Linked In Connection with a Verizon Marketing Executive

Last week, I received a connection request from someone I used to work with. This guy was a couple of levels above me during my stint at Verizon Communications, and frankly, we didn’t have a great relationship.

In fact, when I was offered a very big promotion elsewhere in the company, this guy went out of his way to squash it, effectively ending my short career at Big Red. Things have worked out just fine, but I’ve never thought very highly of this person.

And then last week, he asked to connect with me on LinkedIn. Call it what it is: I was shocked.

But on reflection, there’s no reason to be surprised when someone from your past connects to you on a social networking site, and in the case of LinkedIn, where the name of the game is fostering a community of people who maybe … just maybe … can help you in one way or another, the old adage about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer applies.

Friends, enemies, or otherwise, what’s the etiquette when you receive a connection request through a social network?

It’s simple: unless you have a reason to reject that connection, YOU ACCEPT IT.

I receive a lot of connection requests on Facebook, and when they come from strangers with no direct path to me through my friends or my past, I assume they’re spammers. Those get rejected. I get “followed” by strangers on Twitter, where I feel no compulsion to respond (and Twitter is a different case, since anyone can follow you). But LinkedIn? That’s not just social networking; it’s BUSINESS NETWORKING. Why would I say no to a connection request there? Business networking, after all, equals business change.

But with that distinction drawn and my thoughts about the use of LinkedIn acknowledged, the question of proper on-line etiquette rears its head.

What’s OK to do on-line? Is it OK, for example, that I’m telling this story? After all, you can look through my connections at LinkedIn and figure out pretty easily who the guy I’m talking about is—and I just told a rather unflattering story about him.

It all depends on your goals. Which of course starts with something pretty important: when you get involved in social networking, you need to understand why you’re doing it. And you need to understand the ramifications.

I tell my kids pretty regularly, for example, that they need to keep embarrassing or potentially damaging stuff off the Internet. They don’t always listen, and I hope that they don’t miss out on professional opportunities because prospective—or current—employers see what they write.

On the other hand, my personal goals are different than my kids’. I keep that embarrassing stuff under wraps, but I don’t shy away from controversy because talking about stories like this one actually further my goals; I want people to find me, because I want you to understand that I can get you found. And if I need to put some stuff “out there”, well, so be it. It’s my schtick.  Search Engine Optimization, anyone?

Is that unreasonable? Not at all. Is it off-color? Of course not. But it walks some lines, etiquette-wise. Saying David Pogue was being stupid for not understanding changes in the publishing business upset Dave. Calling out David Aldridge for writing that the NBA players should cave into demands from NBA owners—at NBA.COM—upset another Dave. And Chris Brogan wasn’t happy when I said that Gary Vaynerchuk “gets it” better than he does.

I’d rather be all sunshine and light than even perceived as a bad guy, but in social networking you use all the tools at your disposal.

Because while social networking might seem like a game … this is business.

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