Multiple times a week, I find myself receiving friend requests from people I don't know. My Instagram and Twitter accounts are public and I don't need to approve new followers, so these requests from strangers usually appear on LinkedIn and Facebook.
Sometimes the requester and I share mutual connections, other times we don't. Sometimes they include a note, but more often their request is as is — leaving me to wonder who they are, how they found me, and why they want to connect in the first place. The Twitterverse tells me that I'm not alone.
The question then is: What should you do with these requests? Do you reject all of them, but risk not connecting with someone who could advance your career? Or do you be choosy? Sometimes the answer is clear — if you aren't house-hunting, you probably don't need to connect with an unknown realtor — but usually it's less cut and dry. Ahead, your complete guide to dealing with the random requests that come your way.
Think About Your Overall Aim
LinkedIn's purpose is clear: It's a professional networking site where you're connecting with colleagues, contacts, and hiring managers. With Facebook, Instagram, and other social platforms, it's a little different. For some people, Facebook is still a place for sharing personal news and photos, while others use it as a professional tool. Ask yourself which category you fall into.
If the answer is the latter, "you may want to accept all friend requests and moderate your content accordingly, to portray your personal brand," says Kelly Marinelli, Principal People Strategy Consultant for Solve HR. "If you are not comfortable sharing details of your life with people you have never met or heard of before, you will need to use privacy tools carefully if you connect with people you don’t know."
If your Facebook is personal in nature, you probably want to keep your contacts limited to the people you know and don't mind seeing photos you're tagged in over the weekend.
Do Your Research
Dating apps aren't the only places with fake profiles. "Some connection requests are obviously fake," Marinelli says of ones she receives on LinkedIn. "Many times I will do a Google Image search for the profile picture and see that it’s a stock photo or a different person than the name on the profile."
Before clicking "accept," do a quick Google search of your own to make sure photos and names match up. This is worth doing even when you have connections in common, since your connections might not have been so cautious. (Journalists might remember the case of Emma Parker.)
Ask Yourself The Important Question
If you're torn about whether or not to connect, Marinelli says one question can help: "What will this connection add to my professional and personal fulfillment and goals?"
It may sound selfish, but you'll see this connection's content on your feed, so it's worth considering if you actually want to see it. If the answer is no, or you think you'll just hide what they post, you may not want to connect. If the connection is a valuable one professionally or personally, then the opposite is true.
Be Selective, But Open
Marinelli always declines requests from people who don't have positions that link to a company with a presence on LinkedIn. She also declines requests from people whose fields of work are completely separate from her own and would never have anything to do with her line of work. Still, she says, "I err on the side of connecting if there is any potential common ground. You can always disconnect if it turns out it wasn’t a good fit."
Send A Note
If you're on the flip side of the equation and you're the one asking someone you don't know or only know vaguely to connect, it's always worth including a message — no matter what platform you're on. If you've been referred by a friend or colleague, include that in your note. Doing so will "make it clear that you are being purposeful about the decision to reach out," Marinelli says. After all, no one wants to feel like they were just a random request or click on the page.
LinkedIn career expert Blair Decembrele advises including the reason you want to connect in your message, so that the person on the other end knows what you're looking for and how they can help. For those professionals and public figures who you admire but don't know, Decembrele recommends following them instead of requesting to connect. "This way you can see their posts and interact with their content, which can be a great way to start the conversation and build a relationship," she says.
That thinking applies to Facebook, too. You're probably not going to send Sheryl Sandberg a friend request, but you could follow the Facebook COO and comment meaningfully on her work-related posts to stay engaged.