Recently, I re-read all the messages in my LinkedIn inbox, and I noticed that I hadn't responded to several of them. At first, I was petrified. Why hadn't I responded? Did I miss something important?

Upon further investigation, I realized why I had never responded. The messages annoyed me. Some just made me roll my eyes, while others left me looking like a classic cartoon character. Red in the face with steam coming out of my ears.

Once my vexation subsided, I took some time to create a taxonomy of mistakes. Below, you will find seven easy ways to make yourself look foolish on the world's largest professional network.

1. The Stock Message

When you send a connection request to someone, the pre-populated message is:

I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.

You can get away with sending this message if you are requesting to connect with your husband or wife. But generally, this message indicates pure laziness on the sender's part.

Granted, this is a minor offense in the grand scheme of things. But if you do not know someone well, using the stock standard message can backfire on you.

When sending LinkedIn connection requests, try to answer these questions:

  1. How do you know the recipient?
  2. Why do you want to connect with the recipient?
  3. What's in it for the recipient?

Quick tip: Don't send connection requests via your smartphone. LinkedIn will automatically send the stock message on your behalf.


2. A Message Addressed to Steve

Nothing says "I'm sending out bulk messages, and I couldn't bother to tailor this message" like getting someone's name wrong.

I get it. Salespeople and marketers are busy. They are trying to reach as many people as possible, and they are doing a lot of copying and pasting.

But why would I want to do business with someone who can't get my name right? My name is not Steve. It's Mark. If the sender can't get that small detail right, what else will he get wrong?

Quick tip: If you have committed this mistake, feel free to whip yourself gently with a wet noodle as penance.


3. Y R U Texting Me?

LinkedIn is a professional website. With professional acquaintances, internet slang and SMS language should not make an appearance in your messages. You are not texting your college friends or your middle school children.

Here are a few words and acronyms that do not belong in your LinkedIn messages, especially if you are messaging someone for the first time:

  • BTW
  • FWIW
  • G2G
  • LOL
  • ZOMG
  • YOLO
  • <3
  • Plz (And any other spelling idiosyncrasy you can find on I Can Has Cheezburger)

Some people can forgive a grammatical error here and a typo there. For instance, if someone forgets the word "to" in the sentence "I am seeking a smart and ambitious and creative manager [to] be an integral member…" I can forgive that. Hey, you were typing quickly. It happens to us all.

But if a message is rife with errors and it is punctuated with internet slang, my blood will begin to boil.


4. Did You Read My Profile?

When writing to an unfamiliar person, best practices indicate that you should personalize the letter. "I enjoyed running into you at the conference;" "I really liked your blog post on;" "I saw that your company is doing." You get the picture.

Many people don't take the time to personalize their messages. What's more, they don't take the time to contemplate whether their copied-and-pasted message even makes sense for their recipients.

For example, I received a message that began with this clause: "Since you are an event marketer." That got an eye roll from me. No, it wasn't because I'm a famed event marketer who was shocked that the sender did not recognize my name and greatness. It was because I don't do event marketing in my current job.

A two-second glance at my profile could tell someone that.


5. Pandering

Flattery will get you nowhere.

Sentences like "Given your network and influence, we would like to invite you to be our special guest" do little to butter a person up.

Why? I realize that the sender copied and pasted this message to me and 50 other people. She's telling me (and 50 other people) that we are special guests with great influence. Just how special are we?

How do I know this? Nothing in the message speaks to me as an individual, and even if it did, the sentence structure sounds like it was written by someone who was trying too hard to stroke my ego.

Here's a way to rephrase that sentence:

I'm familiar with your articles on [social selling], and your participation at our upcoming event would enliven our conversations on the topic. As our guest, [explain what's in it for them.]

Why does this sentence work? First, you customized your message to the person. Second, you don't resort to pandering adjectives like "special." Third, you explain what's in it for them.

While we're on the subject of flattery, here are a few more phrases to strike from your LinkedIn messages:

  • "It would be my honor to"
  • Illustrious
  • Renowned
  • Distinguished
  • Eminent


6. Don't Use Me, Please!

The message opens with:

Hi Mark,

Would you be so kind as to tell me who is responsible for your marketing automation and how can I get in touch with them?

The sender's politeness does not cover up her presumptuousness. From the start, the sender is assuming that I'm not the target audience. So, why is this person clogging up my inbox?

Oh, I get it. The sender is trying to BANT me on LinkedIn. The sender is just using me to identify the decision-maker. In other words, he is using me to get to someone else.

Now, don't get me wrong. There's a time and place for using me. If I already have a professional relationship with you, I'd be happy to introduce you to someone else. Use me all you want!

But if this is the first time that you're contacting me, speak to me.


7. "You Won't Believe What Happened Next…"

On LinkedIn, you can add subject lines to your messages. It's tempting to create suspense by writing subject lines that read like Upworthy headlines.

But these are subject lines. They are not headlines.

When someone writes, "You Won't Believe What Happened Next" or, "23 Reasons Why Content Marketing Is Awesome. Number 23 Blew Me away" as subject lines, it sounds like spam. I expect to find a link, which will take me to a site, which will fill my computer with the nastiest computer viruses out there.

When it comes to subject lines, keep things direct and simple. When in doubt, ask yourself, Would I write this as an e-mail subject line?



Now that you have seen what not to do, here are some tips for what you should do.

1. Personalize. Recruiters spend an average of six seconds looking at a résumé before making a decision. You should do the same before sending a LinkedIn message. Consult your recipient's profile. Find some interesting tidbit about that person and weave it into your message. And don't forget: get the recipient's name right.

2. Tone down the praise. Show your recipient that you care about her, but don't resort to pandering. It makes you look desperate and needy. I don't have any stats on this, but my gut says that people do not want to do business with people who look desperate and needy.

3. What's in it for me? On LinkedIn, you don't want to go in for the hard sell right away. But if you absolutely must, spell out what's in it for your recipient.

4. Proofread. Period.

If you have some tips for connecting on LinkedIn, please leave a comment below. Our readers would love to hear them.



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Image via Hobvias Sudoneighm on Flickr

Posted by Mark Bajus

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