About ten years ago, I was talking a German class at night at the local junior college, the better to speak to my wife’s relatives back in the old country. One night the teacher, Frau Kural, told a wonderful story illustrating the differences between German culture and American culture.
Here in America – and especially here in our Silicon Valley neighborhood – it is considered acceptable to greet people on the street, even strangers. On a trip back to Germany, Frau Kural was walking down the street of her hometown and – just as she would have here – greeted a man coming in the opposite direction. She had that funny feeling you get when someone is looking at you, so she stopped and turned around. The man was indeed staring at her, with a perplexed expression on his face. “Kenne ich dich?” he asked. Do I know you?
The unstated question was, if I don’t know you, why the hell are you talking to me?
I think of Frau Kural and that story frequently these days, because I find myself increasingly in a similar situation. Once or twice a week, without fail, I’ll get an invitation on LinkedIn, asking to “connect” (the LinkedIn version of Facebook’s “friending”). More often than not, these are from strangers.
Now, LinkedIn offers a way to personalize the invitation to connect, but also more often than not, these people don’t bother to explain:
- who they are
- how I know them
- if I know them
- why they want to connect
- what benefit I might derive from being connected to them
Maybe I’m just confused about what LinkedIn is supposed to be. In my mind, it’s a recommendation engine. I see that you’re connected to someone whom I’d like to work with, and I ask you for an introduction. Thus, I’m missing the point of being connected to someone I don’t know. If someone pings me asking for an introduction to one of my connections, I can’t very well say, “I have no idea who that is or why I’m connected to them, other than that I got an invitation out of the blue one day when I’d been drinking heavily and I accepted it.”
And some of these people are really random. I looked over my recently ignored invitations and discovered quite a motley crew:
- the guy who fixed my television five years ago;
- a woman I haven’t worked with for 25 years
- various marketing executives and entrepreneurs I’ve never worked with
- a whole bunch of people I’ve either never met or never heard of, including a woman who does SharePoint design at a pharmaceutical company; a massage therapist; a psychologist specializing in women’s mental health; and a couple of office managers
- and some random friends with whom I’d rather stay in touch on Facebook
These random requests take me back to the pre-Internet days when I’d work with a public relations agency on a story, and then they’d ask if they could use me as a reference. And I’d be like, a reference for what? You set up one interview for me. How does that give me insight into what you’re like to work with? I was stingy with my references. I saved them for people with whom, as I liked to put it, I’d “rolled in the dirt” – people who got me the executives and customers I needed to talk promptly, consistently, and without whining about how difficult it was. People I knew could deliver. Frankly, people I knew.
I have no clue about these random people on LinkedIn. At the risk of sounding like Martin Short character Nathan Thurm in the Saturday Night Live parody of 60 Minutes, but … is it me? Am I the only one who’s confused on the point of LinkedIn? It’s not like a networking party where you’re trading business cards; it’s a personal version of Angie’s List where you can actually attest to someone’s veracity because you’ve actually interacted with them.
I’m beginning to wonder whether it is me, or if it’s just that everyone else on LinkedIn is drinking heavily.