LinkedIn is a pretty great tool for building out your professional network. Every day, millions of people connect, find jobs, and even discover new customers. Unlike other social media platforms, LinkedIn is more focused on professional relationships, and as such, it avoids many of the pitfalls of Facebook and Twitter.

If you use LinkedIn well, it can be a fantastic resource for finding your next job or landing a new customer. The problem is, many people aren't using it well. Quite to the contrary, many people use LinkedIn in a way that probably hurts them more than they think.

The problem is that LinkedIn helps you find people who might be in the same network based not only on their personal connections, but based on their work history, job roles, and even skills. That's great, but if you're prospecting on LinkedIn based on that information, you still have to do your homework. If you don't, it can not only hurt the sale but even worse, it can damage your brand.

Here's what I mean: On a regular basis, I get LinkedIn invitations from people who see that I used to run a creative agency. I don't anymore--and haven't for a few years. That's pretty clear on my profile.

 Still, when I accept those invitations, it is almost always followed by a pitch to "help you find more clients for your business," or, "I can help your website rank higher in Google." Spoiler alert: There is no website. Not for that business, anyway. 

The point isn't just that unsolicited sales messages can be annoying--though they often are. Sure, sometimes they actually offer something of value, but only when they're targeted to the right audience. The problem is, these messages never are. I'm not the ideal candidate for whatever they're selling.

What makes it even worse is that it isn't that hard to figure that out that I'm not your ideal client. The fact that these people didn't bother to take even a moment or two to do a little research before sending the message tells me they aren't really interested in serving my needs, but rather, are just trying to sell me something. 

You could argue that sending unsolicited LinkedIn messages is free, so why not? The law of large numbers says you'll come across a lead eventually. Plus, isn't that essentially how prospecting works? You just send cold emails to enough people, in order to find a few leads you can hopefully nurture into customers.

Except, if that's how you're prospecting, you're doing it wrong. If you aren't figuring out if your potential prospects are actually, well, prospects, then your sales process is broken. I'd argue you've failed the very first step of sales qualification. 

Also--and this is important--they aren't actually free. You may not have to pay anything to send me that message, but the cost to your brand can be huge. That's because the message you're really sending is, "I'm not actually interested in a relationship because I couldn't be bothered to learn anything about you. I'm really just interested in a sale." 

That isn't how relationships work, business or otherwise, and no one wants to do business with someone like that. If that's how you're using LinkedIn--that you're just blanketing your network with sales messages--it's SPAM, and it hurts your brand. It assures that if I ever was in the need of your service in the future, I'll avoid you and your company. I also won't be passing your name along to other people in my network who might actually be a good fit because I don't trust that you'll do the homework necessary to meet their needs either. 

Instead, do the work. At least put in the effort to figure out whether those names that pop up on your list are actually the type of customer that makes sense for whatever it is you're selling. I get it, that takes time, and it's so tempting to just contact as many prospects as possible. Don't. It could end up costing you far more than you think.