LinkedIn used to be a place where you could only connect with colleagues you knew in real life. I knew plenty of people who took the connection very seriously and declined anyone they wouldn't personally recommend or be a reference for on a job application. These days though, getting unsolicited connection requests is more common and accepted.  

That means lots of "cold call" connections, many of which will send a message to encourage you to connect. Cold connect invitations can be great--I've made great business relationships through this process--but if you are doing it wrong it could be incredibly damaging to your reputation. Luckily, the wrong way of sending cold connect invites is now easy to spot and can teach you something about the way you interact in other networking engagements.

The Right Way to Connect

You can say things like: 

"Hey Susie, I loved your recent article on [INSERT TOPIC HERE]--especially your take on the [INSERT INSIGHTFUL THOUGHT SHOWING YOU ACTUALLY READ THE THING YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT]. I can't wait to see all your other great content. What are you most excited about these days?" 

Including a message like this encourages others to respond (especially if you end with an insightful question). But make sure you spell names correctly (the messages I get addressed to "Melissa" or "Melanie" are a dead giveaway) and know why the connection will be mutually beneficial. Taking the extra three minutes to do a little research goes a long way. 

The Wrong Way to Connect

Have you noticed how LinkedIn now provides helpful responses for you to send automatically based on the content it reads in a message? Often they are things like, "That sounds great" or "Nice to meet you, Anna" or "Hi, Bob" but it will also give negative prompts when it deems them necessary (which happens more often than you might realize). 

I recently had someone send a connection invitation with a message--presumably to encourage me to respond favorably. When I went to read the message, LinkedIn had already scanned it to recommend the three top prompts, which are called out as large buttons above the chat bar. Two of the three were "No" and "No, thanks." 

Ouch.

Even if I was inclined to respond to this person, LinkedIn has triggered my natural tendency to herd and go with the wisdom of the group. After all, LinkedIn must know something about this guy I don't. 

What LinkedIn Is Telling You

LinkedIn can clearly see what you may not realize--your message reads like spam. Even if you have the best intentions, the way you are framing the message is turning people (and algorithms) off instantly. 

If you are sending out mountains of cold messages on LinkedIn and not getting a lot of positive responses, it is worth sending them to a trusted colleague to see what prompts the algorithm is giving them. If they aren't favorable, it's time to tweak the message. 

And, if you are approaching your real life networking in the same way (i.e. handing out business cards like a dealer at a poker table) consider running your pitch through the filter first. 

Start with the tips from "The Good Way" above. If you're stumped, know that great questions can change your networking life--in reality and the digital world.