Stop Using LinkedIn as a Dating Site for Your Services

A personal story about connections and soliciting services

Gold Standard: When accepting your LinkedIn request, you receive implicit permission to follow someone’s career, not to sell

Does the following LinkedIn request seem familiar?

Hi Gary A., I was impressed with your profile and believe we have a lot in common. I would love to connect with you! I work for a really great company called [insert company name], and we’re passionate about showing entrepreneurs like you how powerful podcasting is.

About fifteen minutes ago, I received this LinkedIn connection request (paraphrased for this blog). Here’s what I can tell you about the request:

  • The requestor didn’t view my profile.
  • The requestor used a script to generate the message. I filled LinkedIn’s first name field with “Gary A.”. Who sends a salutation with a middle initial?
  • The requestor included her company’s URL, probably to pique my curiosity and get me to go to the website. I suspect that if I accessed it, another company would add my email to its marketing list without my permission.

I get it. People are desperate to generate business leads. Even before COVID-19, eager salespeople tried new techniques to find prospects. Is this what LinkedIn has become?

As an entrepreneur, I’m active on LinkedIn. I curate and share articles, blogs, videos, and other resources for the LinkedIn community. With people I know, I sometimes use the messaging feature to share a resource that they may find useful. As one CEO wrote in a post, “I go to LinkedIn to share and learn from my colleagues.” This is how LinkedIn should work.

Unfortunately, People force their unwanted sales pitch on LinkedIn members. I’ve experienced this in three ways:

  • For the past ten months, members have requested to connect only to sell services. Only one request wasn’t a solicitation.
  • Since January, several connections sent direct messages offering to help my business. Of course, they expect me to pay for their services.
  • (This one may not be related to LinkedIn) During March, I’ve had to unsubscribe to more than thirty marketing email lists. I have no idea how they acquired my email.

Karma: I deserve it

This isn’t easy to admit, but I misused LinkedIn by marketing my services on three occasions. (1) I’ve sent direct messages and emails to promote a workshop business — a business I recently closed. (2) I’ve asked people to go to my business website to provide feedback. (3) Recently, I’ve asked my HRBP colleagues if I could interview them for a research project.

Maybe the last two aren’t that bad, but I could have been more considerate and respectful of people’s trust in connecting with me.

I’ve struggled with defining appropriate and inappropriate LinkedIn behavior. This led me to develop guidelines to help others avoid the mistakes I’ve made. Bottom line: Don’t use LinkedIn as your dating site to sell services. Otherwise, you’re spamming hard-working professionals.

At least, use appropriate behaviors to share services.

Summary of the LinkedIn Guidelines for Interacting with Other Members; appropriate items 1–8 and inappropriate items 1–4

Acceptable LinkedIn behaviors

I’ve numbered the following so I can discuss after the list:

  1. Following your connections’ updates
  2. Congratulating connections
  3. Posting about your services and events
  4. Posting about your accomplishments
  5. Directly messaging people you know to share resources
  6. Connecting with like-minded members
  7. Thanking LinkedIn members for connecting
  8. In a one-time message, asking LinkedIn connections for permission to occasionally send direct messages

Number 1: Follow connection updates

LinkedIn enables members to block parts of their profiles from non-connections. After accepting a connection, you give the new connection permission to view your full profile. Thus, you allow connections to follow your profile, posts, articles, and other activities.

Number 2: Congratulating connections

If you allow, LinkedIn automates changes on connection feeds. This includes certain profile updates, graduations, new jobs, and anniversaries. By allowing this automation, LinkedIn encourages connections to congratulate you on these milestones.

Image showing a LinkedIn feed and the options you can select with a post including “Hide this post” and unfollow the member
In LinkedIn, you can hide posts or even unfollow connections

Number 3: Posting about your services and events

With COVID-19 affecting thousands of gig workers, my LinkedIn feed is saturated with posts offering free consultations and other services.

I’m okay with businesses posting their sales pitch just as long as they don’t solicit me directly.

If you don’t like a post (such as those promoting a political affiliation or over-pushing a service), feel free to hide the post or even unfollow the connection. If you’re offended, report the post. If you like it, share the post with your connections/followers.

Image of a plaque given to me by the president of ISPI — Presidential Citation Award, April 2016

Number 4: Posting about your accomplishments

In 2006, I received a presidential citation from the International Society for Performance Improvement. This was unexpected, and I was proud of the recognition. That night after the award ceremony, I took a picture of the plaque and shared the image on LinkedIn.

When you, a colleague, or your organization does something you’re proud of, share on LinkedIn. While not everyone will be interested, people who know and care about you may appreciate and what you help celebrate your accomplishments.

Number 5: Directly messaging people you know to share resources

When I discover a new resource, such as a blog about developing your leadership, I may think of specific connections who might want to know about this resource. It’s okay to share with connections you know who would benefit from your resources.

Number 6: Connecting with like-minded members

During the early years, LinkedIn discouraged connecting with people you don’t know. Because of that, I limited my connections.

Since LinkedIn was acquired, behaviors changed. The maximum number of connections allowed increased substantially, and LinkedIn modified its system to reward you for connecting with as many like-minded professionals as possible. The more connections you have, the further your reach. I now have more than 9,000 connections and followers.

Number 7: Thanking LinkedIn members for connecting

If you connect with members, a best practice is to thank them for connecting, regardless if you initiated the connection or not. LinkedIn is a social, professional network, so use the service socially.

Number 8: In a one-time message, asking LinkedIn connections for permission to occasionally send direct messages

This is my new standard for contacting connections. If you want to send direct messages to connections, ask for permission. Do this only once. If they don’t respond, assume that they don’t give permission.

Seek permission to send occasional direct messages about:

  • Your services
  • Your events
  • Asking for opinions
  • Asking for feedback

When I need interviewees for a research project, I’ll ask connections for permission to ask to send direct messages about participating in future research events. If they agree, I’ll provide details to my immediate need. If they don’t respond, I won’t ask them again. Keep track of how they respond on a spreadsheet.

If you have a marketing email list, you might ask connections for permission to add them. I’m uncomfortable doing this.

Send only one permission message per connection. You might write something like this:

Now that we connected, would you allow me to send you at most three direct messages per year? I might share a service, event, or a blog. I will only send a message that I sincerely think might interest you. I respect your privacy and don’t want you to think of me as someone who sends spam. Do I have your permission?

Unacceptable LinkedIn behaviors

Here’s my list of what not to do:

  1. After connecting, immediately sending a message to try and sell your services
  2. Periodically sending direct messages about your services
  3. Copying a members email from a profile to your email marketing list
  4. After posting a service, adding a comment with members’ names to get them to view your post

Number 1: After connecting, immediately sending a message to try and sell your services

If your sole intent is to connect with a member to generate sales leads, don’t. It’s one thing to ask permission to send infrequent messages, but don’t connect with members just to sell.

LinkedIn is a social network. You add value by sharing your expertise. If all you do is sell, LinkedIn is not the appropriate medium for you.

Number 2: Periodically sending direct messages about your services

Too many connections push their services through direct messages. If you plan to do this, ask your connections for permission. If they don’t respond, don’t direct message them.

Also, be upfront that you are selling a service. Trying to trick members is insulting to their intelligence.

Number 3: Copying a members email from a profile to your email marketing list

Review the CAN-SPAM Act, and don’t misuse my email. If you sell emails to others, you better not obtain them through LinkedIn.

Number 4: After posting a service, adding a comment with members’ names to get them to view your post

When your name is mentioned in a post or a post’s comment, LinkedIn sends you a notification. One way to get people to view your post is to add a post comment that lists connections who you want to target. They’ll receive a notification and may be tempted to view your post.

When I did workshops, I did this. In retrospect, that was wrong. I apologize, and I won’t do it again. If I could find the post, I would send apology messages to everyone I listed. Please don’t do what I did.

Recently, someone posted a message asking for technical advice to connect with a family member who was in forced isolation due to an illness. I knew of a few experts who might help. In a comment, I asked about seven people to comment and listed their names. A few did provide advice. In retrospect, I should have handled this differently. In the future, I would send direct messages to my expert colleagues, provide a link to the post, and ask them if they would comment. By messaging instead of listing their names, I wouldn’t have put any pressure on them to respond.

Final thoughts

The point of this article is to encourage LinkedIn members to behave more genuinely and personally. I shouldn’t read messages with “Hi Gary A.” as the salutation. LinkedIn is supposed to be a social network in which members can learn from one another. Share your expertise. If you have to sell, limit your communications through posts. I know that LinkedIn limits your reach through posts, but direct selling devalues this service.

Remember the LinkedIn request at the beginning? I sent the requestor a link to this blog. Maybe I’ll do that with any sales reps who try to date me with their services.

Feel free to share this blog with anyone who tries to sell you unwanted services through LinkedIn.

About the author

Gary is a Leadership Author, Researcher, Consultant, and Podcast Guest. His latest book, What the Heck Is Leadership and Why Should I Care?, is available in paperback, eBook, and audiobook. You can learn more about Gary and his other books at https://www.garyadepaul.com.

Written by

Gary is a speaker, author, researcher, and leadership futurist. https://www.garyadepaul.com

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