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With Online Connections, Appearances Can Deceive

10 Social Business Leaders for 2013
10 Social Business Leaders for 2013

(read about them all)

I get a consistent stream of LinkedIn invites on a daily basis. They fall in three broad categories:

On one end of the spectrum are those individuals I personally know and would recommend in the real world, who are no-brainers for connecting with online. This group includes many current or past clients, past professional (and let me add, positive) relationships, mentors, coaches, mentees, etc. Green flags all the way. When we connect, I often also send a note asking them to please reach out when I can be an asset to their efforts.

At the absolute oppose end of the spectrum, are individuals I automatically sense know nothing about me, my focus on strategic business relationships, and are simply trying to gain access to my portfolio of relationships. Or worse, they want to spam me with some "incredible" offer, which is an automatic invitation to "ignore" if not "report as spam!" This group of individuals often reaches out from bizarre international markets (the banker from Nigeria!), have vague names, titles, work at companies I've never heard of, doing jobs I can't understand. Red flags go straight up and I don't want anything to do with them.

[ When is it a mistake to be social? Read: LinkedIn: When To Say No To Connecting.]

The first two are fairly straightforward. It's the last group that often presents a quandary. For one thing, I don't remember if I know them or not (sociologists tell us that an average individual can proactively manage 150 relationships; I often wonder -- which ones?). For another, I'm not sure how they may be relevant to my focus on strategic relationships, disruptive technologies or adaptive innovation. And finally, I can't really gauge their interest in me! How did they find me, how do we know each other, and what's in it for them, are typical questions that come to mind.

Here is my question of you – are we visually biased about individuals we connect with? The judges on the popular singing show, The Voice, start with "blind auditions" where they can't see what each contestant look like. They decide the winner purely based on their perceptions of their voice quality and singing skills. Should the same reasoning apply to the way we connect with online contacts?

Does the way a person look influences your decision to connect with them online? Keep in mind, we're not talking about here; I'm specifically referring to professional social networking sites where you often connect with business relationships. Would you discount their education foundation or professional pedigree based on how they look? How about who else they're connected to? Does credibility by association affect your decision?

Well, here is a lesson for you: I'm often cautiously optimistic and tend to trust until someone gives me a reason not to. What I found with social sites is that "trust elasticity" is dramatically more constrained, so I'm less trusting and much more selective in the individuals I tend to connect with. I recently received this invite from a "kimberly Andy" in New York. At first glance, she's attractive, an entrepreneur, graduate of the reputable NYU and probably a big influence factor for me, is connected to Dan Burrus and Don Peppers, two thought leaders I know and respect. So I decided to accept her invite.

A few days later, for some inexplicable reason I thought of the hoax involving Manti Te'o, the famed Notre Dame, now San Diego Chargers football player. Don't ask me why, but I thought I'd reach back out to "kimberly Andy" and find out how we knew each other.

The reply was simply "!" That's when the suspicious tingles went straight up my spine. I started to dig a little:

1. Who begins their first name with a lower case letter? Careless? Maybe.

2. "Officer Worker?" And her most recent title is at a nuclear power plant off the coast of Finland? There goes the "international markets request..."

3. I couldn't find her company, "Creative Art" in New York City.

4. There is no degree mentioned with NYU, and,

5. My two trusted sources -- Dan and Don -- also don't know anything about her.

I looked on the right hand side column of "People Also Viewed" when they have looked at her profile: none are remotely in the same field nor make logical sense of the relevant business associations.

Bottom line, I grew suspicious and removed her as a connection immediately! As a matter of fact, I'm in the process of spring cleaning my entire LinkedIn connections list. If we haven't interacted in some time, I haven't been able to add value to your world, or unfortunately you're not relevant to mine, I'm just not sure on why we need to be connected!


1. Be cautiously optimistic when connecting with others online; if you wouldn't recommend them in the real world, why would you connect with them in a trust-centric social network?

2. Use different social networks for different reasons. I'll connect with (almost) anyone on Facebook. If you want insights from me, you're welcome to follow me on Twitter (@davidnour). But I'm going to reserve my connections on LinkedIn for my most trusted relationships.

3. Sorry, but regardless of how cute you may look, performance and substance trumps all! Looks will get you so far in our visual society. Add some depth, and it will get you further.