Should We Connect With Strangers In Social Networking?

by Paul Castain on February 7, 2011

There has been a lot of talk lately on the old “If you don’t know someone that invites you to their network, should you accept the invite” thing.

If you would have asked me that question just a short time ago, I would have been one of the people saying “hell no”.

Then the weirdest thing happened . . .

I changed my philosophy.

I no longer feel I need to know someone to accept their invite because I now feel that the purpose of accepting the invite is to begin a courtship to know each other.

But . . .

Its really nervy for a stranger to ask me to connect.

Lighten up Francis!

It’s “Social” Networking. People will sometimes try to be “Social” with you. Bastards!

And let’s stop reacting to this like a stranger just asked us to join them in a threesome. Its an invite which in my version of “Social” Networking means its an opportunity to get to know them.

It’s a courtship dude. Nobody is asking you marry them just yet.

But . . .

I won’t accept an invite unless I have met them or spoken with them first

Thanks to all of us getting burned by people who have used those opportunities to launch into an obnoxious  infomercial and a little thing called “not having enough hours in the day” this approach isn’t practical for many people.

And while a “connection” “friend” etc is useless until we transition to real time, I believe we might be putting the proverbial cart before the horse.

But . . .

There’s no possible way you can know all your connections if you have a lot of them!

Why couldn’t I treat this like a prospecting funnel (but on steroids) where I begin with a suspect with a goal of converting that suspect.

Do you really know someone at the suspect level or does that happen as you work your way through the funnel?

Also, you need to remember that you don’t have to know everyone to influence them or influence them to pass along your info, content etc to their network. And quite unselfishly, you don’t have to know everyone to be of value to them which in essence helps build brand equity!

Does your company know everyone it sends those email blasts and direct mail pieces to?

But isn’t it better to be more targeted in your approach?

I almost want to reject the question.

Why can’t I do both once again keeping in alignment with that funnel concept?

But . . .

I get put off when it is clear that they are just trying to accumulate connections.

Get passed that. I see it as a free lottery ticket with zero chance of winning if I ignore it.

And here’s the thing folks, just because it might seem like we can’t do business today, doesn’t mean that we can’t do business tomorrow.

Case in point. At the beginning of this year Linkedin sent me an email stating that approximately 350 people in my network changed jobs.

Is it possible that that change could result in new opportunities?

Is it possible that that change now puts them in front of new people that could use my product or service?

Now I want to be clear, I see people running around Linkedin bragging about how many connections they have.

I’m not saying we should morph into that . . . in fact, please don’t!

I’m just inviting you to consider an approach that opens you up to additional opportunities.

And should you disagree, that’s perfectly fine.

That’s the beauty of social networking, we can all create the version that works best for us!

Check out Paul’s 90 page social networking e-Book by clicking here!

  • Betina

    Hi, Paul ~

    I went thru a similar process… any invites from people I didn’t actually know, either in person or at least online, was immediately met with hesitance and apprehension. Now I’m a bit more open, yet still might Google or at least their website if I see it. If they come across too salesy, chances are I won’t be accepting anytime soon.
    As a Spanish translator and interpreter, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been approached by MLM networkers who have a hard time accepting the fact that I’m not their next downline rep to open up the Hispanic market for them. I offer to translate their materials for them, but that’s not what they want. And that’s all I want. No commission sales for me, thank you. That’s not the only reason for apprehension about connecting with strangers, of course, but it’s been an issue.
    Like you, I’ve come to realize that closing the door means missed opportunities; instead, I’m choosing to leave the door ajar.

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  • Jacob Yount

    If it was regulated to only “socially networking” with people I previously knew, then it would’ve been super boring. Via LinkedIn & twitter, I’ve made great contacts that have transitioned to offline friends, clients, partners, people to follow and learn from (ie Sales Playbook) and the list goes on and on.

    Denying a contact because you didn’t like how they approached you can definitely lead to missed opportunity. Rockin’ post Paul!

  • Gabriele Maidecchi

    I have a very open mind about adding connections to my network. I like to have some previous contact with someone before adding him/her, I don’t like default “connect” messages, from anyone, and I am generally on the “open” side.
    My point is, there’s no bad in connecting with someone, and lots of possibilities can be caused by that, serendipitous happenings that you’d otherwise block out completely. What’s the point in being too snobby?

  • Lisa Bickford

    Thanks for being the “big toe” on this one. What you’ve got here, basically, is a 6 week program…which is perfect for me.

    LOVE the obscure movie references, Paul.

  • Birch Bishop

    Hi Paul,
    I have always believed you need to give people a chance. Some people will take advantage of that, some people will not, you can always turn them off. I think if they get turned off enough they will figure it out.
    I have met most of my best friends and leads by just taking a chance on them.
    Trust is earned and that is what leads to a sale in my book. But in order to trust someone you got to meet them.

    P.S. – I love your blog, not sure how you always come up with these great topics. You really get us thinking.

    Birch Bishop

  • Marcus Sheridan, The Sales Lion

    starting the courtship

    Great way to look at it P’. That’s what I like about you man, you’re not afraid to do a 180 when life experience teaches you something new.

    Thanks for all you do, day in and day out.


  • Colin Parker

    The nice part about virtual connections is that a nice tidy exit is only a button click away. No fuss, no muss just a silent dumping. Worst case scenario is you get the “Why are we no longer connections” email which you can either ignore or launch into your best “it’s not you, it’s me” speech.

  • marc zazeela

    I’ve got a bone to pick…I’m getting awfully tired of listening to how Paul can tackle a situation that I find perplexing and turn it into something that is both practical and sensible. Will you get it wrong for once? You’re making us all look bad!

    Seriously, I have been thinking about this a lot recently and I was one of the early skeptics. I have begun to loosen up a little and have allowed more “strangers” into my secure little universe. I have to agree that this whole social/business networking thing is still evolving in my mind, and while you can teach an old dog new tricks, some old dogs take a little longer to catch on!

    Thanks to Paul for hammering on this point. It seems that it is finally beginning to get through my thick head.

  • Lorri Ratzlaff

    Hi Paul, great post, as always! I’ve certainly gone through this as well! I prefer to actually look at each and every friend invite I get (and if I’m too tired or busy I leave it for another day) and accept based on a few criteria: are they hitting on me? (NO), are they involved in the same industry as me? (YES), do they speak my language? (if there is NO evidence of English I’ll pass, sorry, hope that doesn’t make me racist, I just figure I won’t be able to communicate with them otherwise, so NO) and are they interested in making their life better, either through personal development, wanting to change their career, or something along those lines (YES)! And that’s about it. It works for me! :)

  • Mike B

    Hi Paul,

    Very good advice! Your words help break through barriers of misconceptions.

    What do you think about asking customers to join our social networks? For some reason I am reluctant to ask until I know them better. Should I just go for it?


    Mike B

  • COD

    On LinkedIn, I’ll connect with anybody that I can discern even a tenuous connection with. Met for 5 minutes at a networking event? Good enough for me. In the same industry? Yep. Read my blog? No problem. Random guy for India? Uh. no.

    (Not picking on India here – but the few LinkedIn requests I do reject are always from India)

    My Facebook friends are either real life friends, or long time imaginary Internet friends that I often know as well as many people I know in real life. I reserve Facebook as a no-work zone. If work associates want to connect on Facebook, I relegate them to the “work” list, which blocks them from everything. As far as my work friends can tell, I never, ever do anything on Facebook. That way, I don’t have to deal with the issue of rejecting their friend request, and I still keep Facebook a work-free zone.

    Twitter is wide open, I don’t even pay attention to who follows me there.,

  • Traci Walters

    I really enjoy your posts, Paul. Just sayin’. :)

    I’ve pondered this subject numerous times. Thank you for enlightening me.

    :) Traci

  • Victoria Gaitskell

    I agree with your reformed thinking, Paul. Like many other journalists, I’m experimenting with the possibilities of social media right now. And one shining prospect that comes immediately to mind is the miracle of having a whole network of people from all over North America and beyond to call on if I need specific info from their locality or field. In return, I reckon they might want to call on me occasionally for a fast news update or answers to media questions. It surprises me that some people don’t seem interested in these kinds of limitless possibilities.

  • Koka Sexton

    Excellent post Paul. Building a healthy network of people on LinkedIn will continue to open doors for sales people. I dont think sales professionals should be stingy with their connections. If they add value bring them in and use the relationship to share and collaborate. Its what makes LinkedIn the most popular social network for professionals.

  • Troy Watson

    Just go for it. What do you have to loose? You still keep your professionalism and ask the question to get to know them. The first rule is to pre-qualify them if they are a fit your needs. Once you have pre-qualified an individual then I would agree to proceed with business.

  • Kris Bennett

    To those of you on the fence – this is NOT an issue for the digital natives, the folks who have grown up in the information age and are entering the workforce now. They understand that friendships and relationships are fluid and that they come in many shades of grey. While the rest of us are scratching our heads wondering whether it’s safe to come out of our cave or not these folks are flourishing in their native world, and they will soon be competing with you for your job. They see value in meeting every single person on Earth – that’s a thought that terrifies many of us now.

    You can close yourself off to the world if you like, but if that’s your M/O what are you doing on LinkedIn?

  • Andy Nathan

    Thank you! I can not stand people who tell me that they do not want me to connect with strangers, ahem, Facebook, ahem, LinkedIn, because they only you want you to connect with your current network. Can you limit our potential anymore?

  • paulcastain

    AMEN Andy!

    Limiting our ability to connect whether by mindset or crazy rules imposed by the platform defeat the whole “Social” aspect and intention of “Social” Networking if you ask me.
    Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment!

  • Troy Pesola

    I’m completely with you on changing philosophy on how to connect online.   

    G+ offers even more … controls, no that isn’t the right word.  Circles gives us control over who sees information.

    LinkedIN, Twitter, and FB all have made me think up different strategies for each.   Each allow different ways to reach out, connect, and hopefully help others.   Twitter has let me connect with people across geographies.  LinkedIN has helped people connect professionally.  FB … well it went from connecting with family/friends, to connection of close friends, to a broad net of like-minded people.   G+ … looks like a combination.

    I like Chris O’Donnell’s comment below.  On LinkedIN I’ll connect with people that express some common interest.  But if the connection smells “spammy” … SORRY.

    Great post.

    Now if I could only convince my mom that social networking isn’t scary.  Deep down she’d love it, but just can’t get past the fear-factor.

  • Marc Zazeela

    Fast forward 2 years. I have gotten to know lots of folks who were complete strangers before I accepted them as part of my network. Would that have been possible had I simply rejected them on the grounds that I did not already know them? Not likely.

    Who would have been the real loser then? Me. Who turned out to be the real winner by accepting unknowns? me.

  • paulcastain

    Well said Marc. What is the ROI on a friend? Its endless and makes all of this so much more fun and meaningful.
    Happy holidays buddy!

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