Dear Michael, Indra, Lori, Anders, Marta, Steve, other guy named Steve, Ali and all the others:

I am sorry we’re not connected on LinkedIn and I appreciate your kind (and repeated) requests to join each others’ networks. I’m glad you:

(circle all that apply)

  • like the blog
  • hate the blog
  • enjoyed the webinar
  • heard my speech
  • downloaded my presentation
  • have me confused with someone much more interesting
  • once worked on the same street as I did

I am sure you are very nice and I congratulate you on your recent:

(circle all that apply)

  • graduation
  • promotion
  • job change
  • weight loss
  • weight gain
  • root canal

But the truth is, I don’t actually know you and I’m kind of picky about who gets to hang out in my treehouse.

I know it’s all a big, connected world and I understand that if I were just a nicer person I, too, would be flinging chickens about on Farmville and posting sales drool all over the industry groups on LinkedIn.  Andrea Stenberg, who blogs wonderfully as The Baby Boomer Entrepreneur, suggested last year that we should accept all but the creepiest LinkedIn pickup lines.  And I understand the temptation for people starting a business or joining the workforce, but I really can’t agree.  The truth is we’re judged by our address books. And the one with the biggest Rolodex no longer wins — if indeed they ever did.

Maybe I’m just paranoid, but I’ve started to develop a set of criteria for LinkedIn contacts.

  1. I must have actually met you
  2. We need to have had at least one conversation
  3. I don’t need to recall your face (I probably couldn’t anyway), but I need to have at least a dim memory of speaking with you
  4. I have to like you or at the very minimum have no specific memory of having disliked you
  5. You need to have a context: I am very unlikely to remember you if you don’t remind me of the company, event, relative or car accident we have in common
  6. You need to have a decent network — trust me, I will look at that before I click Accept
  7. I will not count anyone who shares your last name or whose image is a Pokemon as a legitimate LinkedIn connection for you; nor should you for me
  8.  I will run away if you have more than 1,000 contacts and you’re not:
    a) Ashton Kutcher
    b) Shaun White
    c) Barack Obama
    d) 150 years old
    per #1 above, I won’t accept you if you are these people because I have not met you

And all of this is not because I’m a snob or shy or lazy (all of which are true, but not relevant). It’s because I worry about what other people think of my network. I worry because networks are personal currency, badges of trust, certificates of authenticity. They’re the Bona Fides of the Earbud Age.

Twitter is a bit like that too, though it lends itself to promiscuity. In fact Chris Brogan recently unfollowed all of the 130,000+ people he was tracking on Twitter. Not because he’s a bad guy, but because that is too many people to have in your network, however distant. It’s overwhelming and they’re not real relationships, for the most part. Real relationships will find their way back into other social feeds.

On LinkedIn loading up your list with people you don’t know can similarly backfire. Years ago I was approached by a recruiter from someplace in New York, I think. Never met him. Didn’t get the job. Accepted his LinkedIn invite. Didn’t bother looking at his contacts. Years later, I received one of those Please Introduce Me notes from someone I didn’t know via this guy’s network to someone I know and quite like. Turns out my recruiter friend has thousands of connections. Naturally I didn’t pass it along.

There is an implied trust in introductions in the real world that I believe translates to the pretend world as well. So I  trust my LinkedIn posse not to send crazy people and slimebags my way and I return the favor. No getting into cars with strangers, even when you’re old enough to be the stranger’s, um, therapist.

So to all of you who have sent invites that I have ignored, it’s nothing personal, except that it is.