Why Open Networkers are Idealists, and Why They Need to Stop It
Ever since LinkedIn went online there has been a fierce debate between those who feel you should only connect with people you know, and those who say you should connect with people you don’t know. The debate has never been settled. Frugal Guidance 2 has a number of posts on the topic, including LinkedIn Connections – What’s Your Style? – Quantity vs. Quality.
Many open networkers on LinkedIn call themselves LIONs, or “LinkedIn Open Networkers,” but there are other open networkers on LinkedIn, too.
Some LinkedIn members list reasons why open networking doesn’t work, arguing:
- All they do is collect contacts and never do anything with them.
- It’s like having a pile of 5000 business cards sitting on your desk but never using them.
- You cannot have a conversation with a LION.
- It’s all about the numbers, not the quality of connections.
While all these arguments have a kernel of truth, I personally know several open networkers IRL (In Real Life), and know these aren’t true for them. Most of them are in business, they are open in personality as well as in connections. They are often truly generous with their time and their willingness to help others.
The Open Networkers’ Manifesto
Open Networkers believe that you never would go to a live (IRL) networking event and only talk with people you know. The whole purpose of networking is to meet new people who may become new customers, new clients, and new colleagues and friends.
By its policies, LinkedIn actually encourages open networking. If a new member wants to grow their network quickly, in the face of LinkedIn’s restrictions, being an open networker is an easy shortcut.
Every LinkedIn group needs an open networker (even if it’s the group moderator) to make it easier for people to connect with each other.
If you rely on LinkedIn search, especially from a free account, you will get better results with a larger network.
Sales people, business people, HR pros, some freelancers, speakers and, yes, politicians often need a large, loose network to attain their goals.
Finally, many open networkers are idealists. Many are successful business people. They know that the key to business is to build relationships with people who can use your services or product. They also believe that the world will be better the more interconnected we are and the more we communicate. We need more of this in our world.
They are right, of course.
So, Here Is Why They Must Die
They must die (metaphorically, that is) because LinkedIn, other social media, and the internet, in general, have failed to match their ideals.
LinkedIn’s need to grow rapidly and its inability (or unwillingness) to control who joins LinkedIn means that a percentage of the membership are bad people, often using multiple fake profiles. I’ve written earlier about what the people who use fake accounts have done and might do. Some are relatively benign spammers. Others are collecting email addresses and might use those for phishing attacks. (Business email addresses are particularly valuable for phishing attacks or for the spread of malware.) Also, with the info on your profile and your social security number, a person could steal your identity.
Even intelligence agencies are using LinkedIn. (One security firm, last fall, discovered a fairly sophisticated Iranian group that appeared to be creating fake accounts to connect, specifically, with defense and aeronautics professionals in the Middle East. They had some success by posing as HR recruiters.
LinkedIn may have one of the better security departments in social media, but based on all the invitations to connect I receive from fake accounts (yes, I check them out first), LinkedIn’s security is failing. LinkedIn, of course, rarely talks publicly about the problem and won’t publish numbers. Based on other social media, some LinkedIn watchers think as many as ten percent of LinkedIn accounts may be fake. But even if they are way off, and the real numbers are closer to 0.5%, with 225 million members, that’s well over a million fake members.
And open networkers make it easier for them to connect with you and me.
Why? Because a new fake account owner has limited opportunities to connect with others, since they have no real colleagues on LinkedIn. Connect with one open networker, though, and they now have thousands of people they can send invitations to (second level connections). Connect with ten open networkers, they may have hundreds of thousand of second level connections. Since open networkers connect with other open networkers, the number of potential connections grows exponentially. Even if a crook’s acceptance rate with “normal” LinkedIn users is low, it still makes it easier for a fake account owner to grow their network using open networkers.
Some of the more sophisticated scammers set up many fake accounts. Some are the principal accounts where they copy other people’s LinkedIn profiles to make them look like real people. Other accounts have fewer details. Their main purpose is to connect with the “mother” account and make her look more like a real LinkedIn member.
They may even show up in the “People You May Know” section of LinkedIn, because they are connected with multiple open networkers who are connected to you. Their account looks more “normal” and attractive to others looking for real connections.
A couple of days ago, I received a generic invitation to connect from a fake account on LinkedIn. How do I know it was a fake account? Well, the user couldn’t bother to capitalize his names. There was hardly any useful info on their profile. Although he purported to be from San Francisco, he couldn’t even spell “United States” correctly. But, this account was already connected to at least a half dozen of my connections, many of them open networkers who, apparently, never bothered to check the profile.
So, my reluctant conclusion is that open networkers today, even with the best of intentions, are making LinkedIn less safe. It’s not really their fault. The real problem is LinkedIn’s need for constant and rapid growth in order to justify its stock value with investors. (A job they have not been doing particularly well as of late.) Although they won’t say it, if they were to delete a million (or 20 million) fake accounts all at once, investors may question many of the other figures LinkedIn has promoted, too.
So, because of LinkedIn’s failure, it’s no longer safe to be an open connector, nor is it safe to be connected to one unless you are willing to investigate each person you receive an invitation from and you remain very fussy about saying yes to people who send a non-personalized message.
And, for all LinkedIn members, this is sad because we all want LinkedIn to work and thrive so we can, too.
The title drawing of a Lion is by T. C. Lindsay (1845-1907), dated 1900, from the Detroit Publishing Co. Courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC online catalog. Image cropped and tinted for web display.
“On the Safari” image of supply line for a safari led by Theodore Roosevelt is by Kermit Roosevelt (1889-1943). Courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC online catalog. Photo cropped and adjusted for web display.
Drawing of Teddy Roosevelt standing over a dead lion was by F. L. (Frank Lewis) Van Ness. Copyright 1909. Courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC online catalog.