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Last week I got a peculiar invitation to connect on LinkedIn. It was from someone who I had never heard of, apparently holding a senior HR role in a multinational law firm. A few other people I knew were connected to him, but it didn’t feel right.

I pinged off messages to those I knew who had connected, asking if they actually knew him, and also did a quick search on the Internet. The latter drew a blank, and the messages to real people revealed that they hadn’t known who he was, and relayed thanks for being tipped off.

LinkedIn is playing a funny game at the moment. On the one hand, the very value of the network relies on known, trusted contacts. But on the other they are making it increasingly easy for people to connect to random strangers with little effort (the “People you may know” feature), and increasingly hard to make any of the invitation process personal (you can’t personalise an invite at all in the mobile app, and it’s getting very hard to read the contents of an invitation on any of the ways into the service these days). Looks like metrics internally at LinkedIn on numbers of connections are ruling over the very hard to measure “realness of connection”.

I’m not sure why spam accounts like the one I experienced last week exist, but there’s no doubt that there is value in the networks and data that such activity is trying to plunder. I’m also certain that combine a senior job description with a well known brand (and in the past I’ve also seen the use of the picture of an attractive lady), and more of us will just hit “Accept”.

Once a few people in a network have connected, the game becomes even easier – that account (Martin Hollands, Group HR  Head at Allen & Overy, for the record) has gone from a handful of connections at the end of last week, to over three hundred when I contacted my connections, to now over 500. The validity of the account becomes more convincing the more connections that it has and the more people you know who’ve connected.

This kind of activity will be the death of LinkedIn if they’re not careful, and much of their activity (no doubt internally talked about as “friction-free connecting” or somesuch) is hastening the demise.

(BTW one of my contacts actually phoned Allen & Overy up – Martin Hollands doesn’t exist).

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