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A LinkedIn LION often has a loud roar, but in most cases, that's about all they have
On a crowded train recently I was forced to listen to a conversation about LinkedIn. Some guy was big-noting himself about how many "important people" he was connected to.
"I connected to [insert name] yesterday. He's a Senior Partner at [insert major consulting firm]. I didn't think he'd accept my request." (cue puffed-out chest) "I have such an important network... some really high power connections!" (repeat five or six times). It was all I could do not to jump in and ask what he was actually doing with his "important network".
Pathological networkers like this are known as LIONS (LinkedIn Open Networkers).
The point of a LinkedIn connection is some form of previous association with the other person, either business, school or friendship. The process has an "I don't know this person" option and if you select this, LinkedIn will give you a little reality check that effectively says "Easy does it tiger... you're asking someone you've never met before to be your professional connection". (Ok, I promise that's the only large cat pun I'll use today).
Why does LinkedIn warn you of this? Because your professional network is supposed to be a connection of people you know and trust. This is why LinkedIn have built-in features like Recommendations. Your recommendation for someone else is your guarantee of their work or performance as the professional they say they are, or as the person you know them to be. It's your endorsement of them.
Remember the uproar when the Cash for Comments scandal broke back in 1999? That was because the endorsements for those products were fabricated. Think about that in the context of what US business thought leader Bob Burg once said; "All things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like and trust".
A connection to a person on LinkedIn implies that you actually know them. Going one step further, a recommendation implies (quite publicly, remember) that you like and trust that person. LIONs put themselves at risk of being asked for an introduction to someone in their network who they don't even know. *awkward*
From my perspective, that shows me a LION doesn't really value their network. At a deeper level, it shows me that business to them is cheap and easy. It shows me I can't trust their network. And it shows me that maybe, I can't trust them.
A good business relationship can be an extremely valuable asset. So if you're out to build your network on LinkedIn, at the very least make an effort to meet that person over a coffee. Foster a professional relationship that started with a real connection. Not a lazy flick of the mouse.