LinkedIn or Linked out? Making LinkedIn connections private.

A recent article “The Finer Points of Using LinkedIn” by Nancy Roberts Linder, in “Marketing The Law Firm” (Law Journal Newsletters, available by subscription only), addresses, among other issues, the case for keeping your connections private;  a position that I think borders on urban myth.

Ms. Roberts Linder suggests that:

“The biggest advantage of connecting to clients via LinkedIn is that you have access to your clients’ LinkedIn contacts.”

She goes on to say that “Some attorneys opt to make their connections private” because “clients who are your arch rivals can also pose problems if they are in your LinkedIn network. Connecting with clients opens the door to other individuals connecting with your clients through your network, and not necessarily with your knowledge.”

Splitting hairs is not my business, however, some clarification here may be needed to avoid panic. And your experience and opinion is needed, too.

Your Connections vs. Your Network vs. Your Contacts.

First – where is the editor? Do you have clients who are your arch rivals? Waaaht?

Okay…moving on. LinkedIn states in Learning How Browsing Connections Works that:

Browsing Your Network

You can now get a better feeling for who is closest to you in your network.

Start by visiting the profile of a connection. If your friend or colleague allows it, you can see the people they are connected to. You can then quickly look through their profiles to find old friends or the contacts you need.

LinkedIn is committed to your privacy, so you can always choose to hide your list, but remember:

  • You still control access to the connections linked through you
  • Only other connections can see your list — no one else in your network can see it
  • You can help particular connections find the people they need faster
  • You can help two of your connections meet each other
  • If you want, you can always hide your list again in the future
  • To unravel this conundrum, there is a distinction between your Network and your Connections. Your Network includes people in your Groups and 2nd degree and 3rd degree connections. Your Connections are those people who you have invited into your network or accepted their invitation to become a Connection. Assuming you have been thoughtful about who you “connect with” your Connections should be people you know or people whom you’ve been introduced to through people you know, like and trust.

    Arch-Rivals and the Urban Myth

    I’ve heard this hypothesis before: when people allow their competitors – even friendly competitors – into their Connections they risk having their clients’ “stolen” from them. I’ve never talked to a real person to whom this has happened. Have you?

    This hypothesis assumes that Competitors would reach out to your clients and win them away. If it’s that easy, then you have more problems than opening your Connections on LinkedIn.

    Forgive me for being cynical, but those are not the kind of clients I want, who would?

    A.) I don’t want “arch-rival clients” and B.) I don’t want clients that would be wooed away by a LinkedIn connection.

    Prospects vs. Clients

    Logically speaking, you may have prospects, friends, alumni etc. in your Connections that seem fair game, but, you also, according to the LinkedIn rules, have the right to make the introduction or not. So why worry?

    Advantages of Open Connections

    If Ms. Roberts Linder’s statement that the “biggest advantage of connecting to clients via LinkedIn is that you have access to your clients’ LinkedIn contacts,” is in fact true, doesn’t logic  imply that it goes both ways?

    Open Connections.

    I believe that one, not the only one, but one, of the values of investing my time networking on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other industry specific networks is that I can expand my network by including other interesting people that are “connected” to my Connections.

    What’s your opinion about opening up your Connections to your Connections on LinkedIn? I may be a Pollyanna and missing something. For me its a mute point. Help!

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    1. says: Russell Lawson

      Jayne –

      I agree there is something terribly disturbing about the comments you refer to, urban myth or not. The picking off of clients by competing lawyers is unethical on the face of it. And the notion that other firms and lawyers don’t know who you are representing until you put them in your Connections is just absurd.

      As I mentioned in another post recently, the notion of transparency is basic to online social media. I would not dissuade lawyers from holding back on issuing invitations for Connections if they have the slightest discomfort with a name or firm. However, once invited (or connected by a reply to an invite from a Connection), I would argue strongly for keeping those names public and using their affiliations to broaden awareness and linkages. And I would never suggest that a prospect found through the network of another attorney would be “fair game” for marketing.

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    3. says: Alan Belniak


      Excellent post. I, too, wrote about this recently. I share the link below, because there are quite a few comments that argue both sides of the issue that I thought might be worthwhile for you and your readers.

      Personally, I’m of the opinion that if you go onto a social networking site, especially one that revolves around business, it is almost expected to share one’s connections. I see the coutner points, but I think the ‘pro’s outweigh the ‘con’s.

    4. says: Wendy R Amundson

      I completely agree with you Jayne. Long before social networking went online, I was with a networking group in which one member consistently referred to her clients in code (“I’m working on an exciting project with a large manufacturer”) and if you followed up with interest (“Oh really? Who are you working with?”) she’d answer in the same code. I finally asked her why she was doing that and she said she’d had people steal her clients in the past and so was being very careful. And my feeling then was the same as my feeling today: 1) You must not be doing a very good job if your clients are so easily wooed away; and/or 2) That’s a client I wouldn’t want to have, good riddance.

      By refusing to share information, she cut off conversations and made it more difficult for me to know her and her skills, thus thwarting the whole purpose of networking. Same goes today. Know the risks, but manage your networks to optimize the rewards for both you and your connections, or don’t bother.

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