There's a running joke that you can take any cartoon in the New Yorker magazine and replace it with a single common phrase, and it will still be funny:

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

I use LinkedIn a lot. It's the slow and steady tortoise of social networks -- still relevant many years later in a focused, professional way that would be the  envy of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and others.  

Among other things it's a great resource as a writer looking for great stories and people to interview. I'm pretty much open to connecting with anyone on the site.

But it's also confusing. For one thing, as long as I've been a member -- going on 15 years, I think -- LinkedIn has actively discouraged members from connecting with people they don't know personally -- at least not without an introduction.  

You can ask someone to join your professional network by sending them an invitation to connect. If they accept your invitation, they'll become a 1st-degree connection. 

We recommend only inviting people you know and trust because 1st-degree connections are given access to any information you've displayed on your profile. 

This guidance never seemed like an ironcald prohibition, and I don't see it being enforced uniformly. But, there's a potential problem with it, at least if you're a social network that hopes members will use it to manage and expand their networks.

It's that the people who already have big advantages likely already have the most robust and rewarding opportunities from their networks -- including job , then "only invite people you know and trust" can be self-reinforcing.

LinkedIn clearly recognizes this issue, and a new initiative it's unveiling -- both online and at its Talent Connect 2019 conference later this month -- encourages members to connect with people who aren't in their networks.

LinkedIn calls it the Plus One Pledge:

What's the Plus One Pledge? It's an intention to share your time, talent, or connections with people outside your network who may not have access to the same resources you do. By taking the Plus One Pledge, you'll help others and strengthen your own network.

Specific examples LinkedIn suggests include things like:

  1. Responding to out-of-network messages asking for career advice. ("Share 30 minutes of your time on an informational interview.")
  2. Finding community programs that will let you be a mentor to someone outside your network.
  3. "Make an introduction to a friend or colleague for someone navigating a job transition."

We should note that the intention behind this seems to be to ask people to reach outside their networks to help, not to ask for help.

Although by definition, example #1 above, where you're encourage to respond to others' messages, seems to assume that other people are "reaching up" for help.

Regardless, unless you think for some reason that the world is a zero sum game, it's hard not to like this initiative. I liken it to the question that we saw Salesforce announcing they'll ask in every interview: 

  • "What is the compensation you expect?" as opposed to something like,
  • "What is your salary history?"

The point being to judge people on their merits and what they can contribute -- not based on others' previous compounded judgments.

I'd never heard this referred to as the network gap before, but it makes sense.

So feel free to connect -- and maybe think about using your contacts and experience to help somebody you'd never otherwise even know.