters and fakes.
There's much more about professional networking in my book Payforward Networking. Find it here: Paperback edition. Kindle edition.
Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing
Andrew Hennigan provides lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about networking and other communication topics. To book a session email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81. You can also find out more at http://andrewhennigan.com
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