LinkedIn is a powerful tool for building your personal brand, delivering a powerful digital first impression and building fruitful relationships. It has also become a breeding ground for unscrupulous and annoying sales people who have come to consider the almost billion LinkedIn members as a fully stocked pond of fish, ready to be reeled in.
For people who seek to use LinkedIn for authentic networking, The Exploiters have cast a sleazy shadow over the entire platform with their unwanted and often dishonest sales tactics.
Many members respond to this by becoming very closed networkers—allowing in only those people they know well. But that will work against you. It’s often valuable to connect with people you don’t know. A lot has been written about the power of weak ties and the value of a truly diverse network, so being a little promiscuous on LinkedIn can be valuable to your career. The challenge is that it opens you up to business developers who are eager to catch you in their net.
To return LinkedIn to the professional e-networking platform that you know and love, there are settings you can change and behaviors you can adopt that will minimize the impact of these salespeople—without having to seal yourself in a submarine and sink below the surface.
Pay attention to headlines. Some of these opportunists are quite overt in their mission to turn every LinkedIn member into a prospect. If someone asks to connect with you and their headline reads like this, “I can grow your business 200% through appointment setting,” you’re almost guaranteed that within minutes of accepting their connection request you’ll get a message with a pitch. To prevent this waste of time, read the headlines of the people who request to connect, and if slime starts to ooze through your phone or laptop, click “ignore.”
Stop them from the start. Sometimes their headline is innocuous, and their first attempt at casting their lure in the water is with that first message that they send after you click “accept.” If that message is clearly a sales message (or the not-so-veiled start of an endless series of emails that is designed to reel you in) create a standard message that lets them know you’re not going to take the bait. You template can read something like this:
“I use LinkedIn for building relationships with interesting people to share insights, and to learn and grow. I didn’t join LinkedIn to receive unsolicited sales pitches, so please remove me from your sales messages. If your only reason for connecting was to sell to me, feel free to remove me as a connection. Thanks.”
If they can’t take no for an answer and come back with a follow-on sales message (and they shockingly do), you can immediately block them, keeping them off limits for good.
Of course, one option that prevents all the messages but still allows you to add them to your network is by allowing them to become a follower, not a connection. When they do, they can still see what you post in your feed, but they cannot automatically send you a message. Just be aware that you cannot send messages to your followers either. When you “Make follow primary,” “Follow” will be the primary action option when members view your profile.
Don’t give them another route. If they decide to take their sales tactics from LinkedIn to another form of communication—like your email because you’ve made your email address visible to your connections, change your visibility settings. There’s an option for “who can see your email address,” and you can choose “only me.”
Of course, there are those who skip the “let’s get connected step” by paying for premium—which allows them to send InMail to those to whom they are not connected. You can give these folks the brushoff quite easily. In privacy and settings, under communications/messages, you can prevent people from using InMail to message you. Under the “Allow others to send you” option, choose no.
With these protections in place, you’ll likely become more open to growing and diversifying your network while minimizing that feeling of becoming catch of the day.